Donald Trump believes that he is the state: At the heart of the former president’s legal problems is that he sees no distinction between his own interests and the presidency, a columnist points out this week
Donald Trump Has Some Wild Ideas
Throughout his presidency, former President Donald Trump saw minimal distinctions between himself and the presidency itself.
And this has been crystalized in his indictment on charges that he took classified documents and resisted the process of returning them.
This was pointed out by New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie, with the headline “Trump Believes the Presidency Belongs to Him.”
“Donald Trump did not — and does not — recognize any distinction between himself and the office of the presidency. He is it and it is him,” Bouie writes in the column. “For Trump, he is the president. He is the government. The documents, in his mind, belonged to him.”
Trump was not able to accomplish everything he wanted to accomplish during his four years as president, in part because he was often resisted by other people in his administration, many of whom he later fell out with.
But the former president is hinting at a more dictatorial approach in a possible second term.
“As Trump runs for president, he has promised to bring key parts of the federal government under his control as soon as he takes office. He wants to clear out as much of the executive branch as possible and swap professionals for true believers — a new crop of officials whose chief loyalty is to the power and authority of Donald Trump, rather than their office or the letter of the law,” Bouie writes.
As the columnist notes, the Republican drift away from small government extends well past Trump, when it comes to the 2024 presidential field. That includes Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose governorship of Florida has entailed using the power of the government to strike back at political enemies, including the Walt Disney Company.
“I think presidents have bought into this canard that they’re independent, and that’s one of the reasons why they’ve accumulated so much power over the years,” Bouie has said of the idea of an independent Justice Department, “We will use the lawful authority that we have.”
Even Vice President Mike Pence has promised to “clean house at the highest levels of the Justice Department.”
When Trump was president, the Justice Department was fairly independent of him, especially during the Robert Mueller investigation. The Mueller probe was conducted under the auspices of Justice, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself. Trump was often unhappy that his own Justice Department was investigating his own ties to Russia, although a subsequent Attorney General, William Barr, was seen as closer to Trump— that is until he broke with the then-president after he lost the 2020 election.
How would things go with Justice, in a second Trump Administration?
“It is not hard to imagine a world where a second-term President Trump orders a newly purged and reconstituted Justice Department to investigate any group or individual that happens to be a target of MAGA rage, whether they broke the law or not,” Bouie writes.
However, there remains a good chance that, even if Trump becomes president again, he finds himself at odds with the people who are serving him, with the possibility that things Trump asks them to do would run up against various barriers, whether it’s the bounds of law, political reality, or their personal consciences.
There’s another angle to this that Bouie also points out: Trump comes from the world of privately-held business, as does much of his political coalition. In that situation, which is distinct from publicly-traded companies, the owner is the undisputed boss. But the presidency is not like that. There are checks and balances not present in the business world.
“If the nature of our work shapes our values — if the habits of mind we cultivate on the job extend to our lives beyond it — then someone in a position of total control over a closely held business like, say, the Trump empire might bring those attitudes, those same habits and pathologies, to political office,” he writes.
Expertise and Experience
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.