Executive Orders Show Flaws in the System


For the last couple of weeks, we have been stormed by images of the newly elected President Donald Trump signing executive orders flanked by his white and male council. For many, this image represents stability. For me, it is just terrifying.

If we go back to the tradition of executive orders, we find that it is customary for a president to have a peak in the signing of executive orders in the first 100 days of governing. Since 2009, however, when Obama took office, an unprecedented amount of executive orders have been signed. Arguably, the tensioning of bipartisan politics has some strong influence on this. Obama signed 19 executive orders and presidential memorandums in his first 100 days (considerably more than W. Bush or Clinton). Donald Trump has signed 20 and we are not even halfway through his first 100 days.

Since 2009, executive orders have flooded the policy-making process in Washington. Most executive orders signed by Obama were intended to revoke policies previously approved by other presidents. It is unprecedented that Donald Trump’s executive orders are not only revoking previous presidential decisions, but are creating unprecedented action without congressional debate. Even Obama’s order to close Guantanamo detention facilities had congressional debate before its signing and it has been a topic largely discussed in open debates in American politics. The travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries is an alarming and unprecedented presidential action. The horrifying content of the law shows a man who empowered by position who is willing to push for policy while disregarding legislative debate and teasing the U.S. branches of government.

These executive orders are policies that the president is trying to implement without congressional approval, and even if they can’t replace laws previously approved by Congress, executive orders are a sign of a weakened democracy and republic. The peak of executive orders that the country has suffered from in the last three presidential periods demarks a weakening democratic system of representation. The issue becomes even more concerning when a man like Donald Trump gets access to power. Donald Trump will follow the tradition that his predecessors set for him. The problem is that the current divisionist government is willing to go beyond bipartisan politics to establish his presidential agenda. His executive orders include controversial content and are creating further friction for an already polarized bipartisan system.

The issue of executive orders needs to be analyzed in a broader sense. Beyond Trump’s recent policy decisions, Americans need to look at how their democratic and public institutions are functioning. Why has there been a boom in executive orders in the last two presidencies? Why are democratic institutions not conversing with each other when it comes to such controversial policy decisions?

Maybe the answer to these questions is that Americans have become a comfortable society accustomed to democracy at no cost. Now it is the time for Americans to rediscover and push for democratic institutions that respect representation and the best interests of the common person. The new president has shown that he is not afraid to bypass public discourse to implement policy that goes against American values, so it is time for Americans to decide what their values really are and if they are ready to fight for them.

Trump’s immigration laws are only the beginning of what we thought were just charades. American civil society is going to be tested for the next four years, and preserving the institutions and the democratic character of the country is in everyone’s hands now. Comfort and ignorance have no room in Trump’s America. Democracy should not be taken for granted. When bigotry rules, education and activism become the most powerful weapons against divisionist governments.



  1. There has been no surge in executive orders since Obama took office. In fact, Obama signed less than 15 of the 18 presidents before him starting with Teddy Roosevelt.

    • Hi, thanks for this point of clarification. However, it is important to see that most of the executive orders signed between 1969 and 2008 happened during consistent and important US military involvement overseas. Since 2008 (arguable peace times), there has been an unprecedented signing of executive orders.
      Also important to clarify that the piece is trying to reflect on those orders that pass without previous debates between branches of government and public institutions (Travel Ban).

  2. Well once again, Obama has set a terrible precedent, and in doing so, made it normal to fight back with more of them from Trump. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  3. I also think you are too comfortable with calling those opposed to you bigots. I can call you lots of names. There are 2 sides to an argument, and you couldn’t possibly be right every time unless you were a sociopath. Sick of liberals constantly playing the race card to get their way. So are a lot of other people……ya know…..the majority of Americans.

    • Hi, I don’t think liberals are playing a “card” when they mention race. Divisionist politics and narrative have dominated the US political landscape for the past two years. The politics of identity are playing a huge role in American and world politics, and it is only normal that we include them in conversations about governments and democracy, don’t you think?

