495px-Donald_Trump_by_Gage_SkidmoreBelow is my Sunday column in the Washington Post on Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entry into the United States. Trump’s rhetoric has shocked many in his promises to unilaterally force sweeping changes regardless of Congress. Yet, Trump’s criticism of Congress and pledge to go it alone should be vaguely familiar for many. Both Obama and Trump advocate to use unilateral powers to change the immigration laws as a rejection of a “do nothing” Congress. Faced with opposition in Congress, President Obama insisted that he would order many of the very changes rejected by the legislative branch. Despite my agreement with President Obama on many of his policies, it is a dangerous and destabilizing legacy or a system based on the separation of powers. While these men may differ on their policy choices, the powers are the same. President Obama has been asserting many the powers referenced by Trump despite constitutional objections and losses in court like the Canning decision. For this reason, the objections from Obama supporters may ring a bit hollow for Trump supporters. While Trump may have coined “You’re fired” as an entertainment tag line, it was President Obama who fashioned it into a political doctrine in his rejection of Congress. This has been a role that Trump has spent years cultivating on reality shows. It is reality TV meets realpolitick. Below is the column.

Donald Trump has spent years cultivating a reputation as someone who won’t accept “no” for an answer, and he’s made clear that’s exactly the sort of president he would be. Never mind if there’s bipartisan opposition to barring Muslims from entering the United States or to building a wall along the Mexican border (and making Mexico pay for it). Trump doesn’t see a need to defer to Congress, which he dismisses as “grossly incompetent” and “pathetically weak.” Instead, he heralds instances of past presidents acting unilaterally, particularly Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order that led to Japanese American internment and Dwight Eisenhower’s deportation of millions under “Operation Wetback.”

These comments have understandably energized the Stop Trump movement. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Trump’s proposal for barring Muslims “disqualifies him” from office. Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin rallied supporters with the message, “We have to be ready to stop him.”

But if Democrats are alarmed by this glimpse into a Trump administration, they are in part to blame. They have supported President Obama’s claims of unchecked authority in a variety of areas, particularly immigration. And the Obama model will be attractive to successors who, although they may have a different agenda, have the same appetite for unilateral decisions.

Obama has used his willingness to go it alone as a rallying cry for Democrats. “We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will,” he told supporters in 2011. In his 2013 State of the Union address, his similar line, “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” was met with ecstatic applause from the Democratic side of the chamber.

Of course, the expansion of presidential authority did not start with Obama, and his predecessor George W. Bush was widely criticized (including by me) for seeking unilateral powers after the 9/11 attacks. Yet Obama has been particularly aggressive in his unilateral actions. From health care to immigration to the environment, he has set out to order changes long refused by Congress. Thrilled by those changes, supporters have ignored the obvious danger that they could be planting a self-defeating precedent if the next president proves to be a Cruz rather than a Clinton. While the policies may not carry over to the next president, the powers will.

Consider some of the positions expressed in the GOP primary race:

• Ben Carson dismisses the science on climate change, saying the real worry would be if temperatures stopped going up and down. A President Carson could order the same kind of sweeping regulatory changes that Obama has sought for power plants and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions — only in the opposite direction.

• Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has pledged to recognize personhood beginning at conception. In a Huckabee administration, while subject to Supreme Court restrictions, a host of federal laws could be reinterpreted to treat the unborn as people. Huckabee’s view differs from Congress’s, but so did Obama’s when he parted ways with Congress on the urgency of climate change.

• Sen. Ted Cruz wants to repeal the corporate income tax. Just as the Obama administration claimed discretion to delay enforcement of the health-care law’s employer mandate and to defer the deportation of some undocumented immigrants, President Cruz might be inclined to use his executive discretion to extend, perhaps indefinitely, the deadline for corporate income tax payments. Likewise, Cruz could order prosecutors not to charge, or to reduce the charges associated with, certain corporate offenses, as Obama did with some nonviolent drug crimes.

• Various candidates have denounced what they see as biased treatment of religious groups and individuals on college campuses. The next president might want to order the Department of Education to strip away due process protections for those accused of anti-religious speech, just as the Obama administration did in cases of alleged sexual harassment or assault — putting federal education funding at risk for any university that defies the White House.

• Some of the presidential candidates reject evolution and support the teaching of creationism in schools. The new president could alter national science curriculum standards and waive requirements on the teaching of science. After all, the Obama administration offered waivers to school districts that didn’t meet state-defined goals for math and reading proficiency, in direct contradiction of No Child Left Behind.

