At a news briefing Monday, Donald Trump made an astonishing statement. He said, "When someone is President of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's got to be. It's total. The governors know that."
The question of power and therefore control, is one of the ability to assert force over another person or entity. Legal scholars were quick to assert that under the United States Constitution, Trump is flatly wrong about his authority over the states. When pressed by reporters on the claim, Trump responded that "one way or another" he would have control. This clarification of words is an important distinction. Authority and power are different. Trump who is well known for making bombastic statements which later prove to be factually inaccurate or blatantly false, this time may be telling us the truest thing he has ever told us, at least about himself.
Maya Angelou said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." This poignant wisdom may have helped us if we had followed it from the start.
As coronavirus wages its deadly war against US citizens, the "Commander in Chief" has been rendered impotent by an all consuming war of his own, in which any person offering criticism is the enemy. Attacks are typical fare for the egocentric narcissist, at times even attacking his beloved FOX News should they dare to allow anyone on their network to speak ill of the illustrious leader. But recent attacks on the press, medical experts, the governors and anyone who dares to step out of the line have been more intense than any we have seen in the past. He scolds and insults reporters, demanding gushing flattery of his performance or run the risk becoming the target of his ire.
Perhaps Trump's dictatorial assertion of "absolute" power was just blurted out as he lashed out irrationally, but the question he poses in doing so is one which deserves careful analysis.
Trump may not understand much, but he understands blunt force. If someone sends you a bill and you don't want to pay it, don't pay it. You aren't being physically forced. A bill is just a suggestion. If the person takes you to court, don't show up. If the court rules in their favor, ignore it. If they show up at your door, pull out a picture of a gangster friend of yours and make a threat. If they back down, you win. Trump believes in blunt force because it has served him well. He is not a grand negotiator. He's not a negotiator at all. He tells you what he wants and threatens what will happen to you if you don't.
Think about it. NATO, the EU, the UN, Ukraine, and now the World Health Organization. Trump makes it very clear he will take "his" ball and go home, or worse, if he doesn't get exactly what he wants. He only "negotiates" with people he thinks he can bully. He surrounds himself with yes men and threatens to fire anyone who doesn't coddle him because that is an absolute requirement for him. The media has done much to instigate the conflicts between Trump and the governors, to be sure. But if push comes to shove, who will win the showdown?
When Trump was pushed by reporters on the legality of his "absolute authority" he said, "put it this way, one way or another they need the federal government" Well, let's think about that. Let's play it to its end. Trump knows that if he "orders" California and New York to "open back up" and they say they aren't ready, another federal stimulus package is going to be necessary. He has the power to veto any federal stimulus package that those states, and other states may need. One could argue that it would be political suicide for him to do so, but we've been there before. Remember the "I could shoot someone in the middle of 5th avenue" statement? He isn't concerned about that.
Trump has risen to power through the only thing he knows how to do - to own people. He knows what you need and he will either buy you (if you're cheap enough) or he will get what he wants from you by force. So if Trump vetoes any aid then what? Can he "own" the states? Can he bully them into obedience?
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