Despite the Hysteria, Trump Is Trending Less Authoritarian Than Obama
Through personnel and policy, President Trump is limiting the executive branch.
Lost in most of the coverage of President Trump’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s transgender mandates is a fundamental legal reality — the Trump administration just relinquished federal authority over gender-identity policy in the nation’s federally funded schools and colleges.
In other words, Trump was less authoritarian than Obama. And that’s not the only case. Consider the following examples where his administration, through policy or personnel, appears to be signaling that the executive branch intends to become less intrusive in American life and more accountable to internal and external critique.
-Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, a man known not just for his intellect and integrity but also for his powerful legal argument against executive-branch overreach. Based on his previous legal writings, if Gorsuch had his way, the federal bureaucracy could well face the most dramatic check on its authority since the early days of the New Deal. By overturning judicial precedents that currently require judicial deference to agency legal interpretations, the Court could put a stop to the current practice of presidents and bureaucrats steadily (and vastly) expanding their powers by constantly broadening their interpretations of existing legal statutes.
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Indeed, if you peel back the layer of leftist critiques of Trump’s early actions and early hires, they contain a surprising amount of alarmism over the rollback of governmental power. Education activists are terrified that Betsy DeVos will take children out of government schools or roll back government mandates regarding campus sexual-assault tribunals. Environmentalists are terrified that Scott Pruitt will make the EPA less activist. Civil-rights lawyers are alarmed at the notion that Jeff Sessions will inject the federal government into fewer state and local disputes over everything from school bathrooms to police traffic stops.
A president is “authoritarian” not when he’s angry or impulsive or incompetent or tweets too much. He’s authoritarian when he seeks to expand his own power beyond constitutional limits. In this regard, the Obama administration — though far more polite and restrained in most of its public comments — was truly one of our more authoritarian.
Obama exercised his so-called prosecutorial discretion not just to waive compliance with laws passed by Congress (think of his numerous unilateral delays and waivers of Obamacare deadlines) but also to create entirely new immigration programs such as DACA and DAPA. He sought to roll back First Amendment protections for political speech (through his relentless attacks on Citizens United), tried to force nuns to facilitate access to birth control, and he even tried to inject federal agencies like the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into the pastor-selection process, a move blocked by a unanimous Supreme Court. In foreign policy, he waged war without congressional approval and circumvented the Constitution’s treaty provisions to strike a dreadful and consequential deal with Iran.
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