FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Abuse of Executive Power a Sign of Democracy in Crisis

Donald Trump got a hard lesson in executive overreach last week when he was forced by public outrage to rescind his decision to separate children from their parents at the border with his “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants. Only a day later, Montana’s Gov. Steve Bullock decided he had the right as the state’s chief executive to circumvent Land Board approval for using state funds to purchase conservation easements on private lands. Although significantly different in scope and impact, both actions display a dismaying disintegration of the constitutionally mandated checks and balances between the executive, judiciary and legislative branches of government.

The Trump border debacle dominated the news last week, so no need to get into the gory details of terrified children being separated from their parents waiting to be taken to detention centers.

Trump’s self-initiated policy shocked Americans and drew international condemnation as exceptionally cruel and inhumane. In typical Trump fashion, he tried unsuccessfully to blame Democrats for his blunder despite the fact that his party, the Republicans, hold the majority in both chambers of Congress, the presidency, and a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

What got Trump into the most ignominious action of his already extremely controversial presidency is that he decided to go it alone rather than follow the normal path of seeking congressional approval before implementing such a draconian measure. Why? Because he has no experience in governance, nor any respect for the institutions that have served this nation well since its inception.

Closer to home, it’s harder to explain why Governor Bullock, who has plenty of governing experience, decided to forego the longstanding procedure of obtaining approval from the Land Board before spending state and/or federal funds to acquire large, multi-million-dollar conservation easements on private lands. Instead, Bullock decided to unilaterally close the $6.1 million deal on the 15,000 acre Horse Creek Conservation Easement near Glendive in eastern Montana late last week without Land Board approval.

In Bullock’s case, consideration of the conservation easement was indefinitely postponed by a 3-2 vote of the Land Board, which is composed of the governor, attorney general, superintendent of public education, secretary of state and state auditor. While Republican Attorney General Tim Fox voted with Democrat Bullock to move forward on the acquisition, the other three Republican state-wide office holders did not. So, not unlike Trump, Bullock decided to go it alone on the assertion that he has the executive power to do so.

Without debating the potential benefits for public access and hunting the conservation easement would bring, the radical action by the governor sets a new and unwelcome standard of executive privilege by defying the checks and balances of the other state-wide elected officials on the Land Board. Like Bullock, they earned their positions by a vote of Montana’s citizens and have equal right to the validity of their votes. In fact, Bullock’s unilateral action even alienated Attorney General Fox, his former supporter on the acquisition.

It’s no secret that our nation is as divided as it’s been since the Vietnam War — especially along partisan political lines. This is in no small part due to the abuse of executive branch power by Donald Trump and his administration, but it’s no comfort to see more division here in Montana due to Bullock’s action. It’s a slippery slope when chief executives decide to forego the normal give and take of our democracy’s procedural norms — and we can only hope that we quickly restore the essential governmental checks and balances on which our nation was founded.

More articles by:

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail