OPINION: This is What Despotism Looks Like
In one of his most jaw-dropping Tweets to date, the president of the United States claimed the absolute right to pardon himself.
The following is the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of despotism:
Oppressive absolute power and authority exerted by government: rule by a despot; a system of government in which the ruler has unlimited power.
Included in the definition is the following quote from Samuel B. Pettengill, a U.S. congressman who served from 1931 – 1939:
“An excess of law is despotism, from which free men revolt.”
It all started Sunday when attorney to the president and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said that the president “probably” has the power to pardon himself as he spoke on ABC’s “This Week.”
The conversation was surrounding a 20-page letter published by the New York Times and written by presidential attorney Jay Sekulow and former attorney John Dowd in which the pair argue that the president is incapable of obstructing justice in the ongoing Russia investigation because he is the ultimate law enforcement agent in the country and therefore cannot obstruct himself.
We are entering dangerous territory as a nation in which we risk losing the very foundation of democracy that we were built on.
When a national leader begins to assert that they are above the law — or worse — that they are the law, that leader is taking the first steps towards becoming a despot.
All of our world’s most notorious international villains were despots, from the well-known like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to the lesser-known but equally horrific like Robert Mugabe and Idi Amin Dada.
And the similarities are striking.
Many of the worst dictators make their rise through perfectly legal means — Adolf Hitler was democratically elected and did not seize power through a coup d’etat or military means, but was embraced by the people.
And once in power, they begin with small abuses — such as the many controversial pardons our president has already granted, as well as the numerous violations of the emoluments clause and more — as they build up to larger and larger infractions of the law, progressively changing the very legal standard to which they are held until no one but they are capable of wielding the law.
Normally, the blatant abuse and violation of human rights doesn’t begin until the despot has fully secured his power — in our situation, however, the human rights abuses are becoming the very building blocks by which our president is solidifying his rule.
Our federal government has taken it upon themselves to separate immigrant children from their parents at the border and to send them to sponsor homes. Fifteen-hundred of those children have gone missing, and yet the government that took custody of them now claims that they are not responsible for their whereabouts.
Chemicals in fire-retardant foams used by our military and firefighters are poisoning our water and killing our civil servants, yet the government refuses to disseminate the information and has barred journalists from its meetings.
Many of the top departmental positions within our government have been filled by the means of cronyism and nepotism, allowing people like Scott Pruitt and his team to commit egregious abuses of power without repercussions.
And like Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos, many of these departmental heads are working to systematically dismantle and undermine the efficacy of the very departments they direct.
We have seen demagoguery. We are witnessing the march towards despotism. If left unchecked, we will endure a full-blown dictatorship.