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Finley: Trump should end executive orders

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Those who still believe in the constitutional separation of powers must be saying to themselves, “Here we go again.”

It turns out Donald Trump packed a case full of ink pens for his move into the White House.

Reports are that he will use them to sign executive orders, starting perhaps as early as Monday, putting in place his preferences on issues ranging from immigration to the war against terror.

This type of unilateral governing is one of the things voters rejected in electing Trump. And the president himself campaigned against former President Barack Obama’s unconstitutional use of executive orders to reshape America.

Now he intends to do the same thing. No surprise. Obama blasted George W. Bush for bypassing Congress and imposing his will. And then when he got into office, he perfected the art. It was wrong when Bush did it, wrong when Obama did it, and it will be wrong should Trump do it.

Representative government was put in place for a good reason: to give the people a voice in the country’s direction. You can’t promise, as Trump did in his inauguration speech, to give the government back to the people and then ignore the people’s representatives.

Trump promises to roll back all of Obama’s executive orders, as well as his overreaching rules and regulations. That’s a welcome action. But don’t replace them with even more executive orders.

Congress is supposed to serve as a check on the power of the presidency. It can’t fulfill that role if the president scraps the Constitution and simply does what he wants.

Obama put so many landscape-changing executive orders and agency rules in place, and Congress passed so little meaningful legislation over the past eight years, that you could easily mistake the United States for a dictatorship.

The former president defended his go-around by noting congressional Republicans were blocking his agenda.

That’s by constitutional design. The Founders established the legislative branch to deliberate and adopt laws. The requirement of congressional approval forces the president to make a compelling case for what he wants, to compromise and build consensus.

Obama struck an antagonistic relationship with Congress from the get-go, and he rarely bothered to attempt to persuade them. Instead he governed, as he famously boasted, with his pen and phone.

A president has powerful leverage in the form of his bully pulpit to bring public pressure on Congress. Obama didn’t use it; he just assumed he had popular support.

He didn’t, as the recent election demonstrated. Instead, people felt they had lost their voice and policies were being crammed down their throats. Without congressional involvement, the measures had fewer advocates back home.

Trump promised to drain the swamp and take a far less Washington-centric approach to governing. He can prove that by restoring core constitutional principles and hunkering down to the tough work of building congressional consensus.

Throw away the pens. Put an end to executive orders.

Nolan Finley’s book “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice” is available from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble Nook.