More than a few times over the past year or so, people have tried to assure me that there are limits to what Trump can do, that the Constitution, Congress, and the Courts will stop him from going too far, and all will be well. It is true that the Constitution defines and limits the power of the office of president … except in certain circumstances. And Congress has a large degree of control … if they can agree to agree on anything and if the issue at hand cannot be done by executive order. And the Courts can intervene … but there are levels within the court system leading up to the Supreme Court – the one that Trump is stacking with his and the Federalist Society’s hand-picked justices.
On a Friday afternoon in July 2016, a faction of the Turkish military launched a coup attempt allegedly aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government. Although Turkey is considered a democracy and Erdoğan was democratically elected, he was and is clearly a threat to Turkish democracy and secularism. As leader of the AKP Islamist party, Erdoğan had ‘reformed’ Turkish schools along Islamist lines, cracked down on freedom of the press, and pushed constitutional changes that would consolidate dangerous amounts of power in the president’s hands.
It has been my belief since the beginning that Erdoğan himself played a leading role in staging the coup. If so, to what end? To give him the justification to declare a ‘state of emergency’ that would increase the powers of his office. As part of the state of emergency, Turkey temporarily suspended part of the European Convention on Human Rights. The initial state of emergency was for three months, but in October 2016, it was extended to be for a year, and the following year it was again extended, and was only lifted in July 2018, after new elections that gave Erdoğan greatly expanded powers. During that time, there was an extensive purge of the Turkish civil service employees, with more than 45,000 military officials, police officers, judges, governors, and civil servants arrested or suspended, including 2,700 judges, 15,000 teachers, and every university dean in the country. Turkish authorities said the crackdown was meant to “suppress dissent”. According to Amnesty International, detainees in Turkey have been denied access to legal counsel, have been beaten and tortured, and have not been provided with adequate food, water, or medical care.
Now tuck into the back of your mind for a bit the fact that Donald Trump made the decision, without consulting Congress, without consulting his military and foreign affairs advisors, without consulting our allies, to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria based on a telephone conversation with Erdoğan. Consider how much Trump admires those ‘strong-arm’ leaders such as Erdoğan, Putin, and even the Philippine’s Rodrigo Duterte. Ever since he took office, Trump has chafed against the constraints of the office, believing that as president his powers ought to be unlimited.
Fast forward … it is rumoured that Robert Mueller will complete his investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 presidential election, and the Trump family/campaign role in such interference around mid-February. While that is strictly rumour at this point, the timing makes sense. What do you think will happen if, as I firmly believe, Mueller has evidence that Trump’s family with Trump’s knowledge, and perhaps even Trump himself were involved in underhanded dealings to influence the outcome of the election? What if it is proven that Trump broke the trust of his office? No doubt impeachment proceedings would begin in the democratic-majority House of Representatives. Given what we know about Trump and his erratic temperament, what is your best guess about his reaction? Think he’ll just sit down and shut up? Yeah, right. If you believe that, please contact me, for I have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn that I’ll sell you dirt-cheap.
Fast forward even more … the year is 2020 and the election for which Trump has been campaigning for four years is rapidly approaching. And yet … Trump is not winning any popularity contests … his temper tantrums are no longer playing well among his masses, in light of the financial recession caused largely by his tariffs and by the chaos he wrought at the end of 2018 by shutting the government down needlessly while demanding billions of dollars for his ignominious border wall. Trump is not being supported by the majority of the GOP in Congress, and the Republican Party is lukewarm about his re-election bid, at best. Think he’s going to just put his nose to the grindstone, do the best job he can while trying to win over the masses with his honesty and integrity? Again … see above comment about my bridge.
Not quite two years into his term of office, Donald Trump has signed …
- 86 Executive orders
- 42 Presidential memoranda
- 12 Presidential determinations
- 01 Administrative order
- 22 Presidential notices
- 01 Presidential sequestration order
- 07 National security presidential memoranda
None of these required the advice and consent of Congress. Many were to overturn regulations that were in place to safeguard our health and safety. Others were simply to exert his power. None, as far as I can tell, were in our collective best interest.
Back now to 2019 when impeachment is looming, or 2020 when an election looms large. What does Trump do? Does he follow the example of his buddy Erdoğan and create a diversion that will allow him to declare a ‘state of emergency’? Oh yes, he most certainly can do that, and with little or no reason. The decision to declare a ‘state of emergency’ is entirely within his discretion, and it makes more than 100 ‘special provisions’ available to him. The framers of the Constitution never in their wildest dreams imagined a Donald Trump, never believed the nation would need to be protected from its own leader.
What, then, could happen if, say to detract from impeachment proceedings, Trump declared a state of emergency? Worst case scenario, he could shut down electronic communications. He could freeze the bank accounts of those he believed to be subversive. He could disperse troops within the country to subdue domestic unrest, ie., legitimate protests. And the list goes on.It is not my intent to fear-monger … I don’t play Trump’s games. It is, however, my intent to proclaim that the time is now to rein in this president. Now, before it becomes impossible, is the time to set limits on the ‘executive authority’ that the Founding Fathers never thought would be necessary. When the 116th Congress is seated next Thursday, one of the first orders of business, besides getting the government open without giving in on “the wall”, should be to set limits on what the president can and cannot do without the consent of Congress.
Personally, I would like to see strict guidelines for declaring a state of emergency, and a very narrow interpretation of what he can or cannot do under such a state. He must not be allowed to shut down the internet, the only means many of us have of getting news of national and world events. He must not be allowed to stifle the freedom of the press or our First Amendment rights of free speech.
There have been situations before where a president overstepped the reasonable limits of his power and Congress or the Courts stepped in, such as the Youngstown Steel case in 1952 where President Truman attempted to take over the steel plants, but the Supreme Court said, “no”. But with Donald Trump the bully in office, I don’t think we can assume that he would be easily stopped from assuming far greater power than he should have, and it would behoove us to put restraints in place before they are needed rather than wait until it is too late.