Does the president have ‘the right to do whatever he wants’?

To the Editor:

It is impossible for President Trump to carry out the obligations of his office while he faces unrelenting criticism from the press. He should invoke his broad executive power to require news outlets to obtain a special license in order to publish information concerning decisions of the government. After all, a license is required to drive a car, sell fireworks or fish in a pond. The distractions created by an unlicensed press can hamper a president from performing those duties that we, the people, elected him to do. Licensing will not be a cure-all. There will always be those who flout even a reasonable licensing requirement. But during national emergencies, the inherent power of the president ought to allow him to detain, on a temporary basis, those journalists whose interests do not align with those of our country. As a nation, we must speak with one voice.

The preceding paragraph is meant to be facetious, but not by much. The office of the presidency has again become far too powerful, mainly due to the overweening deference heaped on it by a servile Congress combined with the appalling ignorance of significant portions of the citizenry.

The threat posed is not readily apparent, even to those interested in the workings of the government. That’s because this accretion of power has occurred incrementally and inured to the benefit of presidents who were reasonably versed in history, political judgment, precedent, and discretion in exercising political power.

It’s when this power falls into the hands of a president whose ignorance is matched only by his arrogance do we see, in stark relief, the outline of an authoritarian future.

We are inching there. The president says under Article II “he has the right to do whatever he wants.” Politicizing what were formerly independent institutions. Ignoring all lawfully issued subpoenas. Forcing local law enforcement to violate citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights. Suggesting the jailing or deportation of political enemies. Most ominously, though, characterizing a free press as “the enemy of the people.”

The new slogan of The Washington Post stands as a warning: Democracy Dies in Darkness. 

—Scott Newton

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