“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”—Richard Nixon
Presidents don’t give up power.
Executive orders don’t expire at the end of each presidential term.
The Constitution invests the President with very specific, limited powers: to serve as Commander in Chief of the military, grant pardons, make treaties (with the approval of Congress), appoint ambassadors and federal judges (again with Congress’ blessing), and veto legislation.
In recent years, however, American presidents have anointed themselves with the power to wage war, unilaterally kill Americans, torture prisoners, strip citizens of their rights, arrest and detain citizens indefinitely, carry out warrantless spying on Americans, and erect their own secretive, shadow government.
These are the powers that will be inherited by the next heir to the throne, and it won’t make a difference whether it’s a President Trump or a President Clinton occupying the Oval Office.
The powers amassed by each successive president through the negligence of Congress and the courts—powers which add up to a toolbox of terror for an imperial ruler—empower whomever occupies the Oval Office to act as a dictator, above the law and beyond any real accountability.
Consider some of the presidential powers—which have been acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and can be activated by any sitting president—that have allowed past presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution.
The power to kill. As the New York Times concluded, “President Obama, who came to office promising transparency and adherence to the rule of law, has become the first president to claim the legal authority to order an American citizen killed without judicial involvement, real oversight or public accountability.” Obama’s kill lists—signature drone strikes handpicked by the president—have been justified by the Justice Department as lawful because they are subject to internal deliberations by the executive branch. “In other words,” writes Amy Davidson for the New Yorker, “it’s due process if the President thinks about it.”
The power to wage war. Ever since Congress granted George W. Bush the authorization to use military force in the wake of 9/11, the United States has been in a state of endless war without Congress ever having declared one. Having pledged to end Bush’s wars, Barack Obama has extended them. As the New York Times notes, “He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president… he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.” More than that, as the Atlantic makes clear, “Obama is inaugurating an era of unbridled war-making