“The Right to Do Whatever I Want as President”Roundup
tags: impeachment, Trump, separation of powers
Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches at the University of San Francisco. She is the author most recently of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes and is now at work on a new book on the history of torture in the United States.
On February 5th, the Senate voted to acquit President Donald J. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In other words, Trump’s pre-election boast that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters” proved something more than high-flown hyperbole. (To be fair, he did lose one Republican “voter” in the Senate -- Mitt Romney -- but it wasn’t enough to matter.)
The Senate’s failure to convict the president will only confirm his conception of his office as a seat of absolute power (which, as we’ve been told, “corrupts absolutely”). This is the man, after all, who told a convention of student activists, “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president. But I don’t even talk about that.” Except, of course, he does.
The day after the Senate vote, a decidedly unchastened Trump spoke at a National Prayer Breakfast, brandishing a copy of USA Today whose banner headline contained a single word: “Acquitted.” After disagreeing with the prayerful suggestion offered by Arthur Brooks, former head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute (and a couple of millennia earlier by one Jesus of Nazareth), that we should love our enemies, the president promptly accused both Mitt Romney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of inadequate prayerfulness. He lumped Romney in with people “who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong” and accused Pelosi, not for the first time, of lying when she says she prays for him.
Trump’s endless boasting about his invulnerability can certainly be blamed on the dismal swamp of his own psyche, but there’s another at least partial explanation for it -- and it lies in the country’s collective failure to hold anyone responsible for crimes committed since 2001 in the “war on terror.” If one administration can get away with confining detainees in coffinlike boxes and torturing them in myriad other ways, why shouldn’t a later one go unpunished for, to take but one example, putting migrant children in cages?
Forward, Not Backwards
In 2009, Barack Obama prepared to enter the Oval Office promising to end the worst excesses of the previous administration’s war on terror. Although he did close the CIA's detention centers and prohibit torture, he also quickly signaled that no one would be held accountable for the already well-documented practice of torture promoted by the administration of George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney. A week or so before Obama’s inauguration, the president-elect was already assuring ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that, although there would be prosecutions if “somebody has blatantly broken the law,” on the whole he believed “that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”