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Trump power grab imperils democracy

Melvin B. Miller | 8/10/2017, 6 a.m.
The intrigue at the White House might seem to be beyond the concern of the average voter, but indeed it ...
“Trump wants to build office space for new staff to take over the other two branches of government: Congress and the judiciary.” Photo by Dan Drew

There is an oft-repeated adage that no one is above the law. American citizens believe that this principle helps to sustain the nation’s concept of democracy. However, everyone knows that the wealthy and powerful enjoy a quality of justice that is unavailable to others. Neither the poor nor the middle class can afford the services of high-priced lawyers. And blacks, even when well-represented, have to endure the hazards of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, most people still profess a commitment to equal justice and the importance of abiding by the legal rules but Donald Trump seems to reject those niceties.

Democracies collapse when the president or premier appropriates extensive political powers. America’s Founding Fathers understood this, so they approved a constitution that divided the powers of government into three branches: the executive, legislative and the judiciary. While the president manages the operation of the government, he or she is bound by the programs and regulations established by Congress as well as the procedures and legal opinions established by the federal courts.

There is not always a lucid demarcation between the branches of government. It is clear that the president nominates candidates as judges to the federal courts that must then be appointed by the “advice and consent” of the Senate. However, the president has no authority to remove a judge whose opinions he does not approve. Such restriction does not apply to members of the president’s cabinet, whose appointments have been sanctioned by the Senate. They serve at the will of the president.

Trump can fire his Attorney General Jeff Sessions but that would not solve his problem. Trump is furious that Sessions has recused himself from the department’s investigation of Russia’s tampering with the 2016 election for U.S. president. As required by law, Sessions withdrew because of his personal contacts with Russian officials under investigation when he was involved in the Republican political campaign.

Trump’s behavior over his alleged involvement with Russian tampering with the election creates a belief that he might have been guilty of some impropriety. Trump fired James B. Comey, the former director of the FBI, because of his refusal to terminate the investigation of the relationship of Trump’s campaign with the Russian government. Trump did this even though the FBI director has a 10-year employment contract to allay presidential interference in the agency’s work.

Sessions’ deputy Rod J. Rosenstein then stepped up and appointed Robert S. Mueller III to conduct the investigation. Mueller is so well respected by both parties that Trump will find it difficult to generate the political clout to restrict the scope of Mueller’s investigation. He is protected by the Justice Department regulations which will allow him to be removed from office only for good cause such as misconduct.

This intrigue at the White House might seem to be beyond the concern of the average voter, but indeed it is not. There is definitely a move to expand the powers of the president beyond the normal limits of our democracy. Voters should not be indifferent about the ability of a president to oppress racial minorities more readily.

Watchfulness and readiness will again be required of those determined to preserve the spirit of democracy, no matter what.