Does a President Have Unlimited Power?

From a Google Image Search – NPR

Trump is claiming that the President of the United States has unlimited powers. He has been steadily exercising Presidential power without accepting any checks on his power. He is hugging more and more power to himself much in the way he hugs the American flag. 

Trump has become increasingly authoritarian since the Democrats became the majority power in the House and he lost the backing of an undivided (totally partisan) Congress. If he cannot have an inert Congress, loyal to him (Him) and willing to offer little or no obstruction, not even the token attempts to rein Trump in if he seems likely to take us into existential danger, then he will act like Congress does not exist. Because, to his mind, Congress has no power over the President or how could the President perform the duty of the President to be the unchallenged boss (Don) of America. 

The Constitution only applies to all those other people in the government, who are actually unnecessary because all the nation really needs is a President. This is even more obvious as this 45 th President is a stable genius who is doing the greatest job ever of running the country. If Trump states it, it has to be true.

I don’t believe we knew the full extent of Trump’s mental delusions until he got ensconced in the Oval. Now he has us stymied about how to rid ourselves of him and save a democracy/republic which this man obviously has no respect for. Our democracy cannot work as long as Trump is President but he has mesmerized almost half of America. We are in deep trouble. 

We must keep democracy alive in our hearts and, if we don’t win the 2020 election, we must prepare ourselves to live in a world that is crumbling around us even as the leader thinks the nation is thriving. We must steal our hearts to human rights violations and humanitarian violations that we cannot immediately redress. We can take no solace from science as the environmental conditions on our planet turn more and more hostile, because our President is a fatalist in this regard. We must live two lives, an external life and an internal life. And it looks like we must prepare ourselves for war against Iran and what will that like? How will the nations of the world align? Will America start the next World War?

This is getting scarier by the minute as we put our faith in the system, common sense, an election and our Constitution to set things back to some kind of normalcy. One woman, Nancy Pelosi, is carrying an enormous burden, pitting herself against a President who is drunk on power. At least that’s how it looks some days. We the people are doing little except to help maintain the notion that everything is normal, nothing to see here until we get through the next election.

An article published in the NYT on 6/17/2019 asks this same question.

Judge for Yourself

Here is a condensed version of Article I and Article II of the US Constitution. Do you think our founding document gives a President of the United States unlimited power?

A Condensed Version of the US Constitution with more Contemporary Language.

(by Nancy Brisson)

Article 1 of the US Constitution

Section 1: 

Establishes Congress which is granted all Legislative powers and says that Congress will be made up of a Senate and a House of Representatives.

From a Google Image Search – Lawfare

Section 2: 

Members of the House of Representatives are chosen every 2 years. 

Members must be at least 25 years of age, a US citizen for 7 years and a resident of the state s/he will represent when elected. 

Describes how taxes and representatives will be portioned out among the states, but this part was revised because it was racist. 

Says that states will replace members if their seat becomes vacant between elections.

Gives House of Representatives the right to choose their Speaker and Officers.

Gives House of Representatives the sole Power of Impeachment.

From a Google Image Search – http://www.senate.gov

Section 3

Senate will be composed of 2 senators from each state, chosen in a state election.

Senators serve for 6 years.

Each senator has one vote.

These six year terms were staggered in the very first Congress so that 1/3 of the Senate must run for election every 2 years and then stay for 6 years until it is their turn to run again.

Vacancies during recesses are refilled temporarily by the appropriate state until the next meeting of the Legislature when they are filled permanently.

Senators must be at least 30 years old, a citizen for nine years, and live in the state s/he will represent.

The Vice President of the US will be the President of the Senate, but only votes when there is a tie.

The Senate will chose their other officers and also a President pro tempore to serve when the Vice President has other duties or must take over for the President.

The Senate has the power to try impeachments. When the President is tried the Chief Justice presides. Conviction requires a 2/3 vote of all the members.

The Senate can remove someone from office and disqualify them from holding office in the future, but the party, once removed, convicted can then be subject to normal Indictment, Trial and Punishment.

