The United States has had 44 presidents and nobody knows who the 45th will be. For the sake of argument let’s imagine for a minute something that is a very definite possibility. Let's imagine that the 45th president will belong to a political party you detest, will espouse the opposite position from yours on matters dear to your heart, and will strike you as completely unlikeable, untrustworthy, irresponsible, and dangerous. Let's imagine that #45 will want to do everything you oppose and will speak in the most odious and arrogant way about doing so. You won't like the substance or the rhetoric. Number 45, of course, will not fit that description for every one of us, but someone between number 45 and number 50 (assuming we make it that far) will almost certainly fit that description for you, and it's as likely to be #45 as any other number.
Now, let's stop to consider what powers #45 will inherit from the previous 44 men, what powers have been used by at least one previous president in recent years without being blocked by Congress or the courts or a subsequent president: the powers to rewrite laws with signing statements, to create laws by simple decree, to draft and act on secret laws specifically written to retroactively and proactively legalize crimes, to produce phony media stories and otherwise engage in domestic propaganda campaigns, to reduce congressional oversight to one-way communications from the White House at the pleasure of the president, to launch and prolong and escalate wars, to lie the congress and the public into supporting wars, to misspend funds appropriated for other things, to rewrite tax laws, to hand out trillions of dollars without oversight, to use illegal weapons and commit countless war crimes with impunity, to spy without warrants, to detain indefinitely without charge, to torture, to murder, to run the government as an election campaign using public funds to support candidates including the president, to selectively leak classified information and to baselessly classify information, to keep anything secret, to try people in kangaroo court military commissions, to create foreign treaties and appoint high officials without consulting the congress, to read your mail and Email and listen in on your phone calls, to rig elections, and to throw out any court case on the basis of an unverifiable claim.
I'm asking you to imagine giving these powers to the worst person who could hold them, a person who would abuse them drastically and whose abuse would be in no way disguised or hidden. Maybe when George W. Bush said that the United States does not torture, while torturing, that satisfied you. Maybe when Barack Obama said the United States would no longer torture (but supposedly never really had) although he would still claim the power to do so that satisfied you. But the primary offense is not the torturing. It is the establishing of the power to torture and passing of that power on to all future presidents. When George W. Bush used signing statements to rewrite laws and give himself powers of torture, spying, secrecy, and spending, maybe you thought that was good because he was a Republican. Or maybe you think it's acceptable for Barack Obama to have just erased congressional oversight of his Wall Street "bailout" because he's a Democrat. In either case, the overwhelmingly most serious and dangerous offense is the creation of the power to legislate in the hands of all future presidents including the worst president ever: #45.
So, while we should try to judge the current president by his actions rather than his brand, and the current congress the same way, we should also be clear on what the most significant actions are: they are the actions that eliminate or more firmly establish unconstitutional powers in the hands of future "executives," whether or not those powers are immediately abused. When a Republican president declares the power to detain people indefinitely without charge and then a Democratic president does the same, if the result is that all Americans who've given their loyalty to one of those parties now approve of giving that power to all future presidents, we can kiss representative democracy goodbye. If, on the other hand, we all agree to oppose giving that power to any single person ever, we might manage to keep the republic.
So, what to do? The first step toward restoring the rule of law before #45 appears is prosecuting the crimes of #43. The second step is reforming the conduct of #44. The third step is moving powers away from #44 and all future presidents and to the Congress (combined with reforming congressional elections). And these steps can all take place at once and should all begin immediately. The detailed guide to making them happen can be found at http://prosecutebushcheney.org.
Originally posted at DavidSwanson.org.