I hear alot of people saying, and I know people are worried, that Trump’s rise is akin to Hitler, Mussolini, or Yugoslavian strong man Milosevic, or even what is currently happening in Turkey, and though I sympathize, those countries had mechanisms that allowed them to have or gain unchecked power.
Our constitution severely limits the office of the president, and curtails what congress can do. The independent judiciary is by far the stalwart of minority rights and civil liberties. To limit this, the judiciary is an adversarial system and requires harm or the potential of immediate harm to bring a case. Also, only those directly involved can bring a case. All of them controled the countries media and once in power, banned all dissent, this is something I have a hard time believing can happen in the US.
Lets take some of the ones above in detail and describe the differences.
Weimar Republic (1918-1933)
The constitution included Article 48, which allowed the suspension of, among other things:
Privacy of a persons home (think 4th amendment)
Coorespondence Privacy (think wiretapping)
Clubs and Societies
Right to property
The US constitution allows the suspension of habeus corpus can only happen in rebellion or invasion. During the civil war, in Ex Parte Milligan, the supreme court ruled that Martial Law can not be declared if civilian courts are operating, and that US civillians can not be tried in military comissions. Also, even if martial law is declared, civilians can only be detained, not tried by the military. There is also a question of whether congress would need to declare that a rebellion or invasion is occuring before any of this can happen.
The main item that enabled Hitler to take power was the Enabling Act. The closest thing I can find in modern history in the US is the Line Item Veto, it allowed the president to cancel items in a budget bill. This was brought before the supreme court when Bill Clinton used it on a healthcare expenditure earmarked for NYC. A group of senators tried to take it to court before it was used, but they lacked standing, because they had not been harmed by the bill. NYC had suffered real harm, as did a few other groups, and the act was ruled unconstitutional at the DC district court. A provision in the bill skipped the appeals circuit and had the bill land directly at the supreme court. It was a 6-3 decision (Breyer, O’Connor, Scalia, dissenting in judgement).
The opinion stated that the president can either reject or sign a bill, and can not modify what is obstensivly the will of congress when writing the law.
That is not to say that congress could not write a law of questionable vagueness and give the president sweeping powers, but history has shown that is rare. Also, congress can not write a law that violates the constitution, and there is no provisions for suspending or curtailing almost all of the rights guaranteed to the people. Habeus corpus being an exception, as is quartering troops in time of war, which congress has to declare and hasnt since World War 2.
The president has only a few areas of extreme deference from congress, Military command, since he is commander in chief by the consitution, foreign diplomacy and that is all. The rest of the presidents power, including ratifying treaties, and even immigration is devolved from laws or requires congressional consent. As this current president has a tenuous relationship with congress and a razor thin majority in the Senate, he’s not going to be able to affect really anything that can’t be undone by the next guy in the seat, since he is undoing what the previous guy in the seat did.
Italy was a kingdom still at this stage, but was a constitutional monarchy, the prime minister was appointed by the king. During the 1920s, during a general strike, Mussolini’s new facist party led a March on Rome to either get political power or begin a Coup. They demanded that Mussolini be Prime Minister, and the king acquiesced, his other choice was an anti-monarchy party. They then passed a law with the support of minority parties to require that any ruling party or coalition get 25% of the popular vote, and that that party would get 2/3 of the seats in parliment. With intimidation and force, the fascist party got the 25%. They then passed a ton of reforms that made him the sole power in Italy. Replacing local elected officals with appointees and removing any dissent. The courts were reorganized by law (which was allowed) and made ineffective. Also, Mussolini had a cult of personality like Hitler and people were willing to commit violence for him. The courts in the US are organized by law, and they can be changed, but the state governments can not be replaced by appointees of the federal government, since each state is guaranteed a republic form of government. State courts would be unaffected by any federal court changes, and though federal law does supersede, where it is silent, federal judges must take into account state laws. Roosevelt tried a supreme court “packing” which was not carried by congress, that could happen again, but with a razor thin majority, it would be a tough sell.
This just isn’t possible in our country. We have 2 parties, 25% of a party is easy to get. We do not have proportial representation we directly elect our reps and senators. And then there is that pesky, very difficult to modify constitution, and strong judiciary. Also, I am not sure a massive uprising to make Trump our dear leader through intimidation and suppression is gonna happen. For the republican party….it might by suppression and gerrymandering, but not by violence.
It started in the communist era, when a perceived threat required constitutional changes. Serbian police watched carefully as Albanian assembly members voted for a constitution that was exactly what the serbian commuinist party wanted.
Milosevic rose to power on the back of that threat, and used his strong man tactics, communist party and weak judicary to get his power. Once in power, he consolidated it, and though there were nominal elections, he won each of them until 2000.
Again this required constitutional changes, and its hard to think that 2/3 of congress which would require minority party support and then 3/4 of the states, 12 of which are firmly in minority party, and another 6 are split with one party holding each chamber, would be able to get anything that sweeping or power grabby through.
The constitution is hard to amend on purpose.
Again, emergency powers come into play here. It allows decrees of law that reflect state security. To be fair, they did have the appearnce of a coup attempt, but now they are purging judges with trumped up corruption charges and promoting symptheic judges to higher court.
I have to say, this one is the most likely scenario for a totalitarian state in the US, but unless 3/4 of the states agree to change the constitution, it will have a shelf life.
The keys in alot of these coups and power grabs was a people who have had many constitutions, not just changes, but wholesale new fundenmental law. Also, the judiciary either was made ineffective or was complacent in these changes. The other factor was a perceived or actual violent threat and the ability of the sitting government to suspend constitutional provisions. The enabling ability of the executive dept without legislative dept control is another major factor.
All in all, the US is not set up like any country in the world. Each of the 50 states has proportional and defined representation in the legislative body which can delegate execution but not actual legislative ability to the executive. All of this watched and regulated by a judiciary which is strong and independent. Officers of the executive are sworn to uphold the consitution, and not to any one person or office. The military is sworn to protect the country and constitution from all threats foreign and domestic. There has never been a case where a president could be considered a threat to the constitution, but if anyone could, it would be a man like the one in office now. The senerio I envision is an EO he promulgated is considered unconstitutional and stayed or struck down, but he still orders his subordinates to execute the order because he sees it as imperative to protect America. That would cause a constitutional crisis, and require officers and executive branch people to choose between upholding their oath to the constitution or obeying an order from their boss. I don’t want that, but I could see it happening with this current administration. Also, any officer of the US who violates a court order, even in the course of official duties(such as CBP denying entry to a green card holder because he is from a country on the ban that is currently on hold) opens that officer to contempt of court as well as civil penalties and removes all immunity from the person relating to the illegal acts.
Any attempt to mess with any of the fundamental tenants of the American system would be met with enough backlash from the 74% of voting eligible (over 18, a citizen, and not a felon or medically disqualified) public who didn’t vote for Donald, and the 50% of the same pool of eligible voters who are not registered to a party.
At least….I hope.
The floor is open.