Trump pushing the limits of power

Okot Nyormoi

is associate editor of Nile Journal and author of a recent novel, Burden of Failure. Okot is a retired cancer research scientist 


In his book The Great Idea, Mortimer Adler (American), wrote that the American political system hinges on three key ideas: equality, liberty and justice. He argued that justice mediates between the sometimes-conflicting goals of liberty and equality. This tripartite configuration of the system is reflected in three independent and equal branches of government: Congress, Executive and Judiciary. To many people, the American system is the ideal of democracy, but many others know that its application is wanting. Despite that, the system is still the envy of many.

The good part of the American system is that it’s amenable to impactful changes. For example, the civil war of 1861-1865, a struggle for liberty and equality, resulted in the emancipation of the enslaved Africans in 1865. The struggle for equality and justice in the 1960s was rewarded with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

When Barak Obama was elected president in 2008, many people were euphoric and thought that America had finally achieved its democratic ideal. Unfortunately, the Republican party swore to frustrate President Obama in every way possible. Despite such plots, he served two terms and was even able to pass his most significant legislation, the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.

The system was, however, thrown into reverse gear when the flamboyant real estate man, Donald Trump, launched his presidential campaign on June 16, 2015. He defied every norm of civil discourse. He lied compulsively, called his opponents names (lying Ted, low energy Jeb, Little Rubio, Crooked Hillary, etc.), berated military service men and women, mocked disabled people, disparaged women, reveled in conspiracy theories by falsely accusing President Obama of being born in Kenya, that Senator Ted Cruz’s father assassinated President John F. Kennedy, made gigantic promises (he will build the wall and Mexico will pay for it, he alone can fix it), proclaimed his proclivity for grabbing women by their private parts with impunity, claimed that he could shoot someone on the street of New York City and people would still vote for him. Surely, most decent people thought he would go nowhere with his boorish manners. Shockingly, he won the Republican nomination and the presidency.

How could it be? People kept hoping that Trump would pivot to a normal behavior. He did not. Soon a Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, was appointed to investigate the allegation that he colluded with Russia to help him win the 2016 election. After two years of investigation, Mueller found that Russians hacked into the Democratic Party’s computer and released devastating information about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s campaign opponent. The report also found that Trump also attempted to obstruct the investigation. Despite these findings, President Trump escaped unscathed because a sitting president cannot be indicted.

How then could the president be held accountable for his misdeeds since nobody is above the law? One option is impeachment, and removal from office. However, impeachment faces two challenges. First, proving that the president committed high crime and misdemeanor is hard. Although there is precedence, the definitions of high crime and misdemeanor are not clear cut, especially in a highly partisan environment. Whereas impeaching the president in the House of Representatives where the Democrats are the majority was predictable, convicting and removing him from office in the Senate where Republicans are the majority is unlikely.

The second option is for voters to decide whether to re-elect the president. This option faces challenges because of the prevailing “them against us” mindset. Whereas most Democrats consider President Trump guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, their Republican counterparts do not think their president’s misdeeds rise to the level of impeachment. About 38% of voters see Mr. Trump as their hero who is being unjustly hounded by the Democrats. Moreover, the president has brazenly intimidated Republicans to either be silent or gleefully cheer him for his outlandish utterances.

Unexpectedly, a whistleblower revealed that the president violated the constitution which bars elected officials from soliciting foreign governments for personal benefits while in office. The president was accused of soliciting Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, in exchange for a visit to the White House and military aid. He was also accused of obstructing Congressional investigation.

Despite this allegation, the president still proclaimed openly that he would not mind being helped by foreign governments and even asked China to help him to be re-elected in 2020. This was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Congress has now impeached the president, strictly on a partisan basis.

Though the president has been impeached by the House of Representatives, the pending trial in the senate to convict and remove him from office is still froth with serious challenges. While waiting for the trial, the president has been dangling presidential pardon, claiming attorney-client privilege and invoking national security to prevent his appointees from snitching on him in court, congressional testimonies and now in the pending senate trial.

Besides, the president has stocked the judiciary with his sycophants including the attorney general who behaves more like his personal attorney instead of one for the whole nation. Hence, even if Congress were to cite members of his administration with contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas, not testifying or lying under oath, this Attorney General may not prosecute them.

If the president is convicted and removed from office, he may be barred from ever holding a public office. Also, even if the senate acquits him, he will forever have impeachment appended to his name.

As an ideal, American democracy is great, but many of its virtues are not practiced. In two years, President Trump has thoroughly exposed it’s weaknesses by exploiting them with impunity. The challenge now is for Congress to fix loopholes in the laws and for voters to demonstrate that no one, including the president, is above the law.