There seems to be confusion in the White House. President Trump seems to be casting himself as King of America.
Trump is approaching his first full year in office, and in the past 11-plus months apparently has forgotten that day last January when he took the oath of office. Among a new president’s sworn promises is to uphold the law and the Constitution of the United States.
That promise was somehow shunted aside by President Trump in a recent interview with the New York Times, in which the president deflected a question about his continuing obsession with having the Justice Department investigate Hillary Clinton’s emails by saying, “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”
We’ve been observing national politics for decades, and the last time we saw such arrogance was during the Richard Nixon years, when that president seemed to believe he could use government agencies to get back at his “enemies.”
President Trump also apparently needs constant reminders of his sworn duties as president of the United States, and the importance of this nation and its leaders’ history. Even Ronald Reagan, as his memory was being usurped by early-onset Alzheimer’s, had a better grasp of the here and now — and American history — than the current occupant of the Oval Office.
So, here we go again.
The presidency is but one of three equal branches of the federal government, with each branch having certain checks-and-balances powers over the other branches. The three branches are executive, legislative and judicial. We can and will simplify this for Trump. He is part of the executive branch, Congress represents the legislative branch, and the U.S. Supreme Court is the judicial part of the deal.
That’s just basic, public-school civics, and questions about the three branches of the federal government appear on most middle and high-school civics exams. Maybe this president never had to take those tests, or perhaps he has simply forgotten his role in this basic government operational architecture.
Trump saying he can do what he pleases with regard to the Justice Department is only partially true. A president has the power to fire the Attorney General and all his other appointees in the department, but when it comes to obeying the nation’s laws and the Constitution, he has no options.
Former ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration Richard Painter had the perfect response to Trump’s boast: “That may be the way it works in Putin‘s Russia and other places, but that’s not the way it works here. There are laws, and he has been sworn to uphold the law and the Constitution of the United States.”
The United States is a nation of laws, the foundation of which is the Constitution. That document was created in a different time under different circumstances than exist today, but the core principles remain as compelling in 2018 as they were in 1776.
In fairness to Trump, we believe his claims to absolute power are a reversion to his days as a big-deal businessman, a king of industry and commerce. But he somehow has failed to make the mental transition from business wheeler/dealer to chief executive of the most powerful government on Earth.
That hubris has seeped over into the legislative branch, at least to some in a majority party seemingly intent on enriching the wealthy at the expense of the nation’s poorest citizens.
Americans and their political leaders need to decide what paths to take over the next 12 months.