Bob Franken




President Donald “Total Authority” Trump has got those fascinated by the roots of words clamoring to research “totalitarian.” Relax, etymologists, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. “Totalitarian” dates back to the 1920s and is from the Italians. Their version was “totalitario,” introduced to describe fascism.
You can draw whatever conclusion you want from that. But Donald Trump is no Mussolini. His autocratic tendencies waver. Here he was, saying it was up to state governors to do the ugly work of imposing brutal restrictions on their populations to save them from the deadly coronavirus, but at the slightest glimmer of hope, here he is, galloping to the rescue, claiming his “total authority” over governors to order them to end their debilitating lockdowns, even though most medical experts were arguing it was way too soon.

Now he’s saying that the governors will decide how their states will begin an economic recovery. Many of them also say it’s way too premature. With all his head snapping reversals, perhaps you’re suffering from “Trump-lash.” Or maybe you are simply incredulous over the president’s total (there’s that word again) ignorance of the Constitution. It doesn’t take a lawyer to know that the founders were determined to avoid that kind of absolute power. There’s the 10th Amendment, for instance:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

No one needs to belabor that junior high school lesson, except maybe POTUS, who was apparently exercising his imagined constitutional right to skip classes that day. The Constitution’s primary purpose is to weave an intricate balance of power between the branches of the federal government and the states.
Still, the Trumpster is an autocrat at heart. But he’s just a wimpy one. We should have gotten a clue where his heart was when he said that America was broken and “only I can fix it.” Since then he has gotten elected and has decided that his style of leadership would be to pick and choose the restrictions that he will honor and those that he’ll brush off. That’s why he ignores congressional subpoenas at will — for that matter, all congressional oversight, for that matter, any oversight he considers inconvenient. If an inspector general criticizes him or his administration, he gets rid of the inspector general, or undermines his or her independence.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” James Madison might have been a slave owner, which is unforgivable, but the founder did have a way with words. His “angel” line is one of the most famous from the Federalist Papers. He was explaining the need for a constitutional balance of powers. But the Federalist Papers were just a series of op-eds written by Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, under the pen name “Publius.” Trump would probably dismiss them as “fake news.”
Many governors have responded to his “total authority” claim with what amounts to a raised middle finger. Several on the East and West Coasts have formed regional alliances. There’s another in the midwest. all to decide in concert what they will do and when they will do it. Trump himself calls it a “mutiny”. He can still do harm, which he has done too often with his daily briefings from his bully pulpit. He can inspire his passionate followers to defy common sense and reignite the infection rate that is only now beginning to level off.
He doesn’t have “total authority,” far from it. But, until Election Day, he has too much. His has been a sham presidency. Interesting word, “sham.” It’s from merry olde England, probably “shame” with a northern dialect. As in shame on us if we don’t vote him out of office, because he will certainly take that as a mandate to seize that total authority.

© 2020 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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