• Trump has insisted that killing terrorists is not enough. He told Fox News that “you have to take out their families .” While many people were horrified, Trump is simply adding another target package to a program formalized by Obama. The current administration has asserted the authority to kill even U.S. citizens, anywhere, at any time, if it deems them to be imminent threats to national security.

• Most of the candidates oppose the Affordable Care Act. Assuming that Democrats have enough votes in Congress to prevent a repeal, the next president might be tempted to refuse to defend the law against court challenges, under the view that the law is unconstitutional. The Obama administration did that with the Defense of Marriage Act, announcing in 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend the statute.

• Most of the contenders have criticized increasing regulation and bureaucratic costs for businesses. The next president could order the delay of any new rules on workplace safety, wages or discrimination. After all, the Obama administration treated deadlines specified in the Affordable Care Act as little more than aspirational. Alternatively, the next administration could simply relieve businesses of such statutory obligations. Obama’s administration told companies that when imposing layoffs connected to federal budget cuts known as sequestration, they could ignore the 60-day notice requirement in place since the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act was passed in 1988.

• Virtually all of the candidates have called for the repeal or weakening of Dodd-Frank, the financial reform law designed to curb abuses by big banks. The next president might be inclined to declare that banks are not required to fulfill certain obligations under the law. Consider the Obama administration’s treatment of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. TANF was signed by President Bill Clinton to condition receipt of welfare benefits on work (or preparing for work). The Obama administration, however, told states that it would waive that requirement .

The problem with allowing a president to become a government unto himself is that you cannot guarantee who the next president might be. Now the leading Republican candidate is someone who views most of his creations in eponymous terms — as reflected by 20-foot letters spelling out his name on top of his hotels. He is the perfect uber personality to fit our uber presidency.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.

73 thoughts on “WHAT OBAMA TAUGHT TRUMP”

  1. DBQ,
    Absolutely correct. What phillyT is saying is, “but it’s MY Fascist Oligarchy” and you’d better respect that.

  2. Faced opposition from every turn? Boo hoo! I don’t know, maybe they just thought his ideas sucked.

    @ PhillyT

    Olly has it correct. Yes. Obama faced opposition, because he was elected by one party and the opposition party was elected by the people TO OPPOSE him. That is the way the system works in a Representative Democracy.

    You just want a dictatorship that represents YOUR personal views and screw all the others who oppose your views. Admit it.

    We…..on the other hand, prefer to have each party, each side able to represent their views. If the opposition wins, well….that is how the game is supposed to be played. Supposed to…..

    And Prairie Rose is right. We are nearly into a totalitarian type of government.

    The United States has become a Fascist Oligarchy.

  3. phillyT,
    Unlike yourself, I respect the rule of law. I don’t reserve my wrath for a particular political party primarily because they are a progressive cancer on this republic. These ideologues are destroying this country and they’ve relied on an idiot electorate to make that happen.

  4. and calypso, I tried to respond to your silly comTyrment last night but it wouldn’t go through.

    You can’t just make things up and hope for the best. Or maybe you can in your own little bubble, but here in reality, the US only outspends other nations in military and healthcare. And our healthcare dollars are largely due to what a terrible system we have, since we rank about 19th in the world. Infrastructure spending and all the rest? Not so much. Unless you have some other meaningless number that won’t stand up to any honest scrutiny. Try getting out of your bubble one of these days.

  5. Oh Olly, I can’t wait to hear you screaming bloody murder when the next republican president faces opposition, or the congress tries to repeal some piece of his legislation 57 times. Treason! Traitors!

    Oh, wait. The chances of a republican becoming president in this century are about zero, so never mind.

  6. phillyT,
    Faced opposition from every turn? Boo hoo! I don’t know, maybe they just thought his ideas sucked. Last I checked the filibuster is a legitimate tool to use and at least that twit knew it. I don’t care if 535 members of Congress hate him to the core; it does not give him authority to do things by executive fiat.

  7. Olly,
    It’s so funny how conservatives like to forget the facts. From day one President Obama faced opposition at every turn. Have you forgotten the unprecedented number of filibusters by Republicans? More than ever before in the history of the republic. And a lack of cooperation from the blue dogs in his own party. Remember Ben Nelson? Mark Pryor? Max Baucus? Jim Matheson?
    Yes the Democrats helped make the mess, but stop pretending there was any period where things went easy.

  8. Prairie Rose, I do believe that’s called fascism. People tend to overuse the term, but I think that’s what you’re describing in a nutshell.

  9. DBQ,
    “The checks and balances are the things that are preventing us from sliding into a totalitarian/dictatorship government.”

