If Donald Trump is elected president, we are at severe risk of ceasing to be a constitutional democracy.
Ever since World War II, the executive branch has steadily gained power at the expense of Congress. But despite a variety of incursions, especially in the name of national security, even the worst of our presidents have had some basic respect for our institutions.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the press in the Pentagon Papers case, or when Richard Nixon was ordered to turn over the Watergate tapes, he complied. When Congress finally turned against the Vietnam War, the escalations ceased. Ronald Reagan complied with Congressional investigations of the Iran-Contra affair.
But Donald Trump would make Nixon look like Thomas Jefferson. The idea that separation of powers would somehow restrain Trump is a fantasy. After some early defections, the Republic Party has decided to be Trump's enablers.
Threat Number One: Defining Political Opposition as Treason. If Trump wins, the retribution against Hillary Clinton will only intensify. Congress, far from restraining Trump's excesses, will only pile on. If Trump controls all three branches of government, the Senate filibuster rule will soon be gone.
Threat Number Two: Selective Prosecutions. Imagine a rogue Justice Department being used to settle Trump's scores. Trump gets to appoint U.S. Attorneys, as well as sub-cabinet officials.
His idea of great federal prosecutors are former U.S. Attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie. And there are even worse people out there. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division would be flipped into a Division of Voter Suppression. The elections of 2018 and 2020 will probably be held on schedule, but they are likely to be, well, rigged.
Trump's pal, Vladimir Putin, can explain the fine points of how you keep the form of a constitutional democracy but destroy the substance.
Threat Number Three: A Police State. If you think the NSA and the FBI are menacing civil liberties and equal justice now, just wait until we see Trump's appointees. He may not build that wall, but he does have the power to order mass deportations. Imagine how that will play out in our cities.
Threat Number Four: A Politicized IRS. Nixon tried that. Trying to use the IRS to punish political enemies was one of the items in the impeachment of Nixon. He was mostly foiled by principled conservative IRS commissioners and career officials.
But Trump would appoint a commissioner who will be a complete toady. And the messy stew of tax-exempt organizations getting involved in politics -- 501 c 3s and 501 c 4s and 527s and the rest -- are an invitation for selective investigations. Likewise businesses who take advantage of creative accounting.
Threat Number Five: The Courts. At least we have the independent judiciary, right? Well, far right. President Trump will get to appoint at least two Supreme Court justices, one of them likely replacing a liberal, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Okay, in the past couple of days, the polls suggest that the election is trending slightly back in the direction of Clinton. It now looks like about a three- or four-point race in the popular vote in her favor.
Except for Ohio, the blue firewall in the upper Midwest, and in Pennsylvania and Virginia, seems to be holding. Trump's demonizing of Latinos has produced a mobilization that could well save Clinton. Of four states in close contention -- Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Nevada, she needs to win only one for a likely electoral majority.
But this only means we may be spared the worst. November 9 looks almost as scary for constitutional government even if Clinton wins.
Threat Number Six: Trump will challenge every close state and try to create a repeat of Bush v. Gore in 2000. The election will not be decided until the Electoral College meets in December, and maybe not even then.
Threat Number Seven: Congress escalates the harassment of President-Elect Clinton. Imagine trying to build an administration when you are being subject to subpoenas and threatened with contempt of Congress prosecutions. Imagine facing impeachment proceedings on your first day in office.
Threat Number Eight: Violence. Trump's campaign has had aspects of a lynch mob. The people who are certain that the election was stolen from them are not likely to go quietly.
Threat Number Nine: Wall-to-wall blockage of Clinton's efforts to govern, undermining her ability to remedy the very frustrations that have produced Trumpism.
Threat Number Ten: A stunted Supreme Court. The Republicans seem to be dead serious about preventing a President Clinton from adding a single justice to the High Court for the next four years. This is unprecedented in the entire American experience. Over time, depending on who dies first, the court will swing back and forth between liberal and conservative, as it dwindles from eight, to seven, to maybe six justices.
Bottom Line: The Trump threat to destroy constitutional democracy doesn't just come from one wild and crazy guy. It is a slightly cruder version of the strategy of the whole Republican Party. One of our two major parties is hell bent on destroying our system.
Result: Deepening loss of legitimacy for democratic constitutional government itself.
Regardless of who wins, decent Americans need a mass movement to reclaim our democracy.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. In his spare time, he writes musicals. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.
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