Trump is a president gripped by delusions of absolute power

We expect the leader of the United States to uphold the constitution, but this one confronts and threatens it every day

By Jill Abramson | The Guardian | Wednesday 17 May 2017 13.27 EDT


‘I have the absolute right” to share classified information with Russia. So tweeted the United States president in defence of having spilled national security secrets to the Russians. Note that well, and put the emphasis on the word absolute, because the president’s use of the word shows that he lacks any understanding of the US constitution.

America’s founding fathers were deathly afraid of centralised, absolute power. This is why the government they structured had three equal branches, and plenty of checks and balances. And the first amendment is first for a reason. Freedom of the press is guaranteed because the founders envisaged the press as a bulwark against absolute power. This goes to the heart of who we are, and what we might become.

No one in the United States has absolute power or an absolute right to do anything that violates the constitution

This is American law for dummies, but Trump gives no indication of knowing its basic tenets. Fundamentals bear repeating. No one in the United States has absolute power or an absolute right to do anything that violates the constitution. But apparent violations seem to be occurring almost daily.

In a stunning cascade of revelations from the New York Times and the Washington Post, we learn that Donald Trump has, allegedly, obstructed justice. According to a contemporaneous memo written by James Comey – the former FBI director – after a conversation with the president, Trump asked him to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, the national security adviser Trump fired for lying about his contacts with Russia. As we know, Comey himself was later fired by the president.

If the Flynn allegations are true, this is, according to the Brennan Centre of Constitutional Law, “an assault on the rule of law. The president’s request is beyond the pale and poses an extraordinary test for our democracy. Our system depends on the rule of law and checks and balances. This appears to be textbook obstruction of justice and abuse of power.”

But then the charge sheet envisaged by many is now a long one. It says Trump violated his oath to protect the country by improperly disclosing highly classified information about impending terror attacks and sharing it with Russia, a country that is hostile to many US policies. It says he trampled on Comey’s due process rights by firing him without cause and providing the public with a false pretext for the termination.

It says Trump flouted anti-nepotism law by appointing his daughter and her husband to White House jobs. The former ethics tsars for presidents Obama and Bush agree that such law applies to the presidency.

A bronze statue of George Washington in Alexandria, Virginia.

A bronze statue of George Washington in Alexandria, Virginia.  Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images