Checks and Balances: Assessing Trump’s First 200 Days

President Donald Trump’s administration has passed the 200 day mark, a milestone that might make it reasonable to look at what he’s accomplished after making big promises in his campaign.  No Obamacare repeal.  No tax reform.  No NAFTA repeal.  No wall.  No immigration reform (although he did issue some executive orders that were partially undone by the courts).

Unless one counts the excitement of reading President Trump’s often-amusing tweets, the first 200 days of his administration hasn’t brought with it many changes.

In fairness to the president, many of the policy changes he campaigned on are not within the power of the president to change.  The lack of progress in Trump’s agenda is (partly?  mainly?) a result of the checks and balances that are a built into the constitutional design of our government.  Regardless of one’s views on Trump’s campaign promises, the constitutionally limited powers of the president must be viewed as a desirable feature of our government–one worth preserving, even though it has been eroded over the centuries.

As a corporate CEO, Trump faced fewer checks and balances.  Whatever he said, those below him acted on.  In business, the “check and balance” is the bottom line.  Businesses that produce more value than they take out of the economy enjoy profits; those that don’t suffer losses.  What the boss says, goes.

Government isn’t like that in the United States, at least not yet.  We are not like Putin’s Russia, or Maduro’s Venezuela.

I’m not sure Trump had a good understanding of the limited power of the presidency when he took office, or the need to cooperate with legislators to push his agenda.  But that’s a bit of a tangent from the point I want to get across here.

The checks and balances we have in government are valuable because they keep us from becoming like Putin’s Russia, or Maduro’s Venezuela, and they have been weakened since the Constitution was written.

President Obama didn’t get everything he wanted, to the disappointment of some; President Trump isn’t getting everything he wants, to the disappointment of others.  But everyone should realize that eventually, someone they don’t like will get elected president, so everyone should support maintaining and strengthening the checks and balances designed into the Constitution.

We don’t want it to be easy for politicians to redesign public policy.  I liked some of Trump’s campaign promises and didn’t like others, but I’m not unhappy that he’s facing (constitutionally designed) difficulties turning his promises into realities.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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