Be wary of a president who celebrates abuses of power abroad and who, at home, imagines that the Constitution “allows me to do whatever I want.”
Lost amid the flurry of tweets from President Trump this week was a single message he sent cheering on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s shocking decision to suspend the British Parliament. Johnson’s move to “prorogue” the parliamentary session before elected representatives return next week from summer recess dramatically narrows Parliament’s options over if and how Britain will leave the European Union. The result has been a massive outcry in the United Kingdom, where more than 1.5 million people have signed “Parliament must not be prorogued or dissolved” petitions.
But Johnson was being cheered on from one precinct: the Oval Office. After the main British opposition party’s leader spoke of trying to block Johnson’s power grab, Trump tweeted:
Would be very hard for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, to seek a no-confidence vote against New Prime Minister Boris Johnson, especially in light of the fact that Boris is exactly what the U.K. has been looking for, & will prove to be “a great one!” Love U.K.
Trump is wrong. Members of Johnson’s own party are quitting in disgust, while British newspapers are describing his power grab as a “coup” and his tenure as “an unelective dictatorship.” Writing in The Guardian, Lady Shami Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney general for England and Wales, warned that “it isn’t just ‘no deal’ that No 10 might get away with if ‘shut-downs’ are now allowed. If ‘getting on with Brexit’ is an excuse, why not shut down to deal with the social, economic and civil fall-out? Why not in times of war? The Commons met during the Blitz, even when the chamber had been bombed. Right or left, in or out, no one voted for this, and Johnson’s hero, Winston Churchill, must be spinning in his grave.”
So why is Trump so enthusiastic about Johnson’s abuse of power? It is no secret that Trump has a thing for authoritarians abroad. Nor is it a secret that Trump has committed constitutional abuses of his own. In February, you will recall, he declared a “national emergency” in order to divert money to pay for a border wall after Congress refused to fund it—a blunt rejection of the separation of powers. (Some years earlier, as a private citizen without the power of the office, Trump argued that far milder executive actions should be seen as efforts to “subvert the Constitution of the US.”) In a July 23 speech, he simply declared, “Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as President.”
That wasn’t the first time that he’d claimed ultimate authority. In a June ABC News interview, he told George Stephanopoulos, “Article II allows me to do whatever I want.”
The president’s expansive—and incorrect—reading of Article II borrows from advocates for an imperial presidency. It dismisses out of hand the system of checks and balances and threatens our representative democracy. Past US presidents have used genuine emergencies to seize extraordinary powers—including Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II, and George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. They have acted without Congress’s consent and, at times, in direct contradiction of Congress’s desires and dictates—as Harry Truman did when he moved to seize the nation’s steel millsto ensure continued production during the Korean War, and as Ronald Reagan’s administration did with Iran/Contra. Often, the courts have thwarted these abuses, but not always—and then often after the fact, handing down vague interpretations. [ Continue at THE NATION: Why Trump’s Support of Boris Johnson Should Remind Congress to Impeach ]