Our American constitutional framework deliberately differs from a parliamentary system in crucial ways, and it is a truism that the president does not have any direct control over Congress's legislative affairs. But when the two political branches are under control of the same political party, it is also true that the president is unambiguously de facto in charge of setting Washington's agenda. One need only recall (however nausea-inducing such a recollection may be) the first two years of the Obama era, before the Tea Party wave of 2010. There was the auto bailout, the Keynesian "stimulus," the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul, and, of course, Obamacare. There is no reasonable observer of American politics who would primarily identify this misbegotten hodgepodge of Statist tomfoolery with the aegis of either Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. Instead, the first two years of the Obama era were first and foremost owned by, well, President Obama himself.
And so it should be with President Trump. And so perhaps it might already be, in an alternate universe in which the president's purported attempt at setting a legislative agenda weren't as non-existent as Sarah Silverman's sense of self-dignity. Or as fake as "intersectionality"...or "gender fluidity"...or "Palestine."
You get the idea.
Seriously, though, this may all be a game to Trump, but the man could not be less effective at setting an actually substantive agenda if he tried. Trump could sit back in the Oval Office, rest his feet high up on the Resolute desk and do literally nothing all day, and it would oftentimes be better for his purported goals than his counter-productive and sophomoric 140-character Twitter tirades invariably befit for someone with the emotional stability and intellectual acumen of either a prepubescent schoolgirl or a dasypygal Neanderthal.
Conservatives have thus gotten next to nothing, at least yet, out of the Trump presidency. ("But Gorsuch," quoth the judicial supremacists.) Sure, we've gotten some efficacious uses of the Congressional Review Act to halt some particularly pernicious Obama regulations. We've gotten a spate of executive orders—some more substantive than others. And yes, we got a well-coiffed right-of-center jurist on the U.S. Supreme Court, notwithstanding that the federal judiciary is irremediably broken and a completely unattainable chimera for conservatives in both the mid- and long-term.
Would that we might chalk it all up to mere incompetence! Alas, the reality is darker: the perfidy, much like Bill Clinton's libido or the stench on Staten Island, is found everywhere. Obama's lawless DACA and DAPA executive amnesties are seemingly here to stay. Refugee resettlement from the Islamic world has barely abated from the Obama-era status quo ante. Neither Obamacare nor the Iran deal appear to be going anywhere. The U.S. embassy in Israel is staying in Tel Aviv. The U.S. taxpayer is getting absolutely "schlonged," as our most eloquent president might put it, by the Wahhabism-exporting sharia zealots in Saudi Arabia. Ivankacare, a brand-new federal entitlement, is now all the rage.
Trump ostensibly ran for president to drain the Washington swamp. But Trump is both politically amateurish and shockingly devoid of genuine moral convictions on most of the pressing issues of the day, and both Jared and Ivanka's shallow state and the further entrenched deep state of bureaucratic swamp monsters are currently prevailing over the would-be populist revolutionaries. The internally discordant White House, already a disaster zone, now faces the twin distractions of a disgruntled attorney general and potentially deleterious Senate testimony from a piqued former FBI director.
Trump desperately needs to show serious statesmanship on an issue and actually lead. Barely over four months into his presidency, he is, perhaps counter-intuitively, already running out of time. It is now or never to prove he can actually direct the national policy agenda.
As it so happens, the recent (and truly tragic) metastasis of the jihad in Europe has given Trump precisely such an opportunity. He should log out of Twitter, tune out the infectious lovebird hosts of Morning Joe, and prepare an earnest and thoughtful Oval Office address to the American people. Trump, despite his general buffoonery and shoot-from-the-hip approach to foreign policy, exudes a tough ambience on national security issues that tends to intrinsically resonate with nervous citizens coming to grips with the reality of the West's defining 21st century struggle against global jihadism. And in the specific context of fighting the jihad not just on foreign shores but also on our domestic shores via tough immigration and homeland security policies that eschew the crippling effects of adherence to platitudinous political correctness, well, suffice it to say that there was arguably no greater reason for Trump's election.
This is Trump's moment. The American citizenry, ever watchful of Europe's declining prospects against its self-inflicted and homegrown Islamist undercurrent, is anxious. Americans want to see true leadership. We want to be reassured. We want our president to actually be presidential.
Substantive policy proposals and actually using the power of the bully pulpit to steer them across the legislative finish line are just as important as looking the part and projecting equanimity, more generally. As my friend Daniel Horowitz notes at Conservative Review, the policy prescription possibilities here are nearly endless. Trump can focus on, among other things:
- Immigration pause: The reworked executive order is a scattershot fix that is simultaneously over- and under-inclusive in certain respects, but it is also reflective of good old common sense. Most Americans understand, even if some sitting federal judges do not, that it is simply ludicrous to imply that Somali and Yemeni jihadists sitting in shacks or dwelling in caves half a world away do not have an affirmative constitutional right to immigrate to the U.S.