From the Newseum

Section 4

State Legislatures decide the time, place, and manner of holding elections, but the Congress has oversight except in the matter of the places where elections are held.

Congress will assemble at least once a year on 1stMonday of December unless a different day is specified by a subsequent law.

Section 5

Each House of Congress regulates elections and qualifications of its own members.

A majority constitutes a quorum to do business, but a smaller number can meet from day to day and can decide how to persuade absent members to attend.

Each House can decide the rules for how it does business and punish members for disorderly behavior and can expel a member with a 2/3 vote.

Each House will keep a journal with a record of yeas and nays when members wish this info to be recorded, and will publish all parts of the journal from time to time unless secrecy is needed.

Congress will not adjourn for more than 3 days when it is sitting or move proceedings to a new location.

Section 6

Senators and Representative will be paid.

They will be privileged from arrest while Congress is in session or while traveling to and from Congress except for Treason, Felony, and Breach of Peace.

Members of Congress cannot be held liable for a speech made in Congress even when Congress is not in session.

You cannot be in Congress and hold any other office in the government at the same time.

Section 7

The House of Representatives makes all bills for raising revenue but the Senate can amend or vote on amendments.

Bills passed in Congress must go to the President who can either sign it or return it. (veto power) But if the bill is reconsidered and passes in both Houses of Congress by 2/3 vote it can become a law despite the President’s veto. If the President doesn’t return a bill to Congress in ten days it becomes a law, unless Congress adjourns to prevent the return in which case it does not become a law.

Each law that is passed by both Houses must be sent to the President except for the matter of adjournment.

Section 8

Powers of Congress:

To ask for taxes, collect taxes, charge shipping fees, pay debts.

Provide for the Common defense and general welfare of the US.

Any fees, etc. must be the same throughout the states.

Can borrow money on credit of the US.

Regulate commerce with other nations, among the states, and with the Indian Tribes.

Establish rules to become a naturalized citizen.

Make uniform laws of bankruptcy throughout the states.

Coin money and regulate value of US money and foreign money.

Decide the standards of weights and measures.

Decide punishment for counterfeiting securities and money.

Establish post office and post roads.

Promote the progress of Science and the Arts through trademarks and patents.

To form courts under the Supreme Court.

To define rules about piracy and conduct on the high seas and offenses against the laws of nations.

To declare War and make appropriate rules about captures.

To raise and support Armies – no appropriation of money for longer than 2 years at a time.

To provide and maintain a Navy.

Makes rules for government and regulation of land and naval forces.

To provide for calling forth the militia (to execute laws, suppress insurrections, impel invasions).

Gives broader control over the Militia, organizing, arming and disciplining.

Have power over land ceded to government for forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, etc.

To make laws that accomplish these goals and all other goals mentioned in the Constitution.

Section 9

Specifies a fee for states that import or migrate people before 1808. (slave states?)

Writ of habeas corpus (the right to go before a judge) cannot be denied except when in a rebellion or invasion when public safety may require it. 

You cannot pass a law that is retroactive and that denies the right to appear before a judge.

You cannot tax by head count without a census.

You cannot pass a law that charges for interstate trade.

The same thing applies to ports. The government may not show preference for the port of one state over another. States cannot charge other states port fees.

Congress cannot draw any money unless it is budgeted by law and records must be published from time to time.

Congress cannot grant titles of nobility.

No person holding any office can accept any present, Emolument, Office, or title of any kind whatever from any King, Prince or foreign state (Emoluments clause) unless Congress consents.

Section 10

States cannot make treaties or alliances or do any of the things that Congress cannot do.

States can charge duties for executing inspection laws, but the money shall be for the use of the US Treasury and Congress has the right to review and control these state laws.

States cannot keep troops, or ships of war or enter into any agreement with another state or foreign power or engage in War unless under immediate threat of invasion.

From a Google Image Search – business insider.com

Article II

Section 1

Executive Power is given to the President of the United States of America.

He has a term of 4 years.

Also a Vice president will serve for the same term.

Describes the election process including the Electoral College, although not by that name.

