President Trump appears intent on proving Lord Acton, the Victorian writer and politician of whom the president has almost certainly never heard, right. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Acton wrote. “Great men are almost always bad men.” The longer Trump spends in office, the more he realizes what he can do as president — and the fewer aides remain who will tell him that there are certain things he should not do. He is now surrounded by lickspittles who will affirm, on command, that he is an “extremely stable genius.” Every abuse of power, when left unchecked, leads to a bigger abuse. The latest but far from final result is the wholesale assault on democracy launched by the president this past week, building on his prior assaults.
In February, Trump declared an emergency to spend money that Congress had not appropriated to build a border wall that the country doesn’t need. Only 10 percent of congressional Republicans opposed him. So now, having decided that rule-by-fiat suits him, Trump is using his emergency powers to bypass Congress to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Both the House and Senate have voted to end support for the Saudi war in Yemen, but, having vetoed that resolution, Trump appears determined to remove Congress from any oversight role in the sale of weapons to the murderers of Jamal Khashoggi.
“Congress must reclaim its powers,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), the lone Republican to call for Trump’s richly deserved impeachment. “When will the legislative branch stand up to the executive branch?” At this rate, the answer is: Never. At least not while a Republican sits in the White House and Republicans control the Senate.
Republicans remain supportive rather than censorious of Trump’s obstruction of justice, so it is hardly surprising, if nevertheless dismaying, that the president just delegated to Attorney General William P. Barr the authority to access and declassify the intelligence community’s most closely held secrets as Barr investigates the investigators who tried to stop Russian penetration of the Trump campaign. So Trump’s position is that his tax returns should remain private but the CIA’s “sources and methods” should become public.
This gives Barr a license to selectively declassify documents, just as Trump did last year to help Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) issue his own memo on the same subject. Nunes’s contention — that the FBI probe was triggered by the “Steele dossier” paid for by the Democrats — turned out to be false. But Barr is undeterred by Nunes’s failure to prove a deep-state conspiracy against Trump. He appears determined to find something, anything, in the secret files to feed Trump’s victimhood fantasies, even if the cost is to blow the cover of sources who have risked their lives to help the CIA.
Barr is proving to be Trump’s faithful lackey in launching investigations designed to discredit and possibly even prosecute his accusers. When Trump said Hillary Clinton should be locked up, he meant it; the Mueller report documents Trump’s repeated demands that the Justice Department investigate his 2016 opponent. Having paid no price for what should be an impeachable offense, Trump let it be known this week that former FBI director James B. Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe — along with “people probably higher than that” — deserved to be executed for treason. Is Trump insinuating that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, to whom the FBI reported in 2016, were guilty of treason? Sure sounds like it.
Trump also continues to show contempt for any congressional oversight. His attempts to stonewall Congress suffered major setbacks last week when two federal judges ruled against his attempts to block subpoenas to his accountants and financial institutions. This seemed to send Trump off his rocker — not that he was ever really on said rocker to begin with.
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Trump of throwing a “temper tantrum” in a meeting with top Democrats, the president threw another one right on cue, calling her “Crazy Nancy,” saying “she’s a mess" and posting a doctored video to give the impression that she had trouble speaking. This, too, is an abuse with a precedent: During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly cast aspersions on Clinton’s health. The indictment of dirty trickster Roger Stone reveals his friend Jerome Corsi writing to him on Aug. 2, 2016: “Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke.” Trump is like a football coach who keeps calling the same plays for different opponents — as long, of course, as those opponents are female.
I refrain from saying that Trump has hit a “new low” because the phrase is meaningless; next week he is practically guaranteed to bore even deeper into substrata of immorality and vileness that no previous president has ever penetrated. The only thing that can stop him before November 2020 is impeachment. But Pelosi’s caution is understandable: The House can impeach, but the Senate will never convict, allowing Trump to claim unearned exoneration. The result is that Trump’s abuses of power are practically guaranteed to get worse as he fights for his political survival.