Republicans & Democrats Applauded When Their Guy (Bush and Obama) Grabbed for More Presidential Power; Now, They Are Terrified to Give it to Trump
I had this argument the other day with my mother-in-law -- you can't allow a President more power just because he is "your guy" and you trust him. No matter how well you think that person will use the power (and I trust no one), you are setting a precedent for the next guy whom you may very well not like. I wrote this way back in 2005:
Technocratic idealists ALWAYS lose control of the game. It may feel good at first when the trains start running on time, but the technocrats are soon swept away by the thugs, and the patina of idealism is swept away, and only fascism is left. Interestingly, the technocrats always cry "our only mistake was letting those other guys take control". No, the mistake was accepting the right to use force on another man. Everything after that was inevitable.
For years I have asked liberals -- who have cheered President Obama's power grabs as righteous on the basis that "Congress won't don anything, so Obama has to" -- how comfortable they will we with a President Lindsey Graham using the same powers.
I was frequently dismissed, but not any more -- as folks on the Left begin to wake up and imagine President Trump using the same powers wielded by Obama. To this end, the New York Times has a good article on Obama's drone war and the precedent set for the next President:
President Bush started the drone wars, but Mr. Obama vastly expanded them. Almost entirely on his watch, United States strikes have killed as many as 5,000 people, possibly 1,000 of them civilians. The president approved strikes in places far from combat zones. He authorized the C.I.A. to carry out “signature strikes” aimed at people whose identities the agency did not know but whose activities supposedly suggested militancy. He approved the deliberate killing of an American, Anwar al-Awlaki.
The president also oversaw an aggressive effort to control the public narrative about drone strikes. Even as senior officials selectively disclosed information to the news media, his administration resisted Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, arguing that national security would be harmed if the government confirmed drone strikes were taking place.
The administration also argued in court that federal judges lacked the authority to say whether drone strikes were lawful. It refused to release the evidence that it claimed made Mr. Awlaki a lawful target. In lieu of information, the administration offered assurances that the president and his aides were deeply moral people who agonized over authorizing lethal force.
That last line is perhaps the most dangerous single argument in all of democracy, that it is somehow OK to give an individual enormous extra-Constitutional powers because you trust that individual. Only now, at the end, do they understand:
But as this election season has underscored, powers this far-reaching should not rest solely on the character of the president and his advisers. In a democracy, the ability to use lethal force must be subject to clear and narrow limits, and the public must be able to evaluate whether those limits are being respected.
When discussing Trump, I see a lot of writers referring to 20th century precedents of populist autocrats. But if you want to be worried about American democracy, a better example is perhaps the Roman Republic. The Republic was not killed by one man, even Julius Caesar. The Republic fell through the slow accretion of autocratic precedents over nearly a hundred years, many of which were set by folks like Gracchus (who seems to have been a well-intentioned reformer) and Sula (who was a hero in Rome).