In the annals of American presidential history, Donald Trump’s tenure emerges as a testament to the extremes to which the bounds of executive power can be stretched. With an audacity unparalleled by any of his predecessors, Trump’s legacy leaves an indelible mark, encompassing a spectrum of abuses ranging from transgressions against time-honored norms to actions that skirt the edge of criminality.
Here are a few examples of Trump’s transgressions against the norms of presidential behavior.
The Sinister Undermining of the 2020 Election
As the 2020 election spectacle unfolded, one central theme dominated the narrative: Donald Trump’s relentless endeavor to subvert the very essence of democracy. The prominent conservative legal scholar Michael Paulsen likened this to a “form of a political coup d’état against our Constitution.”
Throughout the campaign, Trump propagated palpably false information about the electoral process, even toying with the notion of unconstitutionally delaying the election—an action met with bipartisan condemnation.
Post his defeat, Trump clung to the fallacy of victory and exerted pressure on pivotal battleground states to unlawfully negate millions of votes, with the now-infamous call to Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, standing as a stark testament to this effort.
Unraveling Trump’s Incitement of Chaos
The crescendo of Trump’s tenure crescendoed into a shattering climax on January 6, 2021. Fanning the flames of unrest, he incited a massive gathering of supporters in Washington, urging them to march on the US Capitol as the electoral votes were counted.
The repercussions were cataclysmic—an attack on the Capitol, emblematic of Trump’s lowest ebb. Trump’s urging to “fight like hell” kindled a raging inferno that engulfed the Capitol grounds. The occupation, punctuated by violent clashes, claimed five lives.
Tulane Law School professor Ross Garber underscored the chilling link between Trump’s words and the ensuing chaos. This unparalleled assault on democratic institutions led to Trump’s second impeachment, bearing the charge of “incitement of insurrection.”
The Tarnishing of Discourse and Division
Trump’s tenure was a symphony of incendiary rhetoric, exacerbating division and discord nationwide. The power of the bully pulpit became his weapon of choice, unleashing a torrent of falsehoods, conspiracies, and attacks on political adversaries.
His catalog of lies dwarfed any seen before, transcending political spin into the realm of egregious errors. Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, remarked on the unprecedented scale of disinformation propagated, a corrosive force that profoundly impacted public discourse.
This deluge ranged from racially charged comments to misguided health recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though not necessarily criminal, this misuse of presidential power underscored the depths to which Trump was willing to plunge for his gain.
Policing the Justice Department
Trump’s tenure bore witness to an unapologetic blurring of lines between the executive and the Justice Department, a transgression with profound implications for democracy. As Rick Pildes, a New York University professor, stressed, the crucial independence of law enforcement was constantly eroded.
The constant chipping away at the boundaries aimed to serve Trump’s interests rather than the nation’s. Trump’s pattern of leaning on law enforcement to shield his allies and hound his critics cast a shadow of controversy.
An alarming string of incidents, from urging FBI investigations to the firing of Director James Comey, challenged the very foundations of the rule of law.
Mueller’s Investigation: A Thorny Road
The Mueller investigation, spanning Trump’s initial years, encapsulated his resistance to scrutiny and penchant for obstruction. A dark cloud of suspicion loomed as Mueller’s scrutiny into possible collusion and obstruction of justice was met with fierce opposition from Trump.
The nuances of Mueller’s findings left ample room for interpretation. While evidence pointed to potential obstruction, Mueller abstained from rendering a conclusive judgment, citing Justice Department guidelines on indicting a sitting president.
The ensuing narrative—Trump’s oft-repeated claim of “total and complete exoneration”—underscored the tenuous balance between the presidency and accountability.
Power’s Perversion: The Pardons
The constitutional power of presidential pardons is indisputable, yet Trump exploited it to unprecedented extremes. By sidestepping the traditional clemency process, Trump eroded checks and balances, often bypassing the Justice Department’s input.
This led to a cascade of contentious pardons, leaving experts shocked at the disregard for anti-corruption efforts and the rule of law. Trump’s flagrant use of pardons to reinforce his power and shield allies from consequences added a new dimension to the presidential pardon power, one that tested the boundaries of its constitutional intent.
Pledges of Allegiance and Individualizing Governance
A recurring motif within the era of Trump’s presidency revolved around the individualization of governance. Trump frequently blurred the lines between his agenda and the nation’s objectives, insisting on personal allegiance from nearly all governmental affiliates.
“Trump’s demand that government actors pledge loyalty to him, as opposed to the law or the constitution, is a corruption of the rule of law, and it’s a corruption of government institutions,” Pildes said.
This recurrent theme initially gained prominence when Comey disclosed that Trump requisitioned “loyalty” from him during a discreet encounter in early 2017 – a rather unsuitable entreaty from any incumbent President directed at an FBI director.
As time progressed, it grew evident that members of the Cabinet and senior officials could only persevere if they orchestrated a spectacle for Trump, showering him with admiration and commendatory expressions.
Benefiting From the Presidency
When Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017, he became the first billionaire to hold such a position. Despite widespread advice from ethics experts, he chose not to divest from his international business empire, raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest. Instead, Trump temporarily delegated control of his company to his adult sons, asserting that his legal advisors had cleared this arrangement.
The primary concern voiced by experts was the perception of a significant conflict of interest. According to Rose-Ackerman, a Yale professor specializing in political corruption, this issue indicates Trump’s values and his interpretation of the presidential role. It goes beyond financial considerations and speaks to his perception of the presidency as granting him broad authority.
Throughout his tenure, Trump frequently visited his properties and golf clubs, significantly raising their visibility and profiting from the federal government. The US government was billed millions of dollars by Trump’s company, including expenses for Secret Service agents staying at his properties while providing protection.
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