      Moreover, I will gladly hear the names you can call me, and I will reply to each one of them with a rational explanation. I called Mr. Trump a “bigot” because I can prove, through his own rhetoric, that he is.

      And yes, there are two sides of an argument. But by the comments you make and the things I wrote, I think we can agree that democracy is at a very delicate state in the US, and that in times like this, ignorance and misinformation have no room.

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful, nuanced editorial. I couldn’t agree more that executive orders on the scale we’ve seen them issued over the past several presidencies are symptomatic of bipartisan breakdown in Congress, and now are a sign of Trump’s ‘ruling’ style–government by edict, with a contemptuous flip off to the other two branches of government. Passivity, and maybe even more the case, a feeling of being hugely overwhelmed by rapidly changing ‘rules of the game’ is what brought the German people under thrall of Hitler in the ’30s. We’re facing the ‘perfect storm’ of overwhelming governmental forces right now, and our best (perhaps only?) hope is for a truly united and unprecedented grass roots pushback. Our congressional representatives will generally not initiate the pushback, but will respond to demands from their constituents and enough concerned citizenry.

  5. Unprecedented? Really? Do you remember this phrase: “I’ve got a pen and a phone.” It was your hero Obama who said that, along with “Elections have consequences” when slapping down Republicans trying to work with him on the atrocity known as Obamacare (a.k.a. The (un)Affordable Care Act). While you try to paint your dismay about Trump’s recent executive orders as lack of comity among the parties in Washington, you’re really just another ant-Trump whiner. (“The issue becomes even more concerning when a man like Donald Trump gets access to power.”) The truth is simply this: most of America is gleeful that Obama is out, no matter whether Trump was their first, second or even last choice as replacement — since most of worried that a man like Obama had access to power. Trump will continue to have support simply because he is not Obama or the criminal Hillary Clinton. As for your feelings of being “uncomfortable,” now you know how so many of us felt while Obama ran the country with his executive orders, not willing to work with Republicans, using his pen, phone, and smugness. Trump will get more done that Obama did because he understands that laws are much harder to overturn than executive orders and will therefore work with Congress to accomplish his agenda.

    • Hi, first of all, thanks for taking the time to read this and leave a comment. My opinion piece meant to incorporate some large and, sometimes, non-contextual ideas about what executive orders mean for a democracy. I was especially interested in looking at how these controversial new policies have been implemented without substantial conversations between branches of government and decision-makers (AKA Homeland Security’s unclear procedural behavior after the ban was sign).

      I understand the general unconformity with the so-called establishment, and how a large group of Americans felt left behind by both parties and their representatives. But I am making an overall claim about how Americans are starting to lose some of their democratic character. For me, the idea of government is not to “get more done”, but doing things carefully and keeping the basic ideals of republicanism and democracy intact. My feelings about President Trump are clear, but my piece was looking, with skepticism, at the concerning trend of signing executive orders that dates back to Clinton, and that include both Democratic and Republican governments.

  6. Well done, Lewis & Clark College – this item made Google News\’s U.S. headlines. And all hail to those expressing such laudable feelings here, with only one question: Where were your terror and outrage when our previous president\’s efforts to govern ran into a congressional \”great wall\”? President Obama\’s resort to executive orders signalled long ago that representative democracy and the Constitution were both brittle in nature, dependent more on good will to function than we had realized in our lifetimes, at least–presidential historians may point to Andrew Jackson\’s presidency as offering certain parallels, but who in America knows anything about history anymore? So, perhaps better late than never, this voicing of terror. Better late than never this outrage over executive abuse of power. But much better that congressional abuse of power had been challenged robustly eight years ago. That was terrifying to me then, for I knew of no precedent for such successful obstructionism in my lifetime, but I heard no such voices speaking out forcefully in public forums, sounding the alarm that our democracy was dying. Perhaps late is not better, after all.

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