Congress determines the dates for elections, with the same election day throughout the states.

President must be a natural born citizen.

Must be at least thirty-five years of age.

Must have resided fourteen years within the United States.

Describes order of succession should we lose the President – VP would become President.

(Congress has subsequently decided a more extended order of succession).

President will be paid but may not accept any other emoluments even from the states.

Oath of Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Section 2

Designates President as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy and Militias of states when called into service.

May require principal officer in any Executive position to submit a job description.

Has the power to grant pardons and reprieves, except in cases of impeachment.

Has the power to make treaties with approval of 2/3 of Senators.

Appoints, with advice and consent of the Senate, Ambassadors, public ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and any other officers who appoints are not otherwise provided for.

Congress may by law give the power over appointment of inferior officers to the President alone, or to the courts or to the heads of departments.

The President can fill all vacancies that happen during the recess of the Senate by granting commission, but they expire at the end of the Senate’s next session.

Section 3

Provides for the State of the Union address.

President can recommend measure s/he considers expedient or necessary to Congress.

President can on extraordinary occasions convene both houses, or either of them and if they cannot agree about adjournment s/he can adjourn Congress until a time he designates as proper.

President can receive ambassadors and other public ministers.

S/he shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

S/he shall commission all Officers of the United States.

Section 4

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

This Republican Decade: Snatching Victory from Jaws of Defeat

From a Google Image Search – WKAR

How have the Republicans – who took us into a war in Iraq under false pretenses, and basically caused the Great Recession – been able to grab so much power in the intervening decade? How did they snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? It isn’t all about backlash to global change. It also may be about a Party that seized a moment and a movement.

It seems as if the Republicans have been obstructing government forever but by the numbers the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress until 2011 (until the election in 2010 actually), then they still had control of the Senate until 2013 when Republicans took control of both houses until 2019.

Of course, we remember that Mitch McConnell swore to obstruct Obama in every way. People like to blame Obama for the Republican’s obstruction saying that he passed the ACA in secrecy in the middle of the night without any Republican votes and that the rest of the obstruction was just payback. But clearly this obstruction was the result of a nexus of Conservative activity by a number of different actors and we know this because every Conservative used the same reasoning right down to the same words. There were no original answers to media questions. Every Conservative had the same talking points reiterated to the same script and it was freaky, bizarre, and in the end, a sign of behind the scenes organizing on a grand scale.

So we ask again, how have the Republicans, who basically caused the Great Recession, been able to grab so much power in the intervening decade? They have done it by being willing to trash norms long accepted as informal protocols and even by boldly forcing Democrats to change rules like the filibuster threshold to try to get anything done. Although Dems technically had the numbers they did not have the 60 votes needed.

It seemed that everything Dems did backfired. When Harry Reid lowered the threshold for the filibuster to a simple majority it set up the future parade of approvals of Conservative judges that are the current daily agenda (and the only agenda) in the Republican-controlled Senate. (It is not like Dems didn’t foresee this possibility but they took the risk anyway for immediate gains.) The Hastert rule took hold in the House where no business hit the floor unless it could pass with all Republican votes.

I contend that Republicans got radicalized by the Tea Party and Talk Radio and Fox News. This is not exactly news. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh had a rabid audience for their constant propaganda demonizing Obama and the Democrats. Beck and Bill O’Reilly wrote popular books that reinterpreted history from a fairly extreme Conservative viewpoint. It was all a giant mash-up of Koch Brothers pushing Capitalism and fossil fuels, Confederate flags waving on the back of gas-guzzling trucks all over America, the patriotism of arming yourself because the communist, socialists, gangs, immigrants are coming for you. Add in a Fundamentalist interpretation of the Constitution (refight the Federalist papers), Evangelical expectations of the Rapture and a full-throated Biblical approval of rich folks and the Conservative Way. Then there was a pledge made to a Libertarian group (against their duty to the Constitution) to never raise taxes, and a celebration of the audacity of Republicans in Congress who showed their party “purity” by obstructing Dems in ever newer and more creative ways (with good-old-boy grins on their faces).

