Trump vs Obama: Executive Power

Russia October. 10, 2016. American politians together. Two men in suits standing against national flag. Shaking hands in agreement. Trump and Obama.

In another inevitable comparison between Trump and Obama, it is left to wonder if Trump will pursue change through the same methodology that became the standard for the Obama administration. Obama ramped up executive action and unilateral power over the course of his terms, and the result is a record-setting level of government interference and irreverence to separation of power.

Obama has acted outside of Congressional approval more than any other president in history, and he has left a trail of excessive regulations so long that it may prove the largest of all obstacles for the Trump Presidency. So, let’s see how the two compare in their views on executive power so far.


Many will say that George W. Bush was an imperialist and did too much to expand presidential powers. They have likely forgotten that Bush had Congressional approval for military action in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama’s military legacy included expanding military efforts in Afghanistan, an air campaign in Libya and the giant mess that is Syria. He oversaw the downfall of six different sovereign allies, and all of it was without so much as a mention of Congress.

Let’s back up to Syria for a moment. Obama authorized a combination of air and drone strikes and covert operations in the region. Essentially, he trained and armed the rebels that became the backbone of ISIS, so, while they technically existed before his intervention, he is more responsible than any other human on the planet for the current military threat presented by the terrorist organization.

On the trade side of things, he endorsed Iran’s nuclear program, committed the U.S. to expensive regulations via the Paris Agreement and completely deteriorated already tenuous relationships with North Korea, Russia and China. Once again, this was all accomplished unilaterally. It’s also the smaller part of the story. His domestic abuse of power has been far greater and more destructive.

Domestic Policy

Early in his presidency, Obama realized that he did not have Congressional support for any of his loftier aims. It took less than two years for him to recognize the easiest ways to unilaterally push his agendas.

In the case of healthcare, he used Medicare funding restrictions to force facilities to comply with his terms regardless of legislation. With similar tactics, he rewrote the guidelines for most regulating agencies, including the FAA, EPA and FCC. He pushed more than 560 major changes over the course of seven years that are tied to tens of billions of dollars’ worth of expenses for a number of industries.

Overall, that represents a 50 percent increase over the second most unilateral president in U.S. history. A few quick examples include raising minimum wage for federal contract workers, limiting how airlines are allowed to taxi at airports and stipulating maximum carbon emissions for power plants.

In short, it was his abuse of regulation that kept the economy from recovering quicker and sharply limited general progress and innovation for the last eight years.


The bulk of Trump’s campaign centered on deregulation. He wants to roll back government meddling and get out of the American people’s way, so they can shine as innovators and producers once again. This puts him in a strangely paradoxical position. Since the bulk of Obama’s legacy and changes were not passed through Congress, Congress is powerless to undo those actions.

Instead, if Trump truly wants to reverse Obama’s biggest mistakes, he will have to embrace executive power to accomplish it. It is only by using Obama-like methods to rewrite the rules for regulating agencies that he can free the economy.

The hope for Trump supporters is that doing so will set a new precedent and reverse many decades of increased oversight and unilateral action. If successful, this course can actually do more to “drain the swamp” than term limits or other legislative actions that could reduce the influence of career politicians.

This is one area that is extremely difficult to predict. Early signs suggest that Trump won’t be the president who takes executive power even farther than Obama did. Instead, he so far seems committed to his use of “the art of the deal” to pressure policy opponents into acquiescence.

While some will certainly try to construe this as an expansion of power, Trump thus far has already made some large changes to the country without passing or signing any amount of policy. If he can hold the trend, he just may be able to undo one of the most dangerous aspects of Obama’s legacy.

~ Facts Not Memes

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