by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Count Charles Cooke of National Review Online among those who don’t want to see President Trump issue himself a pardon, as the president recently suggested he could do. But Cooke looks beyond the “self-pardon” headlines to highlight a larger issue.
That it would be a disgrace for Trump to take such a step is self-evident. As a matter of elementary political hygiene, voters must always oppose politicians who would separate themselves from the law. But I must confess to fearing that, should Trump elect to go down this road, we will comfort ourselves with the insistence that the cause of the crisis was this president rather than a persistent structural imbalance that has been nine decades in the making. I must confess to worrying, too, that we will respond by damaging the constitutional order in a misguided attempt to save it. There’s not been much reflection to go along with the outrage. This will only matter if we let it.
Over the course of the last century, Americans have inflated the executive branch to a size and influence that was never imagined by the Founders. This inflation has trained us into some perverse habits, the most pernicious among which is that we now consider the presidency, rather than Congress, as the central player within the federal system. … On the contrary: Congress, by design, is far more powerful than are the other two. That matters a great deal.
If it so wishes, Congress can remove the president, the vice president, and the cabinet for any reason whatsoever; the executive, by contrast, cannot remove, dismiss, or so much as contrive a schedule for Congress. … So powerful is Congress, in fact, that it can remove the president and vice president on a whim, and make any eligible American citizen president instead — even if that citizen hasn’t been elected to anything. Congress, put bluntly, is supreme.