- Extreme vetting and refugee resettlement: While no one knows yet exactly what Trump means by "extreme vetting," Andrew McCarthy at National Review is entirely right that the necessary inquiry, as applied to prospective Muslim immigrants to the U.S., must center around whether or not the immigrant believes in the illiberal political ideology of sharia supremacism. To the extent "extreme vetting" is imperfect, Trump should direct the Executive Branch apparatus to always err on the side of safety—which, here, means fewer potentially dangerous aliens entering the country. Concomitantly, Trump should take meaningful steps to fulfill a major campaign promise by drastically reducing refugee resettlement from the Islamic world—something he is not currently doing. This affirmative rejection of political correctness in immigration policy was Trump's recurring campaign motif uber alles. He simply must be unapologetic and deliver on this front.
- Border wall: All Trump needs to do here is stop caving to Chuck Schumer. The border wall, or at least 700 miles of it, is already codified into U.S. law. Trump needs to explain that, as recently as 2015, estimates were that over 30,000 potential jihadists crossed into the U.S. via our porous southern border. He should exalt the success of Israel's post-Second Intifada border wall, which reduced Palestinian Arab suicide bombings by upward of 90%.
- Judicial jurisdiction-stripping over immigration: The federal judiciary is revanchist and completely out of control. A full-scale congressional assault on the federal judicial power, including radical jurisdiction-stripping measures, is long overdue, but for now, Trump can merely call on Congress to use its power, under the Exceptions Clause of Art. III, Sec. 2 of the U.S. Constitution, to remove from the federal docket all challenges to the long-established plenary congressional (and, via delegation, presidential) power to ban any foreign national from entering the country at any time, for any reason whatsoever.
- Muslim Brotherhood terrorist designation: The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas in the Gaza Strip is the mere Palestinian offshoot, serves as something of the training grounds for the global Salafist/Wahhabist jihad. In baseball terms, if the Muslim Brotherhood is the Single A minor league ball of the Sunni jihad, al-Qaeda might be Triple A, and the Islamic State is the major leagues. The Muslim Brotherhood is already deemed a terrorist group by countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. It is completely inexcusable not only that the Brotherhood does not receive such treatment in the U.S., but that it has such a strong political lobbying presence through the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has led the way on this fight, in Congress; now Trump needs to help push it through the finish line.
- Taylor Force Act: Unrepentant terrorist Mahmoud Abbas, direct successor to fellow unrepentant terrorist Yasser Arafat and current kleptocratic dictator of the anti-Semitic and irredeemably putrid Palestinian Authority, quite literally pays the families of Palestinian Arab jihadists and suicide bombers. The Taylor Force Act, named after a Texan and West Point graduate who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel in 2016, would defund the Palestinian Authority over Abbas's continuation of this loathsome "martyr" paying scheme. The Palestinians consistently evince higher support for violent jihad than any Islamic populace the world over, and one simply cannot take the lead on counter-jihadism without fulminating against the very progenitors of barbaric suicide bombing jihad and stabbing jihad alike—the Palestinians.
- National right to carry: Leftists will never concede it, but the reality is that the only way to stop a bad guy is with a good guy. And rather than making innocents resort to throwing bottles and chairs at jihadis while they are waging jihad, it would be far preferable to encourage law-abiding citizens to prophylactically arm themselves. National carry legislation, while constitutionally dubious on Commerce Clause grounds, is plausible, as an originalist matter, via Congress's remedial legislative powers under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment. Personally, I am a proud holder of a license to carry and, since licensed carriers commit crime at an even lower rate than do law enforcement officers, I always feel even safer when surrounded by fellow Second Amendment advocates.
Americans want to see true leadership. We want to be reassured. We want our president to actually be presidential.
The president is running out of time to salvage his early mess of a presidency. Serendipitously for Trump, the truly awful escalation of jihad in Europe provides him with the opportunity to lead by asserting himself on the very core issues that were most responsible for electing him in the first place. If he vouches for even half of these policy proposals, conservatives should consider it a much-needed shot in the arm as we enter the dog days of summer.
For President Trump, it is now or never. Reassure the American citizenry with an unapologetically tough-on-national-security approach. Showcase your counter-jihadi bona fides and your immigration hawkishness alike. And, mostly importantly, demonstrate to all the American people, including the skeptics among us, that you are fit to be our national leader.