The torch has been passed to a new president.
All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which he might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—have been inherited by Donald Trump.
Whatever kind of president Trump chooses to be, he now has the power to completely alter the landscape of this country for good or for ill.
He has this power because every successive occupant of the Oval Office has been allowed to expand the reach and power of the presidency through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements that can be activated by any sitting president.
Those of us who saw this eventuality coming have been warning for years about the growing danger of the Executive Branch with its presidential toolbox of terror that could be used—and abused—by future presidents.
The groundwork, we warned, was being laid for a new kind of government where it won’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty, whether you’re a threat to the nation or even if you’re a citizen. What will matter is what the president—or whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office at the time—thinks. And if he or she thinks you’re a threat to the nation and should be locked up, then you’ll be locked up with no access to the protections our Constitution provides. In effect, you will disappear.
Our warnings went largely unheeded.
First, we sounded the alarm over George W. Bush’s attempts to gut the Constitution, suspend habeas corpus, carry out warrantless surveillance on Americans, and generally undermine the Fourth Amendment, but the Republicans didn’t want to listen because Bush was a Republican.
Then we sounded the alarm over Barack Obama’s prosecution of whistleblowers, targeted drone killings, assassinations of American citizens, mass surveillance, and militarization of the police, but the Democrats didn’t want to listen because Obama was a Democrat and he talked a really good game.
It well may be that by the time Americans—Republicans and Democrats alike—stop playing partisan games and start putting some safeguards in place, it will be too late.
Already, Donald Trump has indicated that he will pick up where his predecessors left off: he will continue to wage war, he will continue to federalize the police, and he will operate as if the Constitution does not apply to him.
Still, as tempting as it may be, don’t blame Donald Trump for what is