American politics are messy. We have lots of rules, lots of procedures, and the weight of a 240-plus year history. People expect things to occur in a particular way. They expect elections. They expect debate. They expect political parties to bicker and jockey for position. At bottom, while they know it’s never a clean fight, there are still those rules, enshrined in a Constitution, interpreted through judicial decisions, expanded in various ways through the voluminous legal code.
Because history unfolds in slow motion, except for natural and some man-made catastrophes, such as war, we never fully connect the dots. We fail to see how what was said three years ago is now happening before our eyes. This tendency to not connect the dots is made worse by a news media, and an electorate, that suffers from historical amnesia.
We were warned what was going to happen, but we failed to take it seriously because we did not take the messenger seriously. The messenger was awkward, a somewhat frightening and clownish figure.
Decades ago a clownish figure with a funny moustache came to power in Germany on January 30, 1933. Two months later, on March 23, 1933, the Enabling Act was passed. It placed all power into the hands of the clown and his band of misfits. The act “had abolished most civil liberties and transferred state powers to the Reich government. The combined effect of the two laws [the other being the Reichstag Fire Decree] was to transform Hitler’s government into a legal dictatorship.” (Source)
The declaration of an American enabling act was made one month after Trump’s inauguration. It was never stated as such since it did not have the force of the law, nor was it expressed as some future law. But there was something much darker than an enabling law. Stephen Miller said, “…the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.” (See video below.) We had never heard an American speak that way. We believe that everything is open to discussion and questioning. We were warned. We laughed it off.
Miller’s comment was spoken at the time of the then-recent Muslim ban. We failed to realize that what was stated, the unquestionable powers of the president, was not confined to issues of immigration law. It really applied to everything that Trump would do.
Now, in January 2020, three years after Miller made his pronouncement. we see the enabling act on the Senate floor. For those who have had the stomach to listen to the Republican defense in the impeachment trial, the lawyers have, in essence, repeated exactly what Miller said in February 2017. Their legal defense can be boiled down to the following: presidents do what presidents do, and their judgement cannot be questioned.
In other words, what the Republican defense team is actually arguing for is the American version of the Enabling Act, placing all power in the hands of one person, and arguing that no one has the right to question that person. No documents. No witnesses. Nothing. This Republican Enabling Act would effectively destroy our Constitution. It would neuter the oversight functions of the House and Senate and, like the German parliament under Nazi rule, it will wither away and die.
“When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal” – Nixon
“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” – Trump