Editorial: When the President is Above the Law We Can No Longer Peddle the Fairy Tale of a Democracy
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Our founders could not have anticipated this.
By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
The founders of our country knew a thing or two about dictatorships and authoritarianism. Most of them had first-hand experience with authoritarianism, which is why they decided to do things very differently. We could get in a scholarly debate about whether or not the U.S. is a democracy or a republic and what that means. However, either way, what it means is our founders did not want to create a dictatorship or a monarchy.
By historic standards, our little nation is still in its childhood. While most of us grew up taking for granted that our freedoms were assured, in some measure, by our constitution, all of that depends on one thing. All of that hinges on whether or not the constitution remains the rule of law.
Our founders couldn’t have predicted an authoritarian president could so resolutely side-step the law by padding critical appointments with pawns and hiding behind a political party that would provide cover at any cost. However, the system of rule did account for that unpredictable possibility by building in checks and balances that up until have always worked.
The words constitutional crisis have been floated with such regularity during this presidency that they almost become meaningless. Those words have lost their potency because most of us believed a constitutional crisis wouldn’t be allowed to escalate without intervention. We had a foundational belief that the checks and balances the founders wrote into our constitution would do just that – provide balance – the very balance our founders built in to negate the potential damage an authoritarian president might do. And yet, this crisis has escalated rather than righting itself.
To some degree, the courts have stood their ground against the darker instincts of the man who occupies the White House. The problem with the courts is many of the judges who sit in those chambers at levels of jurisdiction that matter, are there because they are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of a corrupt President.
Because of that, so much of the responsibility to protect our democracy has fallen square in the lap of Congress. While the system is not perfect, historically, it’s always eventually done its job. However, at this point, that system is collapsed, not in the process of collapsing, but fully crumbled and it’s happened unchecked in a government that was supposed to be built on checks and balances.
The foundational tenet of our legal system that clearly states that no one is above the law. If no one is above the law, the law itself will protect the people from a dictator on the rise. In recent days, hundreds of former prosecutors signed a letter outlining why Trump should have been charged with obstruction of justice. However, because of the perceived shield from prosecution, afforded to a sitting president, no charges have been forthcoming.
That said, the most troubling developments in the last few days have had nothing to do specifically with the Mueller investigation. In the last few days and weeks, the President of the United States has publicly stated he would not comply with any investigative requests coming his way from Congress.
This week alone President Donald Trump has invoked executive privilege to block an effort by House Democrats to access special counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report and the underlying evidence.
It is rumored, and probably certain, that Trump will invoke executive privilege to prevent former White House Council, Don McGahn from complying with a Congressional subpoena to testify.
Trumps appointee Attorney General, William Barr, will probably be held in contempt for not complying with a subpoena for the full and unredacted Mueller report.
Trump has refused to release his tax returns and financial documents as he has been requested to do by Congress.
Trump is using the power of his office, in plain sight, to obstruct an investigation into Trump. He’s doing it wearing the armor that he believes makes him above the law because of his presidency – and so far that armor is holding.
The impartiality of the judicial branch is shakier than it’s ever been because of Trump’s own appointments to those seats. However, his rabid and so far unchecked refusal to cooperate and comply with the Congressional branch is the single most significant indicator our democracy has failed.
By publicly and procedurally taking a stance that the President of the United States will dismiss the authority of the Congressional branch of government, he has stepped into the role of a dictator unchallenged. Without all three branches of our government, we have lost our checks and balances and without them, the rule of law regarding our president and his appointees is defunct.
Our founders could not have anticipated this.
They couldn’t have anticipated that Congress would lose its moral compass and its authority in a fateful moment in history. At this stage in our very young democracy, nothing can be taken for granted. And yet we did take it for granted. The price for that has been high.
But here we are and where we go from here is entirely unclear.
However, wherever we go, if we keep rolling on this trajectory we aren’t going to be inclusive, we aren’t going to be free, and we aren’t going to be moving forward.
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Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.