Cornell's Thomas Pepinsky in Politico describes the rancor between parties and philosophical differences on presidential authority versus the rule of law as a political cleavage shaking the foundation of the role of government.
Many voters are aghast, horrified and speechless that a president would boldly take his office to the brink of lawlessness. "Get over it" says the president's acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, admitting the president withheld funding appropriated by Congress, for a self-serving quid pro quo. But the U.S. House of Representatives can't "get over it." Doing so would mark an unprecedented departure from the Arm's Length Transaction rule, whereby the country's leaders act independently without undue influence and, as fiduciaries, in a way that avoids wrongdoing, appearance of impropriety and breaching public trust.
Pepinsky sees the hardening divide along party lines as an unprecedented shakeup in the whole political system. Rather than asking Congress to pass laws to suit him, respecting and obeying laws passed by Congress while sometimes urging Congress to pass laws more to his liking, this president disregards laws at will. Some members of Congress - including Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma District 2 - ratify the president's extralegal conduct. The president's supporters don't care if he is breaking the law. "So what?" they say. It is ironic true conservatives are the Democrats here, and Republicans claiming to be "capital C" conservatives are casting aside the most precautionary, stable and traditional position of the U.S. Constitution - that of safeguarding the separation of powers. Historically, presidential expansion of powers has been regarding foreign emergencies under the War Powers Act. Now claims of executive privilege are being asserted to counter against impeachment, clashing with history about limits on a president's power. Lawmakers - including Markwayne Mullin - are OK with ceding congressional power, so Trump can proceed. Kingmaker, indeed. The result is toward a dictatorial presidency, and eroding voters' checkmate power.
Trump is raising money for supportive senators, losing voters in three seats he will need in the impeachment removal vote. The former White House ethics chief calls it "bribery." It takes, on average, $9.8 million to win a Senate seat. It remains to be seen whether voters will ratify Trump's ignoring the rule of law. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon predicts he will. Bannon has avoided prosecution for buying foreign election interference to win the 2016 election at the Electoral College. The authors of "How Democracies Die" document how democracies break down in countries where structural institutions become impaired. American polarity is between the rule of law and "might makes right" brinksmanship. It takes a good judge of bluffing - or a great sense of the scale of one's base of loyalists - to know what can be gotten away with. But knowing whether the system is broken is a spoiler-- and maybe it is, by the enormous amount of cash infused into every election. What Leslie Moyer calls "vertical integration," cronyism at every level, makes it a reasonable bet that election winners can break laws to reshape the balance of power between branches, marginalizing voters' roles in future decision-making.
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney, and artist.