The president of the United States has demonstrated many of the qualities of a third world tyrant — impulsiveness, personal vendettas, and a willingness to use the power of his office against his enemies. His unhinged attacks on Andrew McCabe, apparently leading to McCabe’s dismissal, and Trump’s current attacks on Amazon, leading to an abrupt fall in that company’s stock price, are only the most recent egregious examples of this personalized and vindictive use of power. In each case the president appears to be motivated by his personal anger and resentment directed against the target.
No person with formal political power has the right to use that power to further his or her own personal likes and dislikes regarding specific individuals or organizations. These are the actions of a bully; more importantly, they are the actions of an individual who is indifferent to the obligations of office. For it is a fundamental obligation of office to treat all individuals equally, and to take actions that are sanctioned by law and are motivated by concern for the public good. And the public includes all of us, not only those who are personally favored by the president.
This behavior is not only an unseemly erosion of the dignity and rectitude is the office of the presidency. It is an assault on the institutions of our law-governed democracy itself. Richard Nixon’s enemy list was correctly seen as a shameful and corrupt misuse of power. But Donald Trump carries out his outrageous and impulsive attacks without any serious resistance or criticism from the Republican majority in the House and the Senate.
The president seems little constrained by the values and precedents that partially constitute the office of president. And he is uninterested in the cautions or judgments offered by even his own closest advisors — witness his deliberate ignoring of the advice NOT to congratulate Putin on his sham electoral victory.
So where would we be if the president ordered actions that are clearly illegal or unconstitutional? Can we have confidence that Republicans in the House and Senate would stand up to oppose such actions? By current evidence, no.
We have witnessed the reckless actions of other tyrants in very recent history, striving to expand their personal powers — in Turkey, in Russia, and in China. Now is the time for all our representatives in Congress, Republican and Democrat alike, to speak up for democracy and the rule of law. Surely these are not conservative or liberal values, but the values of anyone who cares about our democracy.