feature2 / News

Resistance Report: The First Month

Image from The Daily Beast

Image from The Daily Beast

The role and influence of the executive branch has been expanding and strengthening with every passing administration for decades.  Some of the most powerful tools in the presidential toolbox are executive actions: executive orders and memorandums.  Donald Trump promised he would be different than any other president in our history, especially his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama.  Trump decried the use of executive actions during the Obama Administration and won praise from Republicans in December 2015, when on the campaign trail he said, “I don’t think [Obama] even tries anymore. I think he just signs executive actions.”  While Obama currently holds the record with nineteen executive actions in his first twelve days in office, Trump comes in closely behind with eighteen such actions in his first twelve days.  A key difference to be made, however, is the unprecedented nature of these executive actions undertaken by President Trump.

Let’s take a look at some of the actions taken in just a few weeks:

January 24th, 2017 – President Trump signed a pair of executive memorandums which resume the construction of the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines.  The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which was halted under Obama, will transport a fossil fuel with an “industry average emissions…estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as intensive per barrel as conventional crude [oil]” through America’s heartland until it reaches the recently oil-devastated Gulf of Mexico for refining and distribution.  The Dakota Access pipeline has been the subject of intense debate and protest since its inception.  This pipeline has been scheduled to be built through the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota where it will disturb native burial sites and the slightest accident will contaminate the drinking water.  In December of 2016, President Obama responded to environmental activists’ demands and halted the construction.  The Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a statement, “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternative routes for the pipeline crossing.” According to NPR, “the Army Corps of Engineers will continue its review of the Dakota Access pipeline route, but the executive order could speed up the process.”

On January 25th, 2017, President Trump signed another pair of executive actions, this time concerning our southern border with Mexico.  The first of the pair is a plan for the erection of “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.”  The second order calls for the hiring of 10,000 more immigration officers and to revoke federal grant money from so-called “sanctuary cities” which refuse to deport undocumented immigrants.  The orders failed to outline how either the hiring increase or the wall itself will be paid for, but the president still insists that “Mexico will pay for it.”

On January 29th, 2017 – President Trump signed an executive order which elevated Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, founding member of the alt-right Breitbart News, to the National Security Council (NSC); never before has a political advisor or strategist been given such high national security clearance.  This may seem strange, but the truly alarming aspect of the order is the removal from the NSC of two of the highest-ranking national security experts in the nation: the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  For context, two men who held similar jobs as Bannon, David Axelrod under Obama and Karl Rove under G.W. Bush, never had this unprecedented access to national security intelligence, for they were political advisors.  Another unsettling dimension of this order is that, according to New York Magazine, President Trump was not “fully briefed” before signing the executive order, which was authored by Mr. Bannon, and “[is now] a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.”

The United States is a very different place than it was  a month ago.  These are just a few of the nearly two dozen executive actions taken by Trump since his inauguration and many more are expected to be signed before his one-hundredth days in office.  Time will be the best determiner of the failure or success of these presidential actions, but history has proved that an unflinching abuse of executive authority coupled with the nepotistic elevation of close advisors lead down a path of corruption and constitutional crises.