One of the defining characteristics of the American system is that no person, not even the President, is above the law. Yesterday, the Republican party sought to overturn that concept. They are not alone in this; the Democrat party has attempted the same thing, in 1998. In both of these instances, credible felony allegations had been rendered against the President, and in both cases an argument was made that the offenses were not grave enough to prosecute while in office, even if they were true.
In Clinton’s case, he had demonstrated that he was fundamentally dishonest, because of his likely (later proven) perjury and suborning perjury in a trial wherein he stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars; it was also argued that he was a security risk because of his improprieties, that he could be blackmailed should foreign leaders discover them and use them as pressure in negotiations.
In Trump’s case, he has already demonstrated, repeatedly, that he is fundamentally dishonest. The reason this is not a concern among many of his supporters is that he has taken full advantage of a history of Democrat-leaning bias in major news sources that has cast them, however inaccurately, as even more dishonest than he is.
He has also consistently subordinated the interests of the United States to those of enemy foreign leaders, but he has done so under the rubric of “America First”. In this case, the interpretation is that America is wasting money, energy and lives by projecting influence into areas beyond our borders. This has always been one of the fundamental differences between Republican and Libertarian theory, with the most hard-line Libertarians preferring to pull away from international military power demonstrations. Under Trump, we are seeing the effects of following such a policy to an extreme, and with no alternative mechanisms for projecting American influence. We are merely capitulating, which renders any concern about pressure to capitulate on foreign negotiations moot.
On both levels, therefore, Trump is more dangerous than Clinton was.
Those are not the end of the matter for Trump. He is directly accused of abuse of power, after a comprehensive (but not exhaustive, as some evidence was destroyed or withheld) investigation presented proof of obstruction of justice.
Now the argument has come, again, to the notion that a President should not be investigated. The vote yesterday was not to impeach, after all; the vote was merely to formalize the investigation proceedings. The entire Republican party voted against them.
As a technicality, some of those who voted will undoubtedly say, as the Democrats did in the 1990s, that they are not voting against investigating the President but merely against the structure of the mechanism used. This is empty rhetoric, unless they have supported an alternate structure which would provide its own investigatory structure which would grant equal or stronger powers to the House efforts at exposing potential offenses.
The argument for not holding a President accountable for his actions is predicated on the notion that the President will be out of office after two terms. That belief, in turn, is based on the idea that the President will abide by the 22nd Amendment or, if the President attempts to not be so bound, that the remainder of the government will act to remove him.
If the President is above the Constitution, however, he is not bound by the 22nd Amendment… nor is he bound by the will of the people via vote. He is simply a king, with as much power as the remainder of Congress will allow him to wield without fighting back.
This is not a flippant remark. I admit, I find the notion that Trump would seek to remain in power in defiance of a vote of the people ridiculous. I must also admit that I viewed the idea that Trump would be allowed to promote the interests of North Korea, Turkey, and Russia over American interests or grossly abuse the emoluments clause to be ridiculous… and yet, he has done so.
In the face of a party of such abject sycophancy, I find the jokes Trump and some of his more prominent supporters have made about his retaining power in contravention of the 22nd Amendment to be less humor than trial balloons. This is not a party of Trump, as the most vocal of Trump supporters have insisted; it is, though, a party of base servility, which will accept any offense, no matter how gross, if the recognition of it threatens their power.
That lays the path for a dictator, or a king. Such a path must be rejected forcefully, and the Republican party has demonstrated it no longer has the strength to do so.