For the past six years, the media has lionized Barack Obama for his increasing autocratic acts in pushing executive power to its limits — or past them — rather than compromise with Republicans in control of Congress. “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” Obama declared, “and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.” Despite serious rebukes by courts over his attempts to bypass the Senate on recess appointments and flat-out violate the law on immigration, the media has always cast Republicans as villains for frustrating Obama’s agenda rather than focus on his abuses of executive authority.
Suddenly, though, an epiphany has begun to dawn on the media. Pens and phones are old and busted, and checks and balances are the new hotness. How else is one to read this primer from the Los Angeles Times describing all the ways in which Congress and the law limit Donald Trump’s authority after January 20th?
Could Trump overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide? Could he abolish same-sex marriages? Could he increase deportations? How about global warming? Could Trump pull out of U.S. agreements on climate change? What about Obamacare?
The chief executive has a lot of authority over the government, as President Obama has demonstrated. But as Obama has found, he also faces tremendous constraints from Congress, the courts and existing laws.
Here are some areas in which President Trump could act quickly and where he could not.
Feel free to read the whole thing, but the answers to the questions posed in the excerpts are, respectively: not directly, no, yes, child please, just watch him, and its days are numbered. It’s odd, though; I don’t recall the Times cheering those “tremendous constraints” when Obama tested them. David Lauter’s primer takes a pretty even tone, but just the questions and explanations show how rattled Calexitstan and beyond has become with the rejection of Obama’s legacy by the electorate on Tuesday.
For the last couple of days, protesters have poured into the streets, blocking traffic and committing vandalism over the Coming Trump Authoritarianism — as clear a case of clueless irony as one could see in politics. Californians who have been bickering for decades about seceding from each other in all sorts of Byzantine ways suddenly want to secede from the rest of us. Here’s a suggestion that would answer all of their concerns: a renewed commitment to federalism and subsidiarity, as expressed in the Constitution.
Under a true federalist system, Californians could run their own state, as could Coloradans, Minnesotans, and also Texans, Floridians, New Yorkers, and, er … whatever people from Wisconsin call themselves. All it would take would be a repudiation of Wickard v Filburn to reduce federal authority over economic activity to commerce that actually takes place across state lines. Each state could have their own EPA, if they desire it, and maintain their own land in the manner they see fit.
In such a system, the authority of the president would greatly diminish on domestic affairs, allowing voters to consider candidates for such a position based on issues such as diplomacy and national defense rather than which of the two will be the biggest busybodies. Rather than trying to run a nanny state and failing as miserably as F. A. Hayek predicted, Congress could focus on a much narrower range of tasks and do those well. Most importantly, states could keep much of the revenue pouring into Washington and provide a lot more effective accountability over its use.
Does that appeal to all the special snowflakes looking for safe space in the Age of Trump, and to all of those protesting because they just found out what it feels like to lose an election? Sound like a novel idea that could shield you from the potential side effects of a presidential election? Well, then congratulations — you are well on your way to becoming a conservative, or perhaps a libertarian. Feel free to ask us about the principles that we have (imperfectly to be sure) espoused all along while Barack Obama set all the precedents that Donald Trump will expand to your detriment. We’ll try not to snicker when explaining them to you … much, anyway.
Oh, and if this doesn’t appeal to you on Day Three of the Trump Era, then you should ask yourselves whether you oppose authoritarianism, or are just pouting over the fact that your side won’t have the authority for it for the next four years. If it’s the latter, then we’ll be snickering … loudly. And you’ll deserve it.
Addendum: Glenn Reynolds writes in a similar vein that “secession is for losers“:
Well, presidents are a lot more powerful than they used to be, so maybe a hated president would be a bigger threat. (Although the South seceded in 1861 over the election of Abraham Lincoln.) Or maybe the federal government as a whole is so much more powerful that it’s intolerable to imagine a hostile party in charge now.
And maybe secession just seems like less of a big deal in a more globalized, less nationalistic world. When elites, and even ordinary people, routinely jet from one nation to another, when immigration is championed by advocates of “open borders,” and when, frankly, it’s unimaginable that other countries like Britain would start a war to, say, prevent Scotland from leaving the UK, maybe the idea of secession from the United States — which last time produced a bloody war whose damage remains visible today — seems like a less dramatic step.
But the key point is that secession is for losers, because under today’s federal government, losing is intolerable. If you think that you can’t win nationally, you want to secede locally. If we had a more tolerable federal government, even losers wouldn’t want to secede. Maybe, even after this year’s election, we should give that a shot.