Friday, June 03, 2016

Legal Experts: Donald Trump "Is How Authoritarianism Starts"

I and others have voiced concerns about the possible parallels between the rise of Adolph Hitler and a Donald Trump presidency.  Particularly frightening is Trump's attacks on the media and desire to change libel laws so that he could intimidate the press and silence criticism.  In Trump's mind, any press reports that aren't flattering to him should be deemed libelous - an approach akin to that of Hitler who steadily shut down the independent media to gain eventual total control of the press.  Also, like Hitler, Trump is a narcissistic megalomaniac who thinks that he should be the government and to Hell with everyone else.  Not only is Trump unfit to control the nuclear codes as Hillary Clinton pointed out yesterday, but he threatens the nation's constitutional form of government.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the growing fears of legal experts.  Here are excerpts:
Donald J. Trump’s blustery attacks on the press, complaints about the judicial system and bold claims of presidential power collectively sketch out a constitutional worldview that shows contempt for the First Amendment, the separation of powers and the rule of law, legal experts across the political spectrum say.
Even as much of the Republican political establishment lines up behind its presumptive nominee, many conservative and libertarian legal scholars warn that electing Mr. Trump is a recipe for a constitutional crisis.
“Who knows what Donald Trump with a pen and phone would do?” asked Ilya Shapiro, a lawyer with the libertarian Cato Institute.
With five months to go before Election Day, Mr. Trump has already said he would “loosen” libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations. He has threatened to sic federal regulators on his critics. He has encouraged rough treatment of demonstrators.
And, in what was a tipping point for some, he attacked Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of the Federal District Court in San Diego, who is overseeing two class actions against Trump University.
Mr. Trump accused the judge of bias, falsely said he was Mexican and seemed to issue a threat.
David Post, a retired law professor who now writes for the Volokh Conspiracy, a conservative-leaning law blog, said those comments had crossed a line.
“This is how authoritarianism starts, with a president who does not respect the judiciary,” Mr. Post said. “You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law and that he enforces the law. That is his constitutional obligation.”
“You would like a president with some idea about constitutional limits on presidential powers, on congressional powers, on federal powers,” Professor Barnett said, “and I doubt he [Trump] has any awareness of such limits.”
Republican officials have criticized Mr. Obama for what they have called his unconstitutional expansion of executive power. But some legal scholars who share that view say the problem under a President Trump would be worse.
“I don’t think he cares about separation of powers at all,” said Richard Epstein, a fellow at the Hoover Institution who also teaches at New York University and the University of Chicago. . . . I think Trump doesn’t even think there’s an issue to worry about. He just simply says whatever I want to do I will do.”
Mr. Post said there was a difference between Mr. Obama’s view of executive power and that of Mr. Trump. “Whatever you think of Obama’s position on immigration, he is willing to submit to the courts,” he said. “There is no suggestion that he will disobey if the courts rule against him.”
Several law professors said they were less sure about Mr. Trump, citing the actions of another populist, President Andrew Jackson, who refused to enforce an 1832 Supreme Court decision arising from a clash between Georgia and the Cherokee Nation.
“I can easily see a situation in which he would take the Andrew Jackson line,” Professor Epstein said, referring to a probably apocryphal comment attributed to Jackson about Chief Justice John Marshall: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”
Other legal scholars said they were worried about Mr. Trump’s commitment to the First Amendment. He has taken particular aim at The Washington Post and its owner, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
“He owns Amazon,” Mr. Trump said in February. “He wants political influence so Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”
Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, Mr. Trump’s comments betrayed a troubling disregard for free expression.
“There are very few serious constitutional thinkers who believe public figures should be able to use libel as indiscriminately as Trump seems to think they should,” Professor Somin said. “He poses a serious threat to the press and the First Amendment.”
Many of Mr. Trump’s statements about legal issues were extemporaneous and resist conventional legal analysis. Some seemed to betray ignorance of fundamental legal concepts . . . 
Sadly, I suspect Trump's comments do not reflect an ignorance of the legal concepts.  Rather, they reveal a contempt for anything that may limit his ability to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants.  The presidency is not a grand version of "The Apprentice"  where Trump could do whatever he wished.  Frighteningly, I do not believe that Trump realizes the difference.  Be afraid - very afraid.

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