The Trump Administration’s open corruption and criminal conduct is leading to a series of potential Constitutional crises. But the most relevant of them is the potential to create an entirely lawless and imperial Executive Branch. Those words may seem like hyperbole, but they are not.
Right now Democrats in the Congress are eager to finish up impeachment proceedings before the end of the year. Trump himself and Republicans in the Senate (except for the those actively seeking to troll Democratic Senators running for President) are hoping for a rapid Senate trial as well. The most often stated reason for this rapid process is that it would be improper or unnecessary to conduct an impeachment process during an election year.
This is enormously problematic. Assuming the extremely likely outcome that the House impeaches Trump but the Republican Senate fails to convict, Donald Trump will consider himself exonerated. It’s worth noting that the Trump Administration’s shakedown of Ukraine occurred very soon after Attorney General Barr’s dubiously generous summary of the Mueller Report: Trump clearly felt emboldened, having gotten away with taking foreign assistance against Hillary Clinton in 2016, to do so again against Biden. And that having been cleared of conspiracy in the Clinton matter due to lack of evidence, that he and numerous allies could initiate a similar gambit without consequences.
Indeed, Trump’s team is so confident that there will even now be no serious comeuppance for this behavior that they are continuing the use-Russian-aligned-Ukrainians-to-attack-Biden strategy even today. Rudy Guiliani openly flaunted his disregard for justice this week by taking another trip to Ukraine to meet with corrupt Putin-aligned former officials. The Republican Party as a whole is doubling down on false conspiracy theories about Biden as their primary defense of Trump.
Republicans in Congress have signaled that they will continue to defend Trump even when caught engaged in the most indefensible acts, presumably because they know that time and demographics of the electorate are against them. They’ve made a deal with the devil to protect the most corrupt president in American history in exchange for judges who they hope will blockade progressive governments for decades as the GOP regroups from the consequences of adopting the Southern Strategy for decades, and of aligning itself with a venal, white supremacist would-be-dictator,
Democrats, meanwhile, lack confidence that the electorate will support them on the principle of preserving democracy itself, and want to focus more on “kitchen table issues” than on holding the president accountable for crimes–for the entire twelve month period before the next presidential inauguration.
So…what if anything would prevent Trump from engaging in even more recklessly and openly criminal conduct over the next 12 months? The partisan alignments are set in stone; the impeachment proceedings aren’t changing any minds; Fox News and Sinclair aren’t budging from their defensive positions. Democrats are entirely unlikely to being a second round of impeachment proceedings, and Republicans won’t throw Trump overboard.
Are there any guardrails left at all against a truly imperial, criminally unaccountable presidency over the next year? There don’t appear to be. That should terrify everyone.