For the last couple of weeks, we have been stormed by images of the newly elected President Donald Trump signing executive orders flanked by his white and male council. For many, this image represents stability. For me, it is just terrifying.
If we go back to the tradition of executive orders, we find that it is customary for a president to have a peak in the signing of executive orders in the first 100 days of governing. Since 2009, however, when Obama took office, an unprecedented amount of executive orders have been signed. Arguably, the tensioning of bipartisan politics has some strong influence on this. Obama signed 19 executive orders and presidential memorandums in his first 100 days (considerably more than W. Bush or Clinton). Donald Trump has signed 20 and we are not even halfway through his first 100 days.
Since 2009, executive orders have flooded the policy-making process in Washington. Most executive orders signed by Obama were intended to revoke policies previously approved by other presidents. It is unprecedented that Donald Trump’s executive orders are not only revoking previous presidential decisions, but are creating unprecedented action without congressional debate. Even Obama’s order to close Guantanamo detention facilities had congressional debate before its signing and it has been a topic largely discussed in open debates in American politics. The travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries is an alarming and unprecedented presidential action. The horrifying content of the law shows a man who empowered by position who is willing to push for policy while disregarding legislative debate and teasing the U.S. branches of government.
These executive orders are policies that the president is trying to implement without congressional approval, and even if they can’t replace laws previously approved by Congress, executive orders are a sign of a weakened democracy and republic. The peak of executive orders that the country has suffered from in the last three presidential periods demarks a weakening democratic system of representation. The issue becomes even more concerning when a man like Donald Trump gets access to power. Donald Trump will follow the tradition that his predecessors set for him. The problem is that the current divisionist government is willing to go beyond bipartisan politics to establish his presidential agenda. His executive orders include controversial content and are creating further friction for an already polarized bipartisan system.
The issue of executive orders needs to be analyzed in a broader sense. Beyond Trump’s recent policy decisions, Americans need to look at how their democratic and public institutions are functioning. Why has there been a boom in executive orders in the last two presidencies? Why are democratic institutions not conversing with each other when it comes to such controversial policy decisions?
Maybe the answer to these questions is that Americans have become a comfortable society accustomed to democracy at no cost. Now it is the time for Americans to rediscover and push for democratic institutions that respect representation and the best interests of the common person. The new president has shown that he is not afraid to bypass public discourse to implement policy that goes against American values, so it is time for Americans to decide what their values really are and if they are ready to fight for them.
Trump’s immigration laws are only the beginning of what we thought were just charades. American civil society is going to be tested for the next four years, and preserving the institutions and the democratic character of the country is in everyone’s hands now. Comfort and ignorance have no room in Trump’s America. Democracy should not be taken for granted. When bigotry rules, education and activism become the most powerful weapons against divisionist governments.