Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2018

Currently: 76° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

President’s desire for autocracy should be chilling for all Americans

President Donald Trump tweets that he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself, discredits special counsel Robert Mueller and describes the prosecutor’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” and his Republican supporters cheer.

A president who is undermining several core principles of our democracy — the independence of the justice system, the rule of law and separation of powers — now has a 90 percent job approval rating among GOP voters, according to the latest Gallup poll.

But assuming the democratic process survives Trump, here’s a question to those voters.

Are you ready for what could occur when the political pendulum inevitably swings?

Should the next president choose to take Trump’s approach, he or she could pick up where Trump leaves off in his pathway toward creating an autocracy.

That president could keep hacking away at the integrity of the Justice Department and working to erode Americans’ confidence in federal law enforcement, all while holding out the possibility of using his or her pardoning power to subvert any attempts to hold the presidency accountable legally.

Were the president to adopt the position stated by Trump’s attorneys in a recent memo to Mueller, he or she would claim to have nearly boundless executive powers, including legal immunity from giving testimony. The Trump team also contended that it was impossible for the president to obstruct justice because the office controls all federal investigations.

So, Republican voters, if all of this is OK under Trump, would it also be acceptable under a president of a different philosophical stripe?

We’re guessing the answer is a loud no, which is half right.

It’s definitely unacceptable, and it absolutely must be stopped.

But that’s where Republicans are getting it wrong. With the system of checks and balances under heavy attack, the GOP is betraying the country in refusing to exert its constitutionally mandated role as a check on executive power.

Republicans are forgetting that there’s a reason for the structure of our system of government and the protections it provides. That reason is to provide our representatives with the power to hold the executive branch legally accountable, and therefore to help prevent the nation from falling into tyranny.

If Trump succeeds in gaining the power to be a judge of his own case, that’s a crisis for all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations.

Let’s be clear: Trump didn’t start this trend. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama took steps to expand the concept of an imperial presidency through overuse of executive orders, so they bear blame for opening the door that Trump is trying to knock down. But Trump’s actions have reached an unprecedented scale as he vandalizes our bedrock separation of powers. He is the president the Founding Fathers feared.

Enough.

Those who can most immediately rein in Trump — GOP voters and congressional leaders — need to stand up now or prepare themselves to shut up and sit in the corner once the Democrats regain control.

Dangerous lines are being crossed, and defending our system of checks and balances matters. It’s vital for all of us and all political parties to insist these lines not be crossed.