The power of the presidency is in the eye of the beholder.
Time and again, when a president issues an executive order, members of the party that is out of power will raise a fuss about it. When President Barack Obama did something, the Republicans complained, and when President Donald Trump does something, you don’t even have to count to three before a scrum of Democrats sends up a chorus of protest.
Such is the state of politics these days. Effectiveness and thoughtfulness have given way to howling in the dark.
Take, for example, President Trump’s decision last year to downsize a couple of national monuments in Utah. He reduced the Bears Ears National Monument from 1.35 million acres to 228,784 acres and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from 1.88 million acres to about 1 million acres.
This would seem to be an issue of concern for Native Americans and other residents of Utah, but a batch of Democratic senators and representatives have sent a letter to the White House voicing their disapproval, and environmentalists have gone to court in an attempt to stop the shrinkage.
And curiously, the attorneys general from Washington, California, Oregon and eight other states — including Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii, Maine, New York, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Maryland — have filed friend of the court briefs opposing Trump’s move. All are Democrats.
Our reaction: Things must be slow these days if the most pressing legal issue in those states is the size of a Utah national monument. Surely those high-paid and highly skilled legal scholars can find something more worthwhile to do with their time — and the taxpayers’ money.
The argument they raise is that the president can establish or increase the size of a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906 but he can’t shrink it.
Unfortunately, that’s already been done — 12 times, in fact.
If members of Congress and these attorneys general wanted to accomplish something, they would support the repeal of the Antiquities Act. The law allows a president to unilaterally set aside federally owned land. Usually it is done in the waning minutes of his term to build up points with special interests. The number and size of the national monuments is not restricted. Only new monuments in Alaska over 5,000 acres must get congressional approval. That was after President Jimmy Carter went on a binge in 1978 and set aside more than 5 million acres as national monuments — plus millions of acres as national parks, preserves and wildlife refuges.
The best thing that can be done with the Antiquities Act is to rip it up, or at least require congressional approval for all designations of national monuments.
Short of that, the legal posturing by state attorneys general in Washington and elsewhere is just another example of little politicians doing little things.