On February 5th, President Trump became the third president in American history to be acquitted of impeachment charges. Explaining her vote to acquit Trump, Republican Senator Susan Collins said that though Trump’s actions in relation to Ukraine were improper, they did not merit removal from office. She also added that he had learned his lesson from impeachment, and that he would be more circumspect and careful in his behavior moving forward. Over the next week, as Trump called Democrats “evil” at a celebratory news conference and fired several impeachment witnesses for testifying against him, it became clear that Trump had not, in fact, learned his lesson. Even Senator Collins walked back her comments and said instead that she “hoped” that Trump had learned his lesson .
Trump knows the Democrats have expended much of their political capital in attempting to impeach him, and that he now has the complete loyalty of the Republican party. Added to this is a cabinet purged of independent thinkers and replaced with pliable sycophants. All these factors together, compounded by Trump’s already erratic and unpredictable nature, result in the most unconstrained and powerful president in modern U.S. history. If Trump wins reelection in 2020, the constraints of a prospective re-election will also be removed, and, for the first time, the U.S. and the world will finally see Trump fully unleashed.
Unconstrained by Democrats
Trump’s impeachment was an incredibly painful and divisive process. Many Congressional Democrats, especially those representing conservative states, recognized that voting to impeach and remove the president from office could be very politically damaging . The broad American public never got behind the impeachment process, with only 48% of Americans supporting the removal of Trump from office on the day of the acquittal vote in the Senate. . While the Constitution does not prevent Congress from impeaching a president a second time, it would be a near insurmountable task for the Democrats to summon the political capital among the American public to impeach Trump again. And because much of the American public was never convinced that Trump had even committed impeachable offenses, many would view a second impeachment attempt with deep skepticism. . Trump now has the leeway to engage in behavior as bad or even worse than what he was impeached for. While Democrats in Congress can still exercise oversight of the executive branch, their most powerful tool for oversight, impeachment, has essentially been expended.
Unconstrained by Republicans
If Trump learned anything from impeachment, it is that he has complete control of the Republican party. The same senators and House members who excoriated Trump during his election after the release of the Access Hollywood tape defended him passionately during impeachment and prevented additional witnesses and evidence from coming forward . For better or worse, they have tied their political fortunes with Trump, and so will largely allow him to do what he wants to safeguard their own political power and standing. Having excused impeachable behavior, they would likely excuse it again, giving Trump a safety net for improper presidential actions.
Trump’s total takeover of the Republican party is clearly demonstrated by the way that Republicans ostracized and figuratively excommunicated the lone Republican to vote to remove Trump from office, Mitt Romney. The genuine and impassioned speech given by Romney to defend his vote to convict was greeted with derision and disdain by the same party he had led just eight years ago. The Republican party has given more loyalty and command over the party to Trump than to any president in decades, virtually giving him a blank check to behave largely as he wishes.
Unconstrained by the Cabinet
Trump is no longer forced to deal with attempted constraints from Cabinet members. Virtually all the independent thinkers of Trump’s Cabinet and inner circle who were willing to challenge the president on policy decisions are gone. They were either fired for disagreeing with Trump, got tired of Trump’s authoritarian style and left, or chose to bend their moral compasses to stay in Trump’s good graces. All that remain are yes-men and women who do not challenge his decisions and only seek to implement them .
When presenting Trump with options on how to respond to Iranian aggression earlier this year, Trump’s national security team tacked on the option of killing a top Iranian leader, Qasseim Suleimani, to make the other options look more reasonable. Trump chose the extreme option of killing Suleimani, even though Presidents Obama and Bush had refrained from killing Suleimani despite having the means to do so . The national security team had great reservations about killing Suleimani, but they carried it out anyway, bringing Iran and the U.S. to the brink of all-out war. Though we did not go to war with Iran that time, similar gambles could very well lead us to war in the future.
The spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. is another consequence of having a cabinet full of yes-men and women. When the virus started to spread globally, there were no independent thinkers left in Trump’s cabinet to challenge his optimistic appraisal of the coronavirus and urge him to act sooner. Consequently, in his statements such as “We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine” and “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear,” Trump minimized and dismissed the coronavirus until it was too late to control its spread in the U.S . No matter which party a president is from, they should surround themselves with people who will challenge their ideas and speak their minds so that the best decisions are made.
Unconstrained by an election
If Trump wins the election in 2020, he would feel even more unconstrained to act as he wills. After 2020, he would no longer have to worry about courting moderates for a reelection. Even more so than before, Trump would focus on implementing policies that play to his base of hardcore supporters, even though those supporters do not represent a majority of Americans. While every U.S. president is less constrained in their second term, Trump would be especially so because he commands such a powerful grip over his party and because he is already an erratic, free-wheeling president . The U.S. has also never had a president enter a second term who has already been impeached and acquitted. We would be entering new territory with such an unconstrained president, even if that president wasn’t Donald Trump.
With the tool of impeachment expended, a completely loyal Republican party, and a cabinet full of sycophants, Trump will become the most unconstrained president in U.S. history if he wins a second term. The gloves will come off, and the world will finally see Trump unleashed, with all of his erratic, unpredictable, and authoritarian impulses given free reign. Whether you like or dislike President Trump, we can all probably agree that no president in a free country should be that powerful.