    Just barely, I think. Congress has abdicated much of its power. It hasn’t really used the power of the purse, and aspects of legislating are turned over to the agencies to make up as they see fit, and the president uses E.O. to get what he wants. Heck, the Dept of Ed has guns, as does the USDA and NASA to enforce criminal investigations all thanks to the Homeland Security Act. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/17/why-u-s-education-department-has-27-12-gauge-shotguns/, http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/23/politics/auditors-guns/).

    NSA whistleblower William Binney said we are nearly in a turnkey totalitarian state.

    I wish with all my heart that everything was working the way the Founders envisioned, but it isn’t.

    We seem to have an aggravating combination of the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about and corporatism directing the government.

  10. “PBO wanted so desperately to reach across the aisle to work with the republicans.”

    Did you slip into a coma the day after his first inauguration and just wake up? What obstacle did he face getting his agenda through in his first 2 years? You are being willfully ignorant if you assert any President exercising unilateral power so easily and without remorse had any intention of working with the opposing party.

    I have no doubt Trump is licking his chops for the same opportunity. The question is what will be the opposing party?

  11. Barkin dog…which wife? .isn’t his wife from like hungary or somewhere not usa? So like obama…..?:) would not a birther movement catch up?

  12. Philly, we ALREADY spend more than anybody else on roads, bridges, solar power, healthcare for our veterans, food for our hungry kids, and education.

    I get the feeling you may not know your way around this subject very well, so I’ll just leave you to your righteous indignation and hope you can find your way back to the topic at hand at some point, keep reading, and eventually figure out that despotism isn’t in any of our best interests, even if it looks like it’ll help you get some things on your wish list in the short run.

  13. The difference which you don’t mention in your article, is that PBO wanted so desperately to reach across the aisle to work with the republicans. It was the Republican Party who never wanted to reach across the aisle to the president. It all goes back on the day of Obama’s inauguration when a group of republicans met in a back room at a restaurant to plot against the new president. They were to go against everything the president try to do so he could fail. They are still doing it today. It came to a point in the president’s second term where he had no choice but to take executive action. Hence, I totally disagree with this article.

  14. people who CLAIM to know what everybody else in the country needs to be forced to do by circumventing the “inefficient” and “broken” system of legislative and executive checks and balances of the Constitution are the ones who rush willingly into the arms of dictatorship.

    Exactly my point. The checks and balances are the things that are preventing us from sliding into a totalitarian/dictatorship government. The founders who lived under a ruling Kingship knew the dangers of such a “top down” dictatorial system and devised the three branched government to try to stop such a system.

    Those who, out of ideology, want to disregard this and allow a President, any President, the unfettered power to make laws, disregard laws and to dismiss Congress, which is under the Constitution the legislative body that is charged with making laws and controlling the spending are in fact advocating for a Dictatorship.

    While it is enticing to get done what YOU want to have accomplished and bypass that messy Congressional process and allow a King or Dictator who believes the same as you to take the reins of power…..it is foolish. At some point, the powers that be, will change and suddenly YOU and YOUR wants, ideas, needs will not be in favor or be considered. When the Dictator suddenly dictates against you….remember who it was who advocated for a dictator in the first place. Who are you going to turn to to save yourselves.

  15. It doesn’t matter how our military spending compares to how it’s always been. That’s a meaningless comparison.

    In 2015 we spent about 3% of our GDP on the military, about $1,821 per capita.
    China spent 1.2% ($95 per capita)
    UK spent 2.1% ($964 per capita)
    France spent 1.8% ($804 per capita)
    Germany spent 1.1% (($541 per capita)
    Italy spends 1.1% ($400 per capita)

    So the point is that instead of pouring billions and billions of dollars into our military industrial complex and waging war on the world, we could fall in line with the rest of the actual civilized world and start spending that money on things we actually need, like roads, bridges, solar power, healthcare for our veterans, food for our hungry kids, education and so on. The reason we are falling behind all these other countries is that they spend money on their people and we buy weapons.

  16. Military spending as a percentage of GDP is about the lowest it’s been since about 1939 and tax receipts (federal + state) in both nominal and percentage of GDP terms are at just about the highest. You might want to check these things out before posting public rants? Just sayin’.

    I actually agree that we could reduce our bankrolling of NATO, the UN, and the rest of the world, but it doesn’t make that big of a difference overall. Entitlement spending is the current and future financial problem of the US that needs to be addressed. No way around it.

    Back to the point of the article, people who CLAIM to know what everybody else in the country needs to be forced to do by circumventing the “inefficient” and “broken” system of legislative and executive checks and balances of the Constitution are the ones who rush willingly into the arms of dictatorship.

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