Time and again on the campaign trail, President Joe Biden pledged to Americans that despite running as a “proud Democrat,” he would “govern as an American president.” In a time where political divisiveness has reached unprecedented levels, millions of Americans who voted for Biden entrusted him with healing our wounded nation.

But after only a few days in the Oval Office, Biden seemed to put his plans for unity on the back burner by issuing executive orders at a record pace. Before the end of January alone — in the first two weeks of his term — Biden signed a startling 25 executive orders. By comparison, former President Donald Trump signed only seven orders in the same time frame during his first term; former President Barack Obama signed only nine.

Allies of the Biden administration rushed to defend the 46th president, noting the orders have fulfilled a myriad of Democratic policy priorities, including action on the environment, immigration and health care. 

Nevertheless, Biden’s executive actions stand in stark contrast to his own words throughout a hard-fought campaign that seemed to signal he would work across the aisle with legislators, not unilaterally with just the stroke of a pen. At an ABC News town hall event in October, Biden said that instead of issuing executive orders, “I’ve gotta get the votes (in Congress). We are a democracy. We need consensus.” 

He also stated some specific policy proposals can’t be passed “by executive order unless you’re a dictator,” such as raising taxes on corporations and wealthy people. 

To be fair, that town hall appearance has been misconstrued by some — namely, conservatives who have accused Biden of neglecting his own unity claims. But at the end of the day, Biden’s flurry of executive orders clearly contradicts his promise to see not “blue or red states but United States.” Even the New York Times Editorial Board sounded the alarm.

From the moment Biden entered the White House, I hoped he would immediately begin reaching across the aisle to solve some of the most pressing issues facing our nation. But the incoming president has wasted a precious opportunity to begin the process of healing our nation so desperately needs. The current occupant of the White House is undoubtedly a welcome departure from the divisive Trump administration, but he needs to do more to bring together our fractured country.

Take his executive actions on the environment, for instance. On the first day of his administration, Biden wasted no time canceling the permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. If completed, the pipeline would have transported oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. This project increases our reliance on fossil fuels for energy and has been attacked by environmentalists for years. However, simply eliminating the Keystone pipeline without working with state or federal lawmakers disregards the system of government our founders outlined more than 200 years ago, which calls for checks and balances.

While canceling the permit for the Keystone pipeline has removed an environmental hazard and the encroachment on the indigenous communities that inhabit the area, it is detrimental to the local economy surrounding the proposed pipeline and the thousands of people who depended on the project to put food on the table. Shutting down the pipeline isn’t necessarily a bad move, but Biden should have worked with elected representatives before eliminating it on his own.

In the end, what distinguishes the U.S. from countries around the globe is that no one figure holds too much power. After the American Revolution, our founders put forth the Constitution in order to give equal influence to the legislative, executive and judicial branches. There’s no problem with executive actions for small matters, but Biden’s executive orders are equivalent to legislating from the White House, which is not what Americans elected the current president to do. At the same time, allowing a president to unilaterally implement sweeping policy changes sets a dangerous precedent for future administrations.

From the moment Biden secured the presidency in November, there was renewed hope across America that our country could finally turn the page on this bitter and divisive time. This only became more urgent after the attempted insurrection on the U.S. Capitol building last month. But the prospects of this actually happening have grown smaller in light of Biden’s far-reaching executive actions. 

As the president of the United States, Biden must resort to executive orders sparingly and only when that type of action is warranted. It’s clear that with a narrowly-split House of Representatives and an even closer Senate, Biden’s policy proposals will encounter more resistance in Congress. But the 46th president took an oath to defend our Constitution — and promised millions of Americans he would be the unifier we all need. That starts with putting his pen down and working with the legislature, the body our founders actually tasked with creating the laws.

Evan Stern can be reached at erstern@umich.edu.