President Donald Trump and his allies have been arguing for the last two years that the president is above the law and that the Constitution gives him the power to do whatever he wants. Basically, they are saying the Constitution makes the president the king and our government a monarchy.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report didn’t exactly help either since he deferred the obstruction of justice decision to Attorney General William Barr, who let Trump off the hook even though the report does not exonerate him.
According to the New York Times, “the inquiry by the special counsel…made clear that President Trump had successfully thrown out the unwritten rules that had bound other chief executives in the 45 years since President Richard M. Nixon resigned under fire, effectively expanding presidential power in a dramatic way.”
Mr. Mueller’s decision to not take a position on whether Mr. Trump’s many norm-shattering interventions in the law enforcement system constituted obstruction of justice means that future occupants of the White House will feel entitled to take similar actions. More than perhaps any other outcome of the Mueller investigation, this may become its most enduring legacy…The development represents a dangerous degradation of the rule of law, handing a president almost complete leeway to thwart any effort by federal law enforcement authorities to scrutinize his actions almost as if he were a king.
That’s exactly what former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) thinks, especially since she served on the House Judiciary Committee that passed articles of impeachment against Nixon in 1974.
“They’re just trying to create a new kind of monarchy in the United States and have a president who’s not accountable,” she told NYT. “What we tried to do in the wake of Watergate was control a president who had accrued excessive power. And these reforms seem to be going by the wayside, and we’re seeing the consequences. It’s really a disastrous situation for our democracy.”
Indeed, the founding fathers themselves feared an all-powerful executive. That’s why we have three separate co-equal branches of government that have the ability to check the powers of each other and perform oversight. The Justice Department, while part of the executive branch, had been a largely neutral agency until now as Trump continues to assault the rule of law and use the department as a political weapon against his critics and opponents.
Former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste warned that a new precedent is being set that would horrify the framers of our Constitution, who had just fought a war and risked their lives to create a independent nation free from an authoritarian monarchy when they penned the document in 1787.
“The extremes we have gone to accommodate the president’s authority are a terrible precedent for going forward as a democracy built on separation of power and balance of powers,” Ben-Veniste said.
Once a president gains more power, it’s unlikely future presidents will voluntarily give it back. And Trump is using his powers for his own personal gain and to get revenge. But the sword cuts both ways, because the next Democratic president could fire every Republican serving in the executive branch, use the Justice Department to go after corrupt Republicans across the country and declare national emergencies to enact policies such as universal healthcare and the Green New Deal. You can bet that Republicans will whine if this happens, but they will only have themselves to blame because they refused to check Trump’s power when they had the chance to do so.
Make no mistake, abusing executive power and flouting the Constitution should outrage us all, but Trump and the Republicans have set a precedent that puts our democracy on the path to ruin and forces us to hope that if we end up having a monarchy, we have a king that at least treats us well.
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