Dave Hirzel/My Turn
While Congress dithers and bickers, the president has a field day campaigning from the Oval Office, issuing unilateral and ill-considered “executive orders” to steer the public discourse in his chosen direction. Where we should have negotiation and compromise between the two parties in the Congressional playpen, we have fatuous grandstanding and compromise, and an opening for a small-minded incompetent chief executive to claim the high ground.
Of course, in the swamp he has created there is no high ground. His weekend flurry of four so-called “executive orders” (well, three of them were not executive orders at all, but merely directives) may have lent a little sheen to his own self-image, but they have tarnished that of the duelling parties in Congress.
Meanwhile, apparently out of view to all of them, millions of unemployed of America are raising their own debates—whether it is better to put off paying the rent, or the doctor, or the insurance payment, or a trip to the grocery store. It appears as though the Republicans in the Senate want to punish the unemployed for remaining in that position, while the Democrats want to reward them. And so nothing gets done, the politicians all go home for the weekend, and the bills go unpaid.
One of the many, many problems with this way of conducting legislation is that the president, always on the lookout to shape the future according to his own self-serving ideas, seizes the opportunity to wield executive power in dangerous new ways. He gets to play the part of the hero for ordering the extension of unemployment compensation that Congress should have already passed, even though such an order is out of his jurisdiction, badly conceived, and widely viewed as impossible to administer.
Another of his weekend “executive orders” attempts to suspend payroll taxes—payments by those still working and their employers into the Social Security fund—even though (a) it will not help those who are not working but will certainly benefit employers, especially large corporate ones, and (b) even his own party caucus agrees it is a bad idea. His apparent goal is to “terminate” (his word) payments into Medicare and Social Security, an idea almost certain to bankrupt both programs as we know them.
But, you see, the power of taxation does not belong to the president, it belongs to the Congress. Per the Constitution, he cannot do this, but the fact that he actually believes he can and will stop at nothing to prove his point does not bode well for the future of democracy in America as we know it.
It is time for Congress to step up to the plate and reclaim their Constitutionally determined powers to legislate and to regulate taxes before Trump’s dangerous attempts at precedent take hold and eventually usurp them altogether. Party loyalty may seem like a worthy thing to politicians, but both sides need to remember that their first duty is to their constituents—you and me. We in our ordinary lives need to accommodate and compromise to smooth the contours of our various relationships—so do they.
It’s not that we need to vote them all out of office, far from it. But we do need to make sure to let all of them know that we expect them to work for us, and if they can’t we’ll find someone who can.