Eric Posner: Trump Has Used His Powers Less Aggressively Than Most Modern Presidents

Trump has plenty of bark. His predecessors had more bite.

It is by now conventional wisdom that President Trump is an authoritarian. But as we embark on the second year of his term in office, we would do well to think carefully about which of his actions have actually violated the Constitution. And it turns out that, so far, Trump has used his powers less aggressively than most modern presidents. That doesn’t mean he’s a good president. In fact, it probably means he’s a bad one.

David Frum’s new book, “Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic,” is only the latest statement of the case that Trump is a danger to the Constitution. But it is critical to distinguish Trump’s bark from his bite. He has disparaged judges, called the media the enemy of the people, praised torture and compared the intelligence community to Nazis. But he has not followed up on these statements. Unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt, he hasn’t tried to pack the Supreme Court (not that Trump needs to). Unlike Barack Obama, he hasn’t (yet) targeted journalists in leak investigations. Unlike George W. Bush, he hasn’t actually taken a page from the Nazis by ordering the intelligence community to use coercive interrogation.

What has Trump done? He has tried to stop various groups from entering the country, with a focus on migrants from Muslim-majority countries and refugees. While the courts have blocked some of his efforts, the legal basis for these actions was hardly outside the mainstream, and he may yet win in the Supreme Court. Many presidents have blocked migrants from entering the country, or even expelled them, as Bush did to Arab and Muslim groups after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The important thing is that Trump has obeyed the courts’ decisions. All presidents lose in the courts, sometimes frequently, and then grumpily comply with the rulings. Trump has been no different.

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