I should start out by saying that I’m not a supporter of Donald Trump; he makes me cringe as much as the next liberal arts student (although perhaps not to the point of protesting). But my fear of Trump stems more from the President on his way out than the President currently on his way in. In a strange irony of politics, the monster-elect is a product of his predecessor’s policies.
Consider three recent events: Obama’s executive order regarding immigration, Obama’s expulsion of Russian diplomatic staff, and America’s continued entanglements in the Middle East.
Obama’s 2015 executive order would have protected five million undocumented immigrants from deportation, bucking federal and state laws, not to mention his own record-breaking levels of deportation. However, multitudes of liberal Americans supported this measure as a favorable shift in American immigration policy.
Following accusations that Russia interfered with the 2016 US presidential election by hacking the DNC- and thereby helping Democrats finally deliver on their promises for transparency- the President called for the ejection of 35 members of Russia’s diplomatic corps. Russia’s response was something of an eye-roll, as their London embassy reminded the world of Obama’s “lame duck” status via Tweeted meme and Putin welcomed the deported staff’s families at a New Year celebration. Despite the urging of Russia’s foreign minister, no American diplomats were expelled in return.
As for new barely-legal “boots on the ground” in Yemen and Syria, neither Democrats nor Republicans have spoken against an increased American presence in the Middle East as they have both turned a blind eye. Although Congressional approval is typically required for military engagements, the Executive has largely ignored their consent.
The implications of these decisions set a precedent for a centralized, powerful executive, one that can swiftly turn American immigration policy on its head, shift international policy on a whim, and deploy troops at will. Not to mention the legacy of the creation of executive departments like the TSA and DHS, which restrict American citizens’ freedoms without any sort of legislative, and therefore civilian, supervision.
Of course, this power is now in the hands of the new president-elect. The proverbial shoe is on the other proverbial foot.
In the same stroke that asserts that President Obama can protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation, President Trump could deport undocumented immigrants against American immigration law. And if these orders can trump (pun intended) state and federal statutes, where is the legal case for the legitimacy of sanctuary cities?
Such a sweeping diplomatic move as expelling 35 Russian diplomats at the drop of a hat could be volatile in the wrong hands. Imagine a shift of the international world order on a global scale at the flip of a coin, in which a sudden change in power, thanks to a single voice in the White House, can have international and domestic repercussions. Thanks to Obama’s imminent retirement and Trump’s imminent rise, the consequences were minimal. But had it been a different nation, different president, and different time? The aftermath could be devastating.
Lastly, Obama’s warmongering has set a precedent for a president with hefty military power. With an increased American presence in the South China Sea and Baltic States, and Obama-sanctioned airstrikes wracking the Middle East (often killing civilians, and even American citizens with no criminal conviction), our Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning executive has certainly not been shy to use the War Powers Resolution to meddle in undeclared wars around the world, not to mention continued torture and indefinite detainment a la Guantanamo Bay. Now, take the power to place troops, order killings by RC plane, and charge headlong into foreign regions without the consent of the American electorate, and put it in the hands of Donald Trump. Suddenly, it seems a lot scarier.
Here lies the importance of a limited state, and especially of a limited executive office. If the president can singlehandedly order the betterment of the United States, he also has the capacity to singlehandedly order the worsening of it. Unilateral power is only legitimate if it fits your agenda; and now that the American people have chosen a new leader, Trump is inheriting an office of awesome weight. Let’s just hope he doesn’t flex the same muscles Obama did.