We are caught up in the endless drama over Trump. And it’s hard not to be. But there’s also a bigger picture to consider: Where are we headed in terms of executive power in the United States? This question is more important than we seem to realize. It will extend beyond Donald Trump.
Remember that the Revolutionary War was fought to rid this country of rule by king, but for quite some time, under Republicans and Democrats, we have slid back toward one-person rule, a king. And that slide is accelerating now as the current administration challenges all institutional checks on power.
Congress is paralyzed by partisanship to the point of pitiful impotence. There is no power in a group that can never find compromise and cannot agree on what is even lawful or unlawful. Congress is dysfunctional without some shared level of higher, non-partisan agreement on what constitutes civic service.
Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, do you not see our descent toward a pre-1776 mentality? What I mean is, our nation seems so hungry to establish the authority of a king. Things have gotten too messy, too complicated, too awful. The country yearns for simple politics, because life has gotten too crazy in this digital age. A king is simple. The preservation of the founding fathers’ structure is not.
Therefore, that well-worn, old road of this republic is disintegrating, because we don’t care enough about its maintenance. We seem weary of the old Constitutional divisions of power between three co-equal branches of government. Much of our nation now seems to scream, “Give us one person we can love or hate, praise or blame!” Consequently, our presidential race becomes an all-consuming, heavyweight, culture-war battle and a marathon WWF hype event for all the marbles.
But no one person of any party deserves all the power, not according to our founders who shed themselves of the rule of a king at risk of actual murder. I feel certain they would be ashamed of this increasing subservience to a new king mentality. I think this is exactly what they feared and why they established division-of-power safeguards that we don’t seem to cherish anymore. Do we care about institutions and law? Do we care about setting healthy precedents? Do we care about the principles of co-equal power? I think the answer should be yes, yes and yes. I think the actual answer in practice these days is no, no and no.
We are fed up with “get-mine” graft at the top levels of government. There is personal enrichment at the expense of public service. When I hear Trump talk of the Bidens, I have many thoughts. Among them is this: Yes, something seems fishy about the Biden son getting money in ways that don’t seem in line with his background. I do think politicians of both parties cash in on their name and influence. It’s become not just accepted, but expected. This is despicable no matter who does it. There should be no sacred red or blue cows in a just world.
So should I just ignore what I see in Trump? Is right and wrong all relative these days, simply a matter of which team we cheer for?
Yuck! I don’t want to live in an America that accepts this of itself.
I would not be cool with Bush or Obama making countless trips to his own golf resort and taking federal workers there to stay, costing taxpayers many millions of dollars while his company rakes in the profits from federal expenses. If an official did this at the county level, think of the outrage. But this is just routine now, not a problem. Our standards have slipped so far. If Bush or Obama gave their children powerful roles in their administrations, that would be wrong. Why not under Trump? If Bush or Obama had multiple bankruptcies and then took huge loans from Deustche Bank, which has been fined millions for Russian money-laundering, I’d want to know more about Bush or Obama’s finances. We would all have a right to see. It’s not about the party. It’s about the importance of transparency. I have never supported a Republican or a Democrat trying to hide potential evidence of special interest influence from taxpayers. That’s not civic service. With Bush, show us the money. With Obama, show us the money. With the Clintons, show us the money. And all of these did show us their tax returns. Why is it such sacrilege in certain circles to expect the same from Trump?
And now, the president is asking other nations to intervene against political opponents. We’re arguing the politics of this, the right versus left, but think of the broader precedent outside of the current political situation. Will it be OK to have a Democratic president bargaining with an international adversary for leverage against his Republican foe? No, it won't and it shouldn't! It will be impeachable if and when it happens. But that’s exactly what Congressional Republicans are welcoming if they don’t call out Trump on this violation of national sovereignty. In a sane nation, such an action is unacceptable under any presidency, red or blue, because it puts the nation at risk in so many ways. We have a state department working to put together a coherent relationship between the U.S. and other countries. And any president who bargains with other countries for his own benefit undermines national sovereignty in a profound way. Trump, per his own televised statement, is soliciting help from foreign countries against an electoral foe. The defense is, “What are you going to do about it?”
Obviously, the “so-what” attitude is actually not a bad play politically for Trump, because it has worked time and again as his support seems truly unconditional. The party is his now, which gives him huge power in the moment. But the bigger picture is the precedent. This is the age of Trump. Can we not recognize the obvious next age? Let me clue you in. It will be called the age of, "Well, Trump did it. So what?" Get ready for that as a Democratic mantra, because that's what Congressional Republicans welcome in this moment.
It may seem like a win right now for Republicans to protect Trump with no worry that he requires absolute loyalty at the expense of the law, but this break from the founding fathers’ Constitutional hopes is a huge national loss. It moves the ball father down the field of autocracy. Kings change. They aren’t forever. But a good system can last and last. Unfortunately, our system has been hijacked by money. That’s so obvious. And we need real reforms. But we don’t need to trash a solid foundation set forth by our founders in favor of a king, any king.
Ridding ourselves of rule by king is why we celebrate the Fourth of July. But if this slide toward one-person rule continues, and we give above-the-law authority to either a Republican or a Democratic president, then we might as well put those fireworks away. Because we will have done what the British couldn’t make us do — bow to the king.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.