Today the highs of those giddy days have disappeared and there is just the mean tough slog of a government deadlocked by a Republican Party that no longer has any impetus to be at all bipartisan. They will have their way. The Republicans got to this place, and they also got us to this President Trump who tramples all our norms with impunity.

Dems seem much too polite to dig us out of this hole, but they do have policy on their side and they want to save our Republic. The modern Republican Party has no members in Congress who seem motivated to save the Republic as it was before the Tea Party/Conservative extravaganza. Conservative extremists are so far winning the tug of war to pull the whole nation to the right. But that frightening torch-lit white supremacist show of power in Charlottesville has put a much more serious light on where Conservatives might be planning to take America. 

Progressives may have the energy to pull the nation back towards the left, even if they don’t make it as far left as they would like. If the Dems don’t win, where will four more years of “to the right, to the right” leave us. Perhaps in a dictatorship huddling together in the few places without extreme weather.  

An article in Salon on 6/17/2019 discusses this same question in greater detail.

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

From a Google Image Search – The Atlantic

Conservatives and the Social Safety Net

Conservatives adamantly oppose government programs because they say they believe that everything can be done better by the private sector, by capitalists, than can be achieved through any government program. (Well think about it for a minute, which works better, the public option in the ACA or the private prisons for criminals and immigrants?) Further, these Conservatives argue, large public programs that help people who are disabled, who are unemployed, who are poor, who are children, who are sick, and who are old are socialist programs and Americans are not socialists.

Our forefathers were farmers and entrepreneurs, in other words, capitalists, but they did not mandate any particular economic system for our young nation, and since socialism and communism both came out of Europe in the 1900’s, they probably didn’t even imagine that such an economic idea might exist one day. In the 30’s there was a pretty prominent movement of socialists in America, especially when the stock market crashed and the nation was slogging through a Great Depression. Many of our social safety net programs originate from those days of bread lines. 

In the 1950’s communism had a moment of philosophical consideration by some Americans but was brutally stomped out by McCarthyism. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R) (WI) mowed down anyone who had ever even whispered to a communist, or at least he tried. People were black-listed and lost their jobs often for no reason except McCarthy’s say-so. Communism certainly did not fare well in the USSR and proved to be as corruptible as any government/economy. Interest in communism waned in America. Conservatives insist that capitalism is the only economic model that matches with democracy. Here’s a quote from The American Conservative offered up on June, 6, 2019, “Socialism will Always Destroy Democracy”. (Although it seems to me that Conservatism is doing a pretty good job of that these days.)

By definition (Merriam Webster) “Socialism definition is – any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

Strictly speaking none of the benefit programs produce anything or distribute any goods. They involve budget items that describe how we the people wish to spend our money. In a time, like now, of great income inequality, where we the people are a bit short of money because recent laws have favored the wealthy, and have allowed them to own an inordinate proportion of our nation’s wealth, these same wealthy Americans are telling us that they do not want to spend their money on a safety net. They also let us know that they have not left us enough money and that we cannot afford to spend our money that way either.

But the story they always tell us, about the mismatch between democracy and social programs that they label as socialism is not borne out in the real world. Canada is a thriving democracy with a very sound social safety net. There are many such nations around the world.

Conservatives still tell us these messages constantly. Capitalism rules. We don’t have enough money to offer benefits.

Of course, Conservatives go beyond this. They tell us that using our money to lift up the less fortunate, or any of us in a moment of misfortune is harmful to us and to society as a whole. It destroys initiative (hard to prove) and poor, sick, old, disabled people or people being discriminated against would rise higher, fight harder without “free” money. However, getting rid of the social safety net might also be a good way to bring back plagues, which were common before there were humanitarian programs.

Conservatives convince people who need to benefit from these programs that illegal (undocumented) immigrants are collecting the benefits that citizens’ taxes have paid for, and there does seem to be some truth to that, but numbers are not huge and cutting off benefits to “the undeserving” seems to mean cutting off benefits to everyone.  Conservatives convince people of the unfairness of it all, they label it socialism and people end up voting against their own best interests.

