Alan Zendell, June 6, 2018
The frightening but inescapable reality is that in 2016 we elected a president who thinks he’s a king. More likely, he simply doesn’t know the difference. Schooled in the world of business and mentored by experts in the shadiest ways of achieving his ends, he still hasn’t grasped that it’s far more difficult to get away with overstepping legally established boundaries than trampling people in civil court where money generally rules.
But this isn’t just semantics – it’s dangerous. We fought a revolution to escape being governed by an absolute monarch, and people who cheer Trump on when he’s guilty of these excesses forget the lessons of history. His base doesn’t mind when he attacks Muslims, immigrants, judges he disagrees with, the “liberal” media, or his political opponents. They even cheer him on when he goes after the FBI and the rest of his own Justice Department.
It’s ironic that a large segment of his base believes Trump when he tells them he’s fighting to protect them from the tyranny of a corrupt system. What could be more corrupt than a small group of people wielding absolute power who are answerable to no one? That’s exactly the kind of despotism our founders freed us from when they overthrew the yoke of King George III.
There’s yet another irony here. As described on history.com, while George III was portrayed as an “inflexible tyrant…Parliamentary ministers, not the crown, were responsible for colonial policies,” though the king could have overruled their decisions instead of endorsing them. Today, in America, we have the reverse situation: a president who believes his power is absolute with a Congress that is too cowed politically to exercise its constitutional responsibility to apply required checks and balances.
But we’re starting to see cracks in congressional indifference, or cowardice as its harshest critics might put it. Last week, I noted that Congressman Trey Gowdy, who is not running for re-election, defended the FBI’s investigation of allegations of Russian interference with the election in defiance of the president’s assertion that they illegally spied on his campaign. Today, another prominent Republican, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said he agrees with Gowdy that the FBI’s actions were appropriate, and the president’s accusations are without merit.
Perhaps the strongest indication that congressional Republicans have not completely abdicated their responsibility to defend our institutions was Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement that there is nothing to support Trump’s claims. Ryan is also leaving the Congress, but publicly implying that Trump is wrong is a clear departure from his typical refusal to say anything to challenge the president’s authority.
The issue that may finally cause Republicans to stand up to the president is trade. Trump seems to be on a one-man crusade to fight a trade war with adversaries and allies alike. But the tariffs he has announced have stirred up considerable discomfort among his own party. Free trade has always been a consistent plank in Conservative platforms, and many Conservatives in Congress are feeling heat from their constituents, much of which is fueled by the Koch brothers. If fear of losing their seats in November is what has prevented them from confronting Trump until now, they may be trapped between the classic rock and hard place.
Long-time Conservative Senator Bob Corker, who has also decided not to seek re-election, is working on legislation to negate what he described as the “president’s abuse of the powers granted to him under a National Security Waiver.” The intention is to push back against tariffs and the inappropriate use of laws that were never intended for the purposes Trump is applying them. In a lengthy phone call, today, the president angrily insisted that Corker back off from trying to curb his power to wage a trade war. Corker responded, “I am a United States senator, and I have responsibilities and I’m going to continue to carry them out.”
This is a very hopeful first step in curbing Trump’s march toward autocracy. Read the history of the post-World War I Weimar Republic in Germany, which functioned effectively for fifteen years until Adolf Hitler seized dictatorial powers and subverted it to his own ends. Hitler could only have done that with the compliance of an ineffectual Reichstag (legislature). If that doesn’t set off alarm bells, you’re in a coma.
Still not convinced that Trump will grab every bit of power he can until someone stops him? Consider what unnamed White House sources have described as his obsession with pardons. Presidential pardons were intended by our founders as acts of forgiveness, not attempts to intimidate enemies or encourage people who committed crimes to remain silent to protect the president. But Trump’s total disregard of propriety and rules, combined with his boundless narcissism make presidential pardons irresistible to him.
As one commentator put it today, the presidential pardon is the last remaining holdover of the British monarchy system, an opportunity to yield absolute power that no one can challenge. Is it any wonder that King Donald is so enamored with the process?