Donald Trump was crystal clear during Monday's White House coronavirus briefing: He has left the U.S. Constitution for dead. Although the 10th Amendment states that any powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution shall be reserved for the states, Trump has decided otherwise when it comes to reopening America for business, as he noted repeatedly throughout the briefing.
“I have the ultimate authority.”
“When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's gotta be. It's total."
"The federal government has absolute power. ... I have an absolute right."
Ultimate, total, and absolute—got that?
"Nope," tweeted Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. "That would be the literal definition of a *totalitarian* government—which our traditions, our Constitution, and our values all rightly and decisively reject."
Vladeck offered up a series of Supreme Court decisions that have rejected absolute assertions of authority by various presidents throughout history:
- Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006);
- Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004);
- Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952);
- Ex parte Endo (1944);
- Ex parte Milligan (1866); and
- Little v. Barreme (1804).
In fact, the president's lack of total authority is indeed the most basic tenet of federalism, as Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, told the Washington Post. “The federal government can’t give orders to governors. That’s a very simple fact of life,” he explained.
The governors of states, mostly blue, that have taken action to protect their citizens with stay-at-home orders have also flatly rejected Trump's assertion. "You don’t become king because there’s a federal emergency," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN Monday. A cohort of governors on the East Coast and West Coast all announced plans Monday to work in concert with neighboring states to decide when and how to safely ease their social distancing measures.
But a totalitarian government is exactly what Trump fantasizes about achieving and has alluded to many times throughout his presidency. Remember in 2018 when he mused about how great President Xi Jinping's consolidation of power was in China? "He's now president for life. President for life. And he's great," Trump said in the spring of 2018. "I think it's great. Maybe we'll give that a shot someday."
Trump wants all the authority with zero accountability. As Trump told reporters on March 13 in the Rose Garden, "I don't take responsibility at all.” That day, Trump was announcing an elaborate public-private scheme to increase testing nationwide that also turned out to be a wholesale sham.
In fact, that's why totalitarianism is so ideal for Trump—he could do absolutely anything he wanted without the nuisance of having to worry about The People (i.e. voters), since they would have no recourse. That is Trump's dream gig, as he has continued to remind us in public and private statements, administration policy, and court filings throughout his presidency.
Here’s a few of Trump mad musings.