“I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” ~ Anonymous
When does authority end? Well, authority ends when people believe that it no longer exists. That is because authority is not a thing one possesses; authority is a relationship in which the members of a system acknowledge the holder of power as legitimate. Power can be held without authority but is inherently weaker and unstable when illegitimate. Power without legitimacy can be exercised only by force.
For example, in a formally democratic constitutional political system, such as that in the U.S.A., the very election of a president is the agreed upon process for installing a president in office. It is the only legitimate means by which the man (or someday woman) can assume the office. The inauguration is the ritual that legitimizes the turning over of the executive authority of incumbency to the person who won the election.
Of course, we have experienced growing concerns over the legitimacy of the electoral process itself, but most people view the process as legitimate even though flawed. Yet, the flaws seem to have grown significantly in recent years, with the more extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression. Still, most people accept the results, if grudgingly.
Once in office, a president has a wide range of options as to his behavior in executing the duties of the office. The three-branch system of government allows a lot of interpretation in the administration of laws. Administrative policies may even twist the meaning in how a president implements a law, with little consequence beyond complaints.
In the present instance, the president appointed the “principal officers of the executive departments” (Section 4, Amendment XXV, U.S. Constitution) that is, the members of his cabinet, with the sole purpose of having those officers dismantle the administration of existing laws that do not favor the corporations and the rich.
Naturally, many people have challenged the legitimacy of such actions. Many current lawsuits challenge the actions of Trump’s cabinet members on the basis that they have violated rather than administered the laws passed by Congress. That is because such actions are the equivalent of re-writing or nullifying such laws, which, of course, is the sole prerogative of the Congress.
When a president routinely takes such illegitimate actions, the government may experience a constitutional crisis. That is because presidential actions meant to avoid or roll back the implementation of laws passed by Congress violate the constitutional principle of separation of powers. As we all know, such practices have become extremely commonplace in the presidential administration of Donald J. Trump.
Our current president evidently views the office he holds as equivalent to that of a CEO of a private family business, a patriarch, or a mob boss. But, of course, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, too many citizens also have little knowledge or respect for these constitutional principles.
Decay of Authority
This president has taken so many illegitimate actions that I will not list them here. Putting aside the perverse peculiarities of personality, a strong sense has grown that the man is incapable of exercising the powers of the office without putting the nation in great danger, especially in international relations, domestic security, and in denying climate science.
Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House,” (already widely quoted before reaching the bookstores) has already caused great consternation by revealing numerous instances that indicate several grounds for considering the president to be unfit for office. Of course, Trump proclaimed it a work of fiction, despite Woodward’s long-standing solid reputation for basing his books on strong evidence and multiple reliable sources.
Far more damning, however, is the anonymously authored op-ed piece in the New York Times, titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Written by one or more high-level members of the administration, the author(s) claim that “I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.’ It describes a White House in full disarray as members of the administration try to cover, block, or undo many “dangerous impulses” and erratic actions of a man who is out of control in too many ways to enumerate. We can safely assume that The Times would not have taken such an unprecedented step without fully vetting the source.
Whatever one’s political viewpoint, the question of whether the man is unfit, recklessly dangerous, just too mentally unstable, or otherwise “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” (Amendment XXV, Section 4, U.S. Constitution) then some means of removing him from power is necessary. When the inner circle of the White House finds it necessary to remove papers from his desk, diffuse his attempts to lash out at the world in various ways, or when a top general just does not follow orders given on a dangerous whim, a genuine constitutional crisis is already in play.
So far, the Republican right in Congress has gotten its legislative way because the president consistently and with mean spirit unwinds many laws an regulations meant to protect citizens and environments while affording the super-rich and giant corporations obscene tax cuts. But at some point, the present trend of increasing chaos will force their hand.
The End of the Line
Whether before or after the mid-term elections, the outrage of ordinary Republicans, independents and Democrats alike will force the hand of self-absorbed politicians in Congress. They will by then see the end of their free ride on the horizon as voters protest their continued inaction. The talk of annulling Trump’s election is building as Mueller indicts more of Trump’s associates. “Anonymous” even mentions invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove him from office. Impeachment would be the weaker approach since it would replace him with Pence, the corrupt henchman elected along with him, and leave cabinet members and all the insane executive orders and dangerous actions in place.
Annulment of the election would be the more difficult path, but the best way to reverse much of the damage already done. The growing evidence of illegal tampering with the election, not only by the Russians but by Republican campaign officials, cries out for annulment. After all, the authority of this president has ended.
Now it is time to rise to the occasion of this unprecedented constitutional crisis and clean up the president’s mess. Many politicians will have to break out of their established habits and act like statesmen. Taking the right path will not be easy, but it may save the republic.