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Standing on the Shoulders of Tyrants

April 9, 2019 in Economics

By Gene Healy

Gene Healy

“I have the absolute right to PARDON myself,” President Donald
Trump announced via Twitter in June 2018. With that, he pitched a
can of Sterno into the ongoing media firestorm over the special
counsel’s Russia investigation.

The last time a president contemplated a self-pardon was during
the “final days” of Watergate. Nixon wasn’t entirely in his right
mind during this period: frequently drunk, possibly suicidal,
incoherent, pacing the halls at night “talking to pictures of
former presidents,” according to his son-in-law. Still, even at his
worst moment, Nixon had enough wits about him to know that trying
to pardon himself would be crazy.

Trump seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion. His claims
about his right to undermine the rule of law are frequent and
contemptible. Yet as far as we can tell, they have mostly been
rhetorical.

In the run-up to the 2018 midterms, for instance, the president
threatened to issue an executive order revoking birthright
citizenship—a move that would have flouted the plain language
and legislative history of the 14th Amendment while putting more
than 4 million Americans at risk of deportation. But this too seems
to have been a pump fake designed to thrill the base and rile the
media; it was abandoned after Election Day.

It’s become a familiar pattern. Trump hits “send tweet” on some
crank theory of absolute executive power. Law professors and
pundits cancel their weekend plans, scrambling to figure out “Can
he do that?”—only to realize, weeks later, that they needn’t
have taken him literally or seriously.

No president in living memory has been nearly as vocal about his
contempt for the legal limits on his power; none has threatened
half as often to throw them off. But again and again, Trump stares
across the Rubicon, shrugs, and then heads back inside to
live-tweet Fox News.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric
is breathtakingly authoritarian, but so far he’s done less than his
predecessors to expand executive power.

In the first hour of this presidency, just after Trump delivered
his “American Carnage” inaugural address, George W. Bush supposedly
remarked, “That was some weird shit.” At this point, we can quibble
only with W’s use of the past tense: The current president’s
behavior has been so weird and unsettling that it’s hard to get
perspective on how bad we’ve got it. Trump’s tweets, his
insult-comic pep rallies, his general inability to act like a
grown-up in a grown-up’s job—everything about the 45th
president distracts us from a clear-eyed evaluation of what he’s
actually done with the enormous powers he inherited.

Case in point: In January, The Atlantic marked the
midpoint of Trump’s tenure with “50 Moments …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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