March 3, 2024

Obama’s gift to Trump: increased executive power




Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

Obama’s gift to Trump: increased executive power

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – Thanks to President Obama, President-elect Trump is going to inherit the most powerful executive branch in modern times. It is not what Obama intended, although he would have felt fine about it had Hillary Clinton won the election.

Obama strengthened the presidency through his use of executive powers. The Republicans stopped Obama from going the conventional route of legislation by blocking any Obama initiative that mattered from getting through Congress.

That resulted in Obama handing Trump a gift – a greatly strengthened executive branch – and that’s a dangerous thing.

It opens the door more widely for Trump to exert power, plus he will have the intelligence agencies, the FBI and the CIA, working for him together with the IRS.

In the modern history of the presidency, from Eisenhower to Kennedy and forward (Richard Nixon being the exception), the incoming and outgoing presidents were mainstream leaders with a respect for government and the agencies entrusted with the American people’s security. Their partisan impulses differed, but for the most part, the people they put in place in their government, and appointed to their Cabinet, fell within the parameters of established political norms.

Maybe it’s time to shake things up. That’s certainly the message the voters sent. But when you look at the people Trump is appointing to carry out critical tasks, many have no governing or diplomatic experience and they can fairly be labeled zealots.

It’s also fair to say that Trump has shown a tendency toward vindictiveness. He can’t let things go, and he’s prone to popping off in a tweet.

So, once he’s in office and feels like popping off, he will have powerful tools at his disposal. By not even giving a hearing for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, the Republican-controlled Senate empowered the incoming president, who will get the opportunity to shape the political leanings of the Court for two generations.

FDR must be turning over in his grave. When he tried to pack the Court with jurists sympathetic to what he was attempting with his New Deal, he got brushed back. Trump has an open playing field.

And with a compliant Republican House, Trump could have an impeachment proof presidency (The House impeaches a president and sends the case to the Senate for trial). As he boasted during the campaign, he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still back him.

Soldiers in combat tell themselves if it’s possible, assume it will happen. That way you’re ready. Preparing for Trump, that same advice applies.

Would he abuse the intelligence agencies? Would he direct the IRS to give himself favored treatment? Would he use the IRS to harass his enemies?

His charitable foundation is reportedly under investigation by the IRS. How long do we think that will last? Will there be any punishment for skirting the law?

He has used his foundation to settle lawsuits and purchase portraits of himself. He’s already stretched the rules. And we’ve never seen his tax returns. We will never see his tax returns. Get used to it, his supporters say.

In public surveys, the IRS is the most feared agency. Their motto seems to be guilty until proven innocent. President Nixon used the IRS to go after his political enemies and was forced to resign for that and many other abuses. Surely Trump knows better.

The problem is that Trump has gotten away with so much that would have destroyed any other candidate or president for that matter, he is not deterred. He is emboldened.

Nixon initially defended himself saying if a president does it, it’s legal. Trump tried that too, saying a president can’t have a conflict of interest. Nixon then tried to deny his role in any wrongdoing. That didn’t work either.

Trump just doubles down, daring anyone to defy him. When everyone in power is a Republican, the checks and balances the Founding Fathers gave us may not be enough to curb Trump.


          Find Douglas Cohn’s new books, “World War 4: Nine Scenarios” (endorsed by seven flag officers) and “The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency” at:

Twitter:  @douglas_cohn

© 2016 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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