Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Absolute Power Grab: Ignorance of the Law Becomes Trendy

There's nothing like studying the Watergate scandal to remind you of what can happen when one person gets more power than they can handle. President Nixon thought he was above the law, but the Supreme Court said otherwise.

Now we have Nixon redux or, more likely, Trump acid reflux, in the form of a president who believes that he too can ignore the law because he has "unfettered authority over all federal investigations." If you're not frightened by this statement, then you are either are too young to have lived through Watergate, and I'm sorry but learning about it in school, if you ever did, is not the same, or you don't really understand the fragile balance of power between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government.

For the president to acquiesce in this power grab doesn't surprise me, but it is disturbing. As Indiana Representative Samuel B. Pettingill said of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the debate on the court packing plan of 1937:

"This is more power than a good man should want and a bad man should have."

Of course, President Trump came into office and was immediately frustrated by how much he could not do simply because he was president, but now that he has advisers who share his disdain of constitutional limits on the executive, he's feeling untouchable and more secure. And while it is true that the president can terminate the investigation by firing the Special Prosecutor, that does not mean that Congress can't step in and prosecute the president for any crimes or misdemeanors that the prosecutor has uncovered. Then there's public opinion, which, in Nixon's case, was the undoing of his administration after he ordered the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, precipitating the Saturday Night Massacre.

Yes, President Trump could fire Robert Mueller, but that wouldn't mean the end of the drama. If nothing else, the American people understand the importance of concluding an investigation and publicizing the results. Firing Mueller would necessitate suppressing the evidence, which would result in more lawsuits. And more suspicion. Because the more the president talks about how unfair the investigation is, the more guilty he looks.

What this all comes down to is the fact that the president believes that he is untouchable and that he can control the news cycle with his juvenile tweets, empty threats and folksy phrases, all served up with a 6th grade vocabulary and lots of !!!!. The courts will have the final say, and based on past decisions, and the constitution, the president will likely lose.

For the sake of the republic, I certainly hope so.

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