By Bill Britton
Bill Britton is a freelance writer and formerly an editor for John Hopkins University Press, ABI Research, and Elsevier Science. He is a frequent contributor to Vero Communiqué.
Vero Communiqué encourages a free and open exchange of opinions and welcomes yours. Through discussions like these we can all learn more about the topics themselves and the perspectives of others.
Mr. Britton’s Op-ed expresses his opinion and is not affiliated with Vero Communiqué’s editorial board.
“The president of the United States calls the shots,” Trump said at a recent news briefing. “[The states] can’t do anything without the approval of the president of the United States…When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total.”
These quotes should disturb all Americans, no matter their political leanings. But such advocacy of absolute power is nothing new. In 1786, the President of the Continental Congress, Nathaniel Gorham, wrote on behalf of the U.S. government to Prince Henry, younger brother of the Prussian king, Frederick the Great. Henry was invited by Gorham to cross the Atlantic and become king of the nascent United States.
Since then, there have been calls to grant absolute power to the President at least twice: to Lincoln during the Civil War and to Roosevelt during the Great Depression/World War II period. Fortunately, nothing came of these calls. Trump’s declarations are different in that he is the only President to have claimed monarchial or dictatorial powers outright.
The concentration of power in the presidency has become more intense throughout the history of our country, no matter whether that leader is Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. The danger this time is that Trump’s Republican Party has raised only weak objections to his supposition that the power of the President is absolute. And because the Republican-controlled Senate is subject to Trump’s bidding, and because the Supreme Court has a conservative majority, our democracy itself could be at risk should the COVID-19 pandemic result in a prolonged economic depression.
Yes, this is an alarmist projection, but one only need look back on the Germany and Italy of the 1920s to find the potential for a similar socio-economic environment. Or if you are a student of history, think back to ancient Greece where the concept of “democracy” itself was born and later died in the disorder of the Middle Ages.