Celebrity is a funny thing: Donald Trump, reptilian cretin and current Republican presidential front-runner, has been roundly denounced as a Nazi thug for suggesting that the United States should curtail Muslim immigration until such a time as the efforts of the Islamic State and its allies to infiltrate refugee populations and other sources of immigration have been more fully understood. All the best people got righteous ants in their pants and declared that the rise of Trump announces the birth of fascism in the United States, and wondered aloud what would become of us if such a man were to be elected president and replace Barack Obama.
The same Barack Obama who has, let us never forget, ordered the assassination of American citizens.
That is an excellent point, and a persuasive one. But that was R. Ted Cruz, solicitor general of the state of Texas, who was, let’s admit, a bit of a fuddy-duddy in that he apparently believed that you have to go through various legal and political processes to get what you want out of government rather than just issuing presidential fiats to that end. What might a President Ted Cruz do with the godlike executive powers that Barack Obama is bequeathing to his successor?
President Obama’s operating principle is: If Congress won’t do what I want, I’ll do it on my own through executive orders, Constitution be damned.
President Obama ran as the great civil libertarian — remember all that stink about the PATRIOT Act and library cards? — and commenced to out-Cheney the cartoon version of Dick Cheney that exists in the Democratic imagination: comprehensive domestic espionage, more drones than an apiary convention, massive (and massively illegal) electronic surveillance, etc. He didn’t close down Gitmo, he fought an illegal and unauthorized war in Libya and has just reinvaded Iraq; even Darth Cheney never went to the New York Times to brag about assassinating American citizens, as Obama’s subcomandantes have.
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But the president’s lawyers tell the president that everything the president does is entirely right and proper. (Surprise.) Even Caesar had that slave to remind him of his mortality during his triumph, “Memento mori!” being excellent advice for the thoughtful imperator. (The word from which we take the English “emperor” is Latin for “commander in chief”; history has a wicked sense of humor.) But the sorry fact is that contemporary White House lawyers could give lessons in servility to Roman slaves.
But, remember, Democrats: These are your rules.
Or, angels and ministers of grace defend us, President Trump. Last week, the civically illiterate reality-television grotesque declared before a meeting of a policemen’s union that one of his first acts in office would be to issue an executive order mandating capital punishment for anybody convicted of murdering a police officer. Never mind that the president has no such power and that Trump doesn’t seem to understand the difference between state and federal law; we have so quickly accustomed ourselves to believing that anything that sounds good to us is right and proper (“constitutional” in 2015 anno Domini means “I like it”) that no one other than a few persnickety constitutionalists (that suspicious foreigner Charles C. W. Cooke leaps to mind) even bothered to note how nuts Trump’s promise is. In this, as in many things, Trump resembles Barack Obama and the Clinton mob, who have been, it bears remembering, his traditional political allies.
Progressives since Woodrow Wilson have regarded the Constitution as a hindrance to the rational, scientific management of society by heavily armed experts.
Our susceptibility to this sort of demagoguery isn’t Barack Obama’s fault — it’s our fault, a failure of citizenship among Americans. There are (and long have been) stirrings of that kind of sentiment in some parts of the populist Right, but those vices generally are kept in check by conservatives’ practically scriptural regard for the Constitution. The Left has no such fetters upon its worst tendencies. Progressives since Woodrow Wilson have regarded the Constitution, and the order that it represents, as a hindrance to the rational, scientific management of society by heavily armed experts. If that is how you see the world, then of course the Bill of Rights, like the state of Pennsylvania, is just one more thing that gets in your way when you’re trying to get to where you want to be. Of course you can jail people for their political beliefs. Of course the president should supersede Congress.
But if honor, decency, prudence, or regard for the American constitutional order won’t convince our increasingly autocratic antagonists on the Left that political absolutism and an imperial presidency aren’t the way to go, maybe the prospect of President Cruz will do the trick. But that would, of course, necessitate thinking about the question seriously for five minutes, something that the Party of Obama in the Age of Obama seems unwilling or unable to do.
— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.