Last week was one of the more dismaying ones in the history of our republic. A president suggested that he was ready to take an action that would violate the separation of powers in a major way. In Ross Douthat’s words:
…the president is contemplating — indeed, all but promising — an extraordinary abuse of office: the granting of temporary legal status, by executive fiat, to up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants.
It even appeared plausible he was signaling this for the sake of provoking demands for impeachment that he calculated would aide his party’s fortunes at the next election.
Did the president deny the rumors—likely planted by his minions—that he was considering this patently unconstitutional action? He did not.
Did he respond to the speculations of his wanting to provoke impeachment talk by denying them? He did not.
Were any reporters able or willing to aggressively ask our president about the origins of these rumors? About how such an action could be constitutional? No again.
Did he seek to distance himself from claims that the GOP would impeach made by many in his party in fund-raising letters and speeches? No. Rather, the sudden adoption of that tact appears to have been coordinated, and we can rightly suspect that such coordination was approved by him. Rather, he modeled for one and all how to characterize Republican concern and debate about how to combat his unconstitutional expansions of executive power–referring to the lawsuit resolution passed by the House, he delivered this: stop hatin’ all the time!
And the response of Americans, particularly those of the political class, to all of this?
Oh, there was talk alright, but among the Democratic leaders it was all along the lines of how to better drive home the hatin’ angle, and among Republican ones it was all along the dishonest-in-spirit, utterly unsustainable, but sure, technically true lines of “WE haven’t said the I-word!”
A mere word, of eleven little letters that begins with an “I,” and every conservative strategist is shaking in fear of it, and every other Democratic partisan is suddenly brandishing it about like a talisman! Available at a click are carefully thought-through and exquisitely constructed sentences from our Founders laying out what they intended, both for the separation of powers and for impeachment, but a president of these latter days utters some schoolyard Miley Cyrus phrase, and that’s it, everyone knows and accepts that there’s nothing more to see here.
Well, thank God that Ross Douthat is not among those. The man’s had many a great column, but this week he stands particularly tall, for being one of the few willing to warn that a very dangerous line is about to be crossed (although in the strict sense, it is not, as he said, a “Rubicon”-type line of no-return). It is the line between confining the power to make and repeal legislation to one branch, and allowing it to be shared by two. If there is anything sacred about our Constitution, then the mere suggestion given by a president that he might erase such a line is tantamount to a high priest uttering blasphemies before the whole congregation.