Recently, I sat down to lunch at a gathering of former colleagues, all of them eager to discuss the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections. Several expressed hope for the future, but one skeptic reminded us of the numerous executive orders President Donald Trump had signed in the past two years, most of them undermining values the group shared.
She had a point. Nonetheless, executive orders can fall out of favor before the ink dries. Or, to parody scientific principles, if Democrats prevail in the 2020 election, for every Trump executive order, an equal and opposite one is likely to take its place.
More to the point, limits exist to Donald Trump’s powers. Recently, for example, the President signed an executive order intended to put a bullet through the heart of the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment is the law that denies tax exempt status to a nonprofit organization that engages in political activities. Confident of his power, Trump a assured his Evangelical base that, “This financial threat against the faith community is over… You’re now in a position where you can say what you want to say.” (“New Treasury report vindicates FFRF’s stance…”Freethought Today, November 2018, pg. 3)
Trump is wrong in his claim, as he often is. Soon after he signed his proclamation, the Justice Department contradicted him. The executive order didn’t “change any existing laws or any policies to benefit churches or clergy,” they said. (Ibid pg. 3)
The President would have done well to let sleeping dogs lie. The IRS has never been keen to enforce the Johnson Amendment, as I wrote in an earlier blog. After Trump’s action, however, the U. S. Dept. of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration felt obliged to investigate how the IRS handled complaints between July 2015 and August 2016. The outcome came as a surprise. During that interval, they found none of the 6,500 complaints filed had been forwarded for review. (Ibid pg. 3)