Basically our system of checks and balances depends upon having a President who isn’t willing to upset the system because he’s been part of the system for so many years. Between Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, the power of the Presidency has risen to the point where if a President *did* want to seize absolute power, there are few institutions that could stop him. If Congress is terrified of his supporters, for example, like the Republican politician in one Forbes article who said (anonymously) that he wouldn’t ever publically opposed Trump because he lived in the middle of Trump Country and “they’d shoot me”…
If Trump simply issued presidential edicts, ignoring Congress and the law, brought in the 101st Airborne to enforce martial law in Washington D.C. in contravention of the Posse Comitatus Act, etc., who would stop him? Let’s say that he has all Democratic members of Congress arrested for treason and their lawyers all file habeas corpus petitions to the district court in D.C., and the district court orders them released and Trump refuses to do so. What then? Yes, he would be in contempt of court, but the 101st Airborne is protecting him and he has the entire executive department apparatus working for him from prosecutors to the FBI and Secret Service, how would the contempt citation be enforced? If you’re hanging your hat on a military coup, you’re hanging your hat on a narrow pole indeed. People in Turkey thought the military would keep Erdogan from seizing absolute power. They were wrong — Erdogan purged the military, put his supporters in charge, and staged a fake coup to weed out any who weren’t loyal. Now the Army is one of his biggest power bases for his dictatorship.
Right now, the only thing that prevents scenarios like this from working out this way is tradition. By the time politicians arrive at the presidential level of politics, they’re so invested in tradition and “the system” that they don’t even think of stepping outside the system into blatant authoritarianism, Nixon’s “it’s not illegal if you’re the President” being the most extreme to happen in the recent times and it got him forced out office by his own party. But tradition is a damn thin rack to hang a hat upon if you have someone with authoritarian tendencies in power, and a Congress that is terrified to death of him and his supporters. That’s the problem with someone from outside of the system achieving the Presidency. He’s not part of the system. He doesn’t have that indoctrination in the system that a traditional politician who came up through state offices, governorships, legislative offices has. Especially if he’s from the business world, where he can fire someone for almost any reason (at-will doctrine), and order his people to do almost anything (though if he orders them to do something illegal, they might turn him in if he makes it too obvious). Put him behind all the levers of power that the modern President possesses, and what’s to stop him from becoming an authoritarian who rules by fiat?
*Will* it happen? I hope not. *Can* it happen? I don’t see anything in our currently crippled system of government that could stop it, other than perhaps a military rebellion, and Erdogan in Turkey already laid out the template for how to handle that one. Just corrupt the officer corps, and the rest will go along. And as we already saw with CBP enforcing a blatantly illegal order, there’s hella lot of authoritarians inside the government who’d be right there with the notion of having a God-Emperor Trump.
– Badtux the Fascism-smellin’ Penguin