Donald J Trump has many tools at his disposal. Both houses of Congress. The support of rural America. Friends in high places. His family. A supermodel. Twitter. Fox News. The Russian Federation. A signature scent. And … executive orders. Along with executive determinations, memorandums, proclamations, suggestions, aspersions, insinuations, innuendos and doodles.
An executive order is a presidential shortcut to impose regulations or reinforce policy with the added attraction of bypassing the tortuous labyrinths of Congress. And face it, any day without talking to Mitch McConnell is a victory.
Executive orders can be historic, as in the Emancipation Proclamation. They can also be pure patronage, such as appointing a friend to a federal post. There are also frivolous executive orders, like when Woodrow Wilson declared “hunting with a lantern, torch, bonfire or other artificial light” a misdemeanor. It was an admirable attempt to level the playing field, short of giving deer automatic weapons.
Executive orders originated way back in America’s beta start-up phase. George Washington wrote eight, and John Adams one. The first 150 or so weren’t numbered. But in 1907, Abraham Lincoln’s “Executive Order Establishing a Provisional Court in Louisiana,” issued in 1862, was retroactively recorded as Executive Order #1. And there have been 13,801 since. A tidy number, but you wouldn’t want to carve them onto limestone and carry them around in a backpack.
FDR issued 3,728, averaging 307 per annum over his twelve-year and change run. But historians generally agree events back then verged on the hectic, what with a capital “D” depression and a World War going on and all. Not to mention gangsters o’plenty roaming the Midwest and Judy Garland terrorizing soundstages all over the greater Los Angeles basin.
During his victorious presidential campaign, Donald Trump derided Barack Hussein Obama for an unhealthy dependence on executive orders, accusing the 44th president of being “too lazy to negotiate.” Because during elections and only during elections, “negotiate” is not a dirty word.
Knowing that, you’d think he’d be reluctant to utilize them himself. And once again, you’d be wrong. As wrong as Siberian bike messengers. Like chipotle mayonnaise in a can. Three-tailed monkeys. Glass condoms. Bacon wrapped hot dogs at the opera. An acetylene torch explosion in an ice cave. In his first 150 days, Donald Trump has issued 37, putting him on pace for 92 a year, the most since Harry Truman. And that may be the last time you hear Trump mentioned in the same sentence as Truman, ever.
Executive orders are usually promoted as proof of campaign promises kept but most are simply press releases with florid signatures. The bulk create task forces, empower reviews and set up commissions, plans, reports, reorganizations, instructions, and eternal investigation into eliminating those dreaded and mythical beasts: fraud, waste and abuse. They’re mostly homework assignments for agency heads.
A few are enduring testaments and others lasting markers of national shame (EO 9066- Japanese Internment) but all subject to the Ping-Pong Effect, where one president enacts it and the next rescinds it. Trump undoes Obama executive orders who rolled back George W Bush’s, who did the same to Bill Clinton, etc, etc.
Which means that no matter what damage Trump attempts to do to individual freedoms, the environment and corporate authority, chances are the next president will overturn the most egregious of them which is most. That is assuming there is a next president. Fingers crossed.