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The Reconfiguration of the Presidency

By: Sheyenne White

During the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump was quick to hold up the Washington Post with the screaming headline, “Trump Acquitted.”  His look of haughty disdain was insatiable to surrounding photographers and thus, this image infiltrated news outlets everywhere.

The event encapsulated the hyper partisan politics that have been at play through the entirety of the Impeachment proceedings, revealing the polarity of our country and leaving many of us to wonder what the future of American politics holds. Under the current administration, party divisions within our Congressional branch have instilled a distrust among Americans. America’s hope in political institutions has dwindled as a direct result of this politicization of our legislative process. Simply put, the heightened polarization has had profound effects on the electorate, leading many to observe the whirlwind of Trump’s Impeachment in a narrowly confined partisan manner. Along these lines, the House Impeachment charges and the Senate’s acquittal have both been stripped of their credibility and deemed performance politics by both ends of the political spectrum.

In the aftermath of the Senate absolution, Trump took a boldly unprecedented victory lap that demonstrated a stark shift in Presidential conduct and behavior. While former President Bill Clinton was “humbled” by his conviction of Impeachment, Trump was quick to denounce political adversaries and declare the Impeachment hearings to be a “disgrace.” Whereas Clinton emphasized to the “American people how profoundly sorry [he] was,” Trump apologized to his family for having to undergo the supposedly “phony, rotten deal by some very evil and sick people.” Additionally, Clinton acknowledged the “great burden [he] imposed on Congress,” and the “constitutional responsibility [of Congress] bringing the process to a conclusion.”  

The President’s retribution began with Mitt Romney, the only Republican Senator to vote to convict him on abuse of power. Trump and members of his family were quick to lash out, calling for his expulsion from the Republican party. This seemingly pugilistic approach was not excluded to mere public commentary, as Trump fired aides he deemed were disloyal, particularly two high-profile Impeachment witnesses. Trump’s harbored resentment was directed towards Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (a Ukraine expert from the National Security Council) and Gordan Sondland (an ambassador to the European Union). This political retaliation mirrors the etiquette of authoritarian regimes as Trump’s actions promote and prioritize party loyalty over the sanctity of justice.

Although Trump’s campaign rests on the foundation of small government, his words and actions suggest the contrary. This is exhibited by his recent statement claiming that he is the “Chief law enforcement officer” of America. Under this guise, he unabashedly took to Twitter to publicly intervene on behalf of his friend, Roger Stone in his pending legal case. He deemed his original sentence recommendation a “miscarriage of justice” and exerted pressure on the Justice Department to reduce it. Attorney General William Barr was quick to comply with the President’s request and weaponized the Justice Department in order to demand a lighter sentence. Despite Barr’s complicity in this gross display of political interference, it has created tension between himself and the President. Therefore, entangling two spheres of government that were intended to be independent of each other. 

While many presidents, Democratic and Republican alike, have pushed the limits of their constitutional authority in order to appease their party platforms, Trump seems to be solely operating on the basis of self-interest. His recent pardon palooza of eleven high-profile white collar criminals and insertion in the judicial process can only be interpreted as autocratic.

By arguing that “This [impeachment] should never ever happen to another president ever,” Trump suggests the executive branch does not lie within the scope of the legislative branch and should not be subject to congressional oversight. Considering this, Trump’s acquittal can only be an indication of an expansion of executive power that will reshape presidencies for decades to come. Following this extraordinarily precarious augmentation, it is imperative to remember that unchecked executive power poses a threat to our democracy by disrupting the Framers’ carefully designed system of checks and balances.