Trump Cop: Law and order are on his terms now
Trump's attitude toward the U.S. constitiuton is similar to Caesar's opinion about the Roman Republic. Caesar (depicted here in a mural in Acre, Israel) preferred an empire with an emperor. | Yuval Y/Flickr (CC)

The fall of the Roman Republic is a cautionary tale for those clinging desperately to the hopes that this American Republic’s democratic experiment will outlast—perhaps even thrive, eventually— beyond the reign of its current executive officer.

The decline and fall of the republic, and eventual birth of autocratic Rome also bring us striking parallels following Donald Trump’s first—and hopefully—only term in the White House.

In Rome, the brothers Gracchi (Tiberius and Gaius) took their views of how the Roman government should act by promoting an “establishment” vs. the “people” point of view. It was similar to Trump’s populist rhetoric of “drain the swamp.”

Gaius Gracchus, the persistent one, took it a step further by attacking and eventually bypassing the Roman Senate to drive forward his specific agenda.

Turn on any television, flip to any news channel, other than Fox, and Trump’s relentless attacks against Congress and the judiciary will have been the trending topic.

And we cannot forget the deliberate and calculated enfranchisement and enrichment of political allies. Gaius Gracchus, known better as Gaius Julius Caesar, wielded this tool with expert skill and eventually, through civil war and statecraft, cemented his rule as Roman emperor and god.

It’s there we find a simple, ancient question for our modern times: Should we, “the people,” continue to condone, and effectively embolden those elected to govern (corruptly), despite the grim warnings of history?

The Emboldened American Despot 

“I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I’ve chosen not to be involved,” Trump told reporters Tuesday outside an airbase tarmac as he left Washington, D.C., for a visit to the West Coast.

His comments came shortly after confirming his presidential clemency spree, which covered 11 people, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, “junk bond king” Michael Milken, former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., and former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik.

In short, this latest judicial intervention by Trump, the first being his tweet-storm support of political ally Roger Stone, flies in the face of growing criticism over his direct involvement in the Department of Justice. More important, it signals he is willing to keep testing the limits of executive power now that his impeachment trial is over—spelling disaster for any showings of legal impartiality from DOJ prosecutors and Attorney General William Barr.

And along with his falsely designated title of “chief law enforcement,” Trump showed no remorse for knowingly making Barr’s job harder.

Barr made headlines last week for saying that yes, Trump’s tweets put him in a tough spot.

“I’m going to do what I think is right,” Barr said. “And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about the Department of Justice criminal cases.”

Of course, the background noise didn’t stop Barr from undercutting the DOJ’s prosecutors in calling for a lighter jail sentence in a federal case against Roger Stone.

Combined, all of Trump’s recent actions raise serious questions, and doubt, over the power granted to the executive branch by the Constitution.

Federal judges called for an emergency meeting following the DOJ’s reversal on Stone, former federal prosecutors called on Barr to resign as Attorney General, and legal scholars continue to debate the constitutionality of all of it.

For those of us on the outside looking in, Trump’s dramatic shift also sends a clear message: “Support me, and I’ll take care of you—doesn’t matter what crime you committed.”

Reward friends, punish perceived enemies. And, do whatever the hell you want, within reason, is the new White House daily mantra.

To highlight the obviousness of Trump’s tweaked law and order mindset, was his off-the-cuff remark regarding former Illinois Gov. Blagojevich’s conviction: “It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group.” He was signaling an escalation against non-partisan government prosecutors and allowing ample room for his “deep state” conspiracy theory to fester and spread.

Where’s the Constitution in all of this?

It is too often said that the framers of the Constitution were visionaries. We may all agree that, yes, despite the framers obvious human and social flaws, they yet set out in earnest to create a governing document that would endure. But as with all humanity, our vision forward is subject to the blinders of our dreams and imaginations—leaving us a framework of government and law, unable to answer many of the questions cropping up today.

“The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will,” wrote John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, in the matter of Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. 264, 38 (1821).

The Constitution as a creature of our own will is slowly becoming a creature at the will and whim of the rogue executive branch of government.

Under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the President is vested with executive power, acts as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, has the power to make treaties with Senate approval, nominates heads of governmental departments, can issue executive orders, can issue pardons for federal offenses, can convene Congress for special sessions, can veto legislation, and delivers the State of the Union address annually before a joint session of Congress.

Nowhere in its original 17 pages does it mention the president’s role or ability to control criminal prosecution.

So, on the one hand, some legal scholars argue the president, vested with all executive power and privilege (the unitary executive theory), has the right to initiate or dismiss any criminal prosecution, and control the federal prosecutor’s decision-making process; while others say, no, the president has no such power, it is not clearly defined under the Constitution, and the independence of the prosecution and judiciary is vital to the safeguarding of democracy.

Of course, this does not prevent the president from promoting criminal justice reform policies—the president must improve the fairness and balance of the justice system at every single level.

Every single branch of government, every governmental department, and the framework of our entire legal and political framework has changed over the past several centuries; it’s the natural progression of institutions created and run by human beings. And often, the answers lead to further questions and speculation.

During Nixon’s Watergate scandal, it was concluded that completely separating the DOJ from the Executive branch, diminishing political accountability, would create real-world accountability, allowing investigators and prosecutors the freedom to act free of spin, or political double-talk.

So here we are. Many questions and no real answers.

What does the Constitution say about the recent trips into executive corruption?


What about the checks and balances system? Great in theory, much harder to practice when Congress is divided down the partisan line.

The Judicial branch? Floundering. The more judicial appointments the Trump administration makes, the easier it will be to undo those “unfair” laws and prosecutions he’s tweeting about. And, in the event a seat opens up in the Supreme Court, all bets are off.

So, in the end, it falls to the public to determine this particular outcome.

With the Legislative branch divided, the Executive branch compromised, and the Judicial branch unwilling to take a pivotal stand, our only option is voting.

Now would be the perfect time to dispel the notion of “when in Rome, do as the Romans.”


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.