Survival of rule of law depends on 2018 midterm elections

The law may simply not be strong enough to bring down a president who defies it with the aid of a complicit Congress. Politics, backed by law, is the fulcrum required to expel a crooked, yet determined, executive. Without it, impeachment or resignation are a distant reach.

Every presidential election is routinely called “the most important election” in history, producing sighs and eye rolls from political-science types. But if you’re fond of democracy in America, the 2018 midterm election makes a stronger case for a superlative label than most presidential elections.

It appears increasingly clear that the Republican majorities in Congress would pose no serious obstacle to presidential lawlessness. True, committees in the House and Senate are looking into Russian sabotage, in the form of support for candidate Donald Trump, during the 2016 campaign. But it’s unclear if Republicans on those committees are willing to blame Russia for wrongdoing, let alone Trump.

As political scientist Jacob T. Levy pointed out at the Niskanen Center blog, in his brief presidential tenure Trump has already “defied, ignored, or shredded the whole previous system of norms about avoiding financial conflicts of interest and the use of public office for private enrichment.”

Trump has openly signaled that his Washington hotel and Palm Beach club, where he doubled the fee to $200,000 after his election, thereby putting an explicit dollar value on presidential access, are political souks. “He has, in short, drawn a very clear map to foreign interests about how to enrich him and his family and how to gain direct access to him in the process,” Levy wrote.

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Issuing the equivalent of equity shares in a presidency has historically been frowned upon. But Republicans in Congress have taken no action. As Levy said, “Executive authoritarianism and lawlessness can be hemmed in and checked but not fully constrained by courts, the criminal law, or the written Constitution.” In other words, Trump will see your Madisonian mumbo-jumbo and raise you an Electoral College.

This has obvious implications for the criminal investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. In the wake of the indictment of Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a plea deal signed by former Trump White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, along with the exposure of a series of lies…

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