Having spent all of 2016 riding a sinusoidal wave of emotion as I allowed myself to be alternately enraged by things Donald Trump said and did, and then buoyed by the poor reactions I read thereto, I have decided to try and be far more measured in my responses to his actions as President. After all, he was duly elected, and if I actually continue to believe in Constitutionally mandated separation of powers, the system should be able to check the President where he exceeds his powers.
Which brings us to a couple of Executive Orders that were promulgated by the White House on Friday--one of which lays out restrictions on immigration to the United States, and one that directs some changes in the national security establishment, specficially designating the members of the National Security Council. In the spirit of my new "Measured in '17" approach, I have a few thoughts to share.
1. Donald Trump won the election. As our inaugurated President, he occupies the world's most powerful office. That power is not unbounded, but it is immense. In fact, he occupies an office whose power was somewhat broadened by his predecessor, who used Executive Orders promiscuously thoughout his two terms to work around a deadlocked and feckless legislature. Until the other branches of government begin to exercise their Constitutional authority, we will likely contine to have Presidents who push the boundaries of executive power.
2. On immigration, he is doing what he said he would do. It is somewhat suprising that anyone is surprised by his EO on immigration. He made no bones about what he wanted to do during the campaign, and he was elected anyway (see #1). There has been a great deal of hypeventilating going on about Trump's order, but I found David French of National Review (no friend of Trump) to be particularly enlightening on the facts surrounding the order. There can be no mistaking that whole classes of people have been excluded from entry into the United States in the past 40 years, including at least twice by order of Democratic Presidents. Put another way, what Trump has done is not without precedent. You may not like what he's done, but his authority to do it is broad, and he certainly telegraphed it for quite a while.
3. The immigration EO was poorly vetted and implemented. This is not a bug, but a feature, of the new Administration. And it is directly attributable to its determination to devalue those with experience and wisdom while raising the value of loyalty and zeal. The plain truth of the matter is that either by omission or commission, the consequences of the EO as written were not subject to rigorous review by competent authority. That is because such competent authority does not currently exist in the nascent National Security Council staff, the Justice Department, the State Department, or the Department of Homeland Security. Slow to staff up and surprised by its own victory, the Administration is further hampered by opposition from many experienced national security experts and by its own political choice to exclude them from service.
4. National Security Council membership is largely the President's prerogative. One of EO's on Friday laid out who would be the members of the Principals Committeee of the National Security Council. Excluded (from the Obama version) are the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Director of National Intelligence; included is the President's political strategy czar Steve Bannon. Both of these moves have a number of critics. I think it is a bad idea to remove the Chairman and the DNI--and I honestly cannot understand the logic behind it. Again though--this is BY DEFINITION a choice of the Executive, and there is little to be done about it. Inclusion of Steve Bannon is something entirely different--and merits some discussion. I don't know Steve Bannon. I know what I've seen in interviews and public appearances, and he and I do not share a common ideology. In fact, I have little regard for his brand of nationalist populism.
That said, his boss seems to value his input--and I refer you again to #1. Trump won an election--in no small part because of the political advice he received from people like Bannon. While I may not agree with them, a great number of people across the country did--and that's how they won an election. Much of the kvetching about Bannon stems first of all, from the fact that he is a political figure--and for some reason, there is a sense that the NSC should be free from political considerations. The second source of discomfort is the straight up dislike Bannon has engendered because of his politics and ideology. Let's take the first part first. I have absolutely no problem with the President inserting his chief politcal strategist an the Principals Committee, because issues of war and peace are -- here it comes -- political matters. What did Clausewitz tell us? "War is the continuation of policy by other means". We have a civilian, elected Commander in Chief of our military--a Consitutional designation, by the way. The presence of a chief political adviser on the body that serves to debate the great questions of national security is not only sensible, but I believe essential. Whether you like it of not--that person, in this DULY ELECTED ADMINISTRATION is Steve Bannon.
To conclude: Do I personally agree with the President's EO on immigration? No. Of course I don't. I didn't agree with it when he promised to do so in the campaign, and I am not in favor of it today. I believe the legal and policy review process to which it was subjected was botched, which is why portions of it are going to face difficulty in the courts (see earlier faith in separation of powers). I don't believe it represents an effective tool to achieve the goal (make us safer, exclude terrorists), and I believe its chief value was as a political instrument designed to provide his electoral supporters with a "victory." But--it is wholly within his power to do what he has done, and he appears to be doing exactly what he told us he would do. As for the Steve Bannon's place on the NSC, I'm far more worked up about the CJCS and DNI not being on it, than I am the President's political czar being on it.