This year’s presidential debate moderators have an obligation to the public to vigorously question Trump on his understanding of presidential power.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric has been so dangerously outside the bounds of normal American political discourse — which, at least, pays lip service to constitutional governance and democratic rule — that legitimate questions about whether he could be relied on to fully and faithfully execute the laws of the United States have been raised.
In particular, Trump’s irresponsible threats have raised serious doubts about his knowledge and understanding of the Constitution, basic democratic procedures, and the extent of executive power.
That’s why it’s imperative that moderators in the upcoming presidential debates vigorously inquire about Trump’s commitment to constitutional and democratic rule. For the second debate on October 9, that burden falls on moderators ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
The president is both Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces and head of the agencies responsible for the external and internal security of the country.
Unlike the powers of the presidency in domestic affairs, which are limited by the power of Congress and the courts, when it comes to national security, executive power is much broader and less constrained.
That’s why executive power can be and has been subject to abuse. Indeed, in 1974, Richard Nixon was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and accused of abuse of power for directing the IRS, FBI, and CIA to investigate his political enemies.
This danger takes on particular concern as a result of the vastly increased powers of surveillance assumed by the federal government post-9/11. And it’s especially disturbing in the hands of someone like Trump, who recently declared he wants “surveillance on certain mosques,” an obvious infringement on the constitutional right of religious liberty.
Up to the present, the dangers of NSA and other electronic surveillance agencies have been largely associated with using information for purposes other than terrorism prevention, in particular, by law enforcement.
But it can also be used for illegitimate political purposes. Such an abuse could push the nation to the threshold of a police state.
Given his vindictive nature, unusual sensitivity to criticism, and apparent indifference to the harm of others, his possible abuse of national security institutions and practices cannot be ruled out — and should be reasonably feared.
Trump’s unseemly relationship with Vladimir Putin should also give us pause.
He’s shown a strange admiration for Putin’s abuses, with the GOP candidate once praising Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as “so smart.” Getting cozy with Putin, who doesn’t exactly believe in democratic rule of law, shows where Trump’s values lie, and may breed more potential for unconstitutional abuse of power as president.
There’s also the possibility that Trump could embroil the U.S. in ramped up military action abroad. His foreign policy plans, which include “waterboarding and a whole lot more,” would violate all international laws of armed combat, according to former NSA and CIA Director, General Michael Hayden.
The recently released report of the special parliamentary inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the U.S.-instigated Iraq War revealed that George W. Bush recklessly ignored the risks of invading Iraq and cavalierly dismissed British misgivings out of total ignorance of the political and social effects that U.S. occupation would unleash.
And Bush had reasonably experienced advisers. Imagine the disasters Trump could unleash with the added dangers of ignorance and monumental hubris.
The thing about Trump is, we just don’t know what would happen. But we can assume that a combination of ignorance of foreign affairs and arrogance is a disaster waiting to happen.
Raddatz, Cooper, and all of the following debate moderators must force Trump to face the basic issues of constitutional and democratic law raised by his rhetoric to reveal if Trump truly grasps the scope of the high office he seeks.
Dan Berger is a Philadelphia lawyer specializing in complex litigation from the plaintiff’s perspective. For his long career in the law, he was recently named as a “Titan” in the field of complex litigation by the publication, Law 360. Distributed by www.OtherWords.org.