President Trump has issued seventeen Executive Orders as president. This use of executive authority is customary as new presidents seek to orient policy in the heady days of their young administration. With this history, it follows that Trump’s reliance on executive orders is not the issue at hand. What has been critically problematic, however, are the sorts of partisan, insensitive directives that have characterized Trump’s use of executive power.
In late January, President Trump issued executive order 13769, the now infamous “Muslim Travel Ban” that sent airports into chaos as TSA agents began detaining travelers from the nations of Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Libya regardless of visa status or establishment of legal residency in the United States. The ban engendered mass activism across the U.S. as lawyers and ordinary citizens gathered to fervently challenge and protest a travel ban many believed to be racist, xenophobic, illegal and antithetical to American values. However, not soon after the ban took effect, appellate courts found the ban to be groundless from a security standpoint and constitutionally dubious. While the President has the constitutional authority to limit immigration, he cannot circumvent treaties and legal doctrine that prohibit religious discrimination based on religion or national origin.
It is critically apparent that the Trump administration is exploiting an existential tension that has marked the post-9/11 era: maintaining homeland security versus adopting an open, globalist approach to immigration for the economic benefits. However, President Trump seems totally disinterested in furthering the globalized world order that many of his predecessors helped fashion; instead, the travel ban gives voice to the isolationist and autarkic rhetoric that marked the President’s rise on the scene. The travel ban also highlights a nationalistic trend towards limiting immigration to allay security fears happening in Europe as well.
While the legality of the travel ban was tested in the courts, the Trump administration weathered the storm by deriding the courts and flatout denying that any logistical issues existed in the ban’s rollout. But the facts tell a story that “alternative facts” do not. The activism and the courage to fight executive power when that power is used in a way that is frightening is a lesson in civic engagement, and lawmakers in Washington should take notice. Moreover, the era of President Trump is one that we will live through for four more years, but ordinary folk — citizens and noncitizens alike — can generate power via resistance efforts that can effectively override the executive actions of any sitting President, especially when such actions belie the ideals and democratic spirit upon which our nation was built. That said, more executive orders will surely follow, and Trump has vowed to refine his travel ban to pacify the courts. With this in mind, those who oppose the President’s policies should look to this moment as a reminder that the power of mass activism can literally trump Trump.