Conservatives want to stay in the Industrial Age although the factories they long for have fled or switched to robotics. They want to stick to fossil fuels. It is all about money and profits. To do this against all evidence that industry has moved on to nations with cheaper labor and lots of laborers, and that burning fossil fuels is destroying a planet we don’t know how to escape from, means that holding on to power is essential. Without power the Conservative dream topples and the gravy train travels on more than just one track. I doubt we’ll see our money come back to us anytime soon.

Conservatives may be able to hold on to the 50’s or whatever was their favorite age, but for the rest of us we feel the end of the Industrial Age in our everyday lives, we are not all prepared to participate in the Tech Age, and that leaves a lot of us in a sort of economic limbo that can be quite scary. This is no time to take away the social safety net. And this is certainly no time to take it away because of a label. The social safety net is about people and it functions well in many democracies. At the very least Conservatives need to come up with something better than the same old arguments.

Not Impeaching Right Away – A Gamble with Enormous Consequences

From a Google Image Search – Truthout

Not Impeaching Right Away – A Gamble with Enormous Consequences

The call for impeachment gets louder each day. As the President orders staff and former staff members called to testify before House committees to blow off any such requests up to and including subpoenas, more and more Democrats urge either outright impeachment or the beginning of an impeachment inquiry. 

Impeachment is a Congressional duty when America has a President who cannot seem to uphold our Constitution or respect the human rights which are the basis of our democracy. It gets old to repeat the specifics of Trump’s transgressions over and over but there are still Americans who just don’t see them. If you get your “news” from Fox you are told that the Mueller report totally exonerated Trump. If you get your news from almost any other source then you have either read the report yourself or you have heard summaries from people who have read it. The Mueller report does not exonerate Trump, especially of obstruction of justice.

The evidence also suggests that Russians, with probable connections to Putin, did help Trump get elected. Although Trump managed to keep his distance from the Russians there were hundreds of contacts between his campaign staff and Russians. Several of Trump’s campaign staffers have been indicted, convicted, and are serving jail sentences with more still under indictment. Since Trump has an authoritarian leadership style it is difficult to believe that he did not call the shots or at least have final approval over all that went down. Most of his cronies seem willing to take the bullet for him.

He also seems to have decided that the emoluments clause is not settled law, I guess, even though every other President has abided by this prohibition against accepting money or gifts from foreign governments which Trump continues to allow through his ownership of the nearby DC hotel where many foreign petitioners stay.

Timothy Egan sums Trump’s transgressions up this way, writing in The New York Times, and it is worth reading the whole article,

“After the inauguration debacle, Trump moved on to bigger targets — the judiciary, the military, the press, and the professional class of bureaucrats who have made the United States a model for competence and incorruptibility in the Civil Service.

With William Barr, Trump now has an attorney general who doesn’t care how much lasting damage he does to truth, justice and the American way. His mandate as the nation’s top prosecutor is to carry out Trump’s private vendettas.”

Although the evidence tells us that Trump richly deserves to be impeached I can see a possible advantage to starting an inquiry but waiting until after the election to impeach. However as Nancy Pelosi reminds us “impeachment does not necessarily mean removal”. So it is possible we could impeach and also win the election. But it’s a gamble. The order of operations could be very important here.

Trump is a terrible President, but he is also backed by an entire Party full of equally incomprehensible cronies who back his moves and seem sanguine about the damage to our constitutional government, perhaps because they are convinced that Trump is trashing the very same parts of the Constitution they want to trash.

If we could win the 2020 Presidential election and win enough seats in the Senate we could get rid of Trump, Pence, Mitch McConnell and the Freedom Caucus in one fell swoop. That would be a celebration. But if we impeached Trump and won the 2020 election, now that would be winning! 

The Left’s New Conservative Friends

From a Google Image Search – Gallup News

A number of Conservative thinkers have joined the lefties on MSNBC because they agree that Trump in the White House is an appalling atrocity. Left and right meet in a sort of stunned middle to try to inform voters about why Donald J. Trump is a danger to our democracy/republic.

