Magazine | February 20, 2017, Issue

Executive Disorder

President Trump after signing an executive order for a travel ban, January 27, 2017. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)

This magazine is composed far enough in advance that it would be folly to comment on President Trump’s immigration and refugee executive orders, because today you might be thinking:

“Oh, I remember that.” (Wistful smiles.) “The good old days before the real troubles began.”


President Trump? Whoa, you’re really dating yourself there.”

We could hedge our bets and write something that let you choose the proper course of events based on your viewpoints and what actually happened:

“While the Trump administration’s EO on immigration was (a brilliant repurposing of Obama-era statutes to expose the flaws and hypocrisies of Trump’s opponents / a face-plant of the sort not seen since that actor who played Lurch fell down a flight of stairs), it exposed the difficulties of (bold, forthright presidential action / popping out sweeping laws at the speed of a pregnant chihuahua who ate a pound of coffee beans and gave birth to a litter of nine) in the era of (roaming mobs of treasonous agitators / Twitter).

“One thing is for sure: The new administration, still learning its way, (used its new experiences to shape policy with greater care in the next weeks / backed the car out of the pile of bricks, turned the wheels toward another wall, and gunned it).”

You could probably use that template for any number of contentious events, hereafter known as “Monday through Saturday.”

If you followed the happenings on Twitter, it was the usual dumpster fire on a burning landfill barge in a hailstorm, except with oil-soaked flaming softballs for hail: Everyone was hashtagging “#Muslimban” even though it wasn’t one. The administration was saying “It’s been a great success” as stories circulated about five-year-old kids placed in dark rooms and grilled about the Constitution.

The usual hysteria, and hence meaningless? Hmm. No.

On the list of people the new administration — and its most devoted followers — care little about, you’ll find this group: cautious supporters of some Trump initiatives who have set aside their opinion of Trump the man. They had other choices in the primaries; they might never have climbed on the Trump Train, because they couldn’t stand the way the engineer kept the throttle wide open and the whistle screaming 24/7. They might have voted for him, because the alternative was . . . her. They might have voted for someone else. But when it was all over, they were heartened by two things:

1. Hey, those executive orders that enforce the law are pretty good! Pretty sure Hillary would have used them to raise the gas tax and send the money to sanctuary cities to erect giant neon arrows on the outskirts of town so illegal immigrants could go hide. Joking! But not really.

2. Watching the brains of the Left liquefy and emerge from their ear canals in hot jets is amusing. They think the only difference between Trump and Hitler is that Adolf actually wrote his own book. They want to alienate their old working-class base? Be our guest.

What this doesn’t mean, of course, is that executive orders we like are automatically jack-dandy. I saw an exchange on Twitter that was quite instructive: One person had proposed running the changes in immigration law through Congress — you know, the people in the other handsome white building. To which someone responded: Bad idea. They’d just water it down.

Procedure? Bah. Debate stuff and all the things won’t get done. Swamps won’t be drained. There will be 27 percent less winning.

Should Congress be dissolved, then? Of course it’s a ridiculous question, but you have the feeling you’ll be debating it in a year or two with people who suddenly (a) believe the Constitution is a living document and (b) want to improve it by sawing off a few limbs.

As for the second point about enjoying the Left’s desire to go full Chernobyl over everything, remember: Even a stopped clock is wrong 1,438 minutes a day. But sometimes it’s right. Something isn’t automatically moral because your opponents happen to think it’s wrong.

These aren’t particularly novel or insightful remarks, but you have to check yourself now and then. Perhaps you thought: A 90-day ban on people from those countries, while they figure out better vetting strategies? Fine. But what if 90 days passes and the ban is renewed because they’re still figuring it out? You’re not going to pour into the streets. And another 90 days after that? It slips off the page and there’s something new to have an opinion about.

Because there will be another shocking act that makes everyone think that camps will be set up and the government will take over the economy. (Which is great if it’s FDR! Bold, persistent innovation!) All the commotion is refreshing, like a splash of aftershave after rubbing your face with sandpaper, but surely it can’t work forever. When President Trump was testy with Mexico and got meetings canceled — that was what, six, seven years ago? feels like it — a lot of people just shrugged and said, “Opening gambit. It’s just like chess! You move one piece, then sweep all the others off the board and insist we’re going to play checkers. And in the end, everyone’s playing Scrabble! Brilliant.”

Maybe. It will work for a while; it may never not work, given people’s desire to think the worst of the man, and his habit of obliging them. He enjoys stuffing raw steaks into a bazooka and firing them into the lairs of his detractors. It’ll never change.

Surely there are limits, though. Suspending the next presidential election and declaring that he will serve a second term — that would raise eyebrows, right?

Oh, he’s just negotiating! When he agrees to hold elections he’ll seem reasonable.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


Politics & Policy


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The Week

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