Finding the Limit of a Nation of Laws: Integrity, or the Lack Thereof

Drawing by DonkeyHotey (CC BY 2.0).

Rushed to publication because of the speed with which the Trump administration is already damaging the rule of law in the U.S., this David Frum piece in The Atlantic  is a roadmap to Trump’s likeliest path to authoritarianism and self-enrichment — and therefore also a guide to what Americans of conscience need to do to protect democracy.

If Congress is quiescent, what can Trump do? A better question, perhaps, is what can’t he do?

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who often articulates Trumpist ideas more candidly than Trump himself might think prudent, offered a sharp lesson in how difficult it will be to enforce laws against an uncooperative president. During a radio roundtable in December, on the topic of whether it would violate anti-nepotism laws to bring Trump’s daughter and son-in-law onto the White House staff, Gingrich said: The president “has, frankly, the power of the pardon. It is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ And technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

That statement is true, and it points to a deeper truth: The United States may be a nation of laws, but the proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

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