We treat these erudite icons of Conservative opinion with respect. We give George Will, David Frum, David Brooks, Rick Wilson, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, and even Bill Kristol places on our panels of pundits and we listen to what they have to say. Perhaps we even suppose that they have been “woke”. 

They appear with gray countenances and grizzled faces full of worry and pain. They look so tired and world weary. It is not that Republicans no longer embrace Conservative views, but most are busy pandering to Trump so these learned men seem stodgy, and because they cannot deal with Trump they are sidelined for the moment. Of course most Conservatives are not at all interested in economic equality and neither are these venerable men and women of the right. But Donald has no patience with the ivy league set, and could not moderate his behavior even if he wanted to be in the club. After all he was the best student at the best college in America and it wasn’t Harvard or Princeton.

All this being shunted aside has given Conservatives plenty of time for writing. Rick Wilson recently published Everything Trump Touches Dies. George Will just presented the world with The Conservative Sensibility. David Brooks’ book The Second Mountain just arrived on book shelves. David Frum wrote Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the America Republic, and World War Trump, 2019. Jennifer Rubin writes a column called Right Turn in the Washington Post, Bill Kristol still writes in The New York Times, Max Boot wrote The Road Not Taken in 2018, and Joe Scarborough fell in love with a Democrat and now speaks against the Trump administration on Morning Joe. 

Those of us on the left who admire the new friends we have found for their intelligent commentary on the Trump administration should not imagine that these folks will stick around when (if) Trump is gone. Read their books. They still speak those Conservative talking points we all know so well, covered in philosophical rhetoric that makes their political ideas more opaque. When they speak about too much individualism and link that with the Democrats they are saying several things at once. Individualism is bad or its good depending on the point they wish to make.

If they are arguing that social benefits are bad for us because they squelch any struggle for survival that might produce extraordinary new inventions, businesses, organizations, they are actually making a horrified outcry against what they consider to be socialism and another way our (capitalist) republic could die. As I have said before, I am not opposed to capitalism, but I am opposed to unregulated capitalism. I also believe that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that our economy is rigged in favor of those who already have money. These thinkers do not agree. They think our economy is working exactly as it should. 

In addition to worrying about individuality, Conservative thinkers also bemoan the loss of a sense of community. They seem to express this as a lack of spirituality (church, religion) and therefore of morals. I doubt that these folks would think the rise of Bible classes in American schools is unconstitutional. They see this as a positive thing, although it is aimed to make people less tolerant of people who practice other religions. Conservatives want America to be a Christian nation which might be alright if it wasn’t so 9th century. Since it pits Christians against Muslims and even Jewish people it could end in a religious war. 

Another thing these thinkers have in common is a desire to ditch technology like computers and cell phones, etc. Clearly technology complicates both domestic and foreign affairs. People tend to live in their machines, in their bubbles. There are few ways that we know of to extend moral rules to activities like hacking. We can make the rules but they are too easily broken and the outcomes are often positive for the hackers. I doubt if we can run the reel of culture backwards. Computers may bring us a brave new world or they may be so ruined that they must be discarded. We’ll see.

Republicans see governing as a top-down process. So do some wealthy Democrats. But Democrats who must make their way up in a very lop-sided economy tend to see governing as a bottom-up operation. Normally Republicans who are not wealthy would have more in common with the Democrats in the same situation but these Republicans have been co-opted by the propagandists in right wing media. Conservatives are unlikely to ever understand or accept the new Dems.

So just don’t be surprised when our new Conservative friends wander back to the right wing fold when things get a bit less extreme. They are after all moderates on the right, they have not become part of the left. We appreciate their advice, their pronouncements about the evils of Trump; but as for the rest we must always remember that in their heart of hearts they still hold Conservative ideas and will help Republicans implement them when this fever breaks (if it ever does). With apologies to Jennifer Rubin, if these Ivy League educated entitled white male elites would spend a year pretending to be poor they might write a different book. I would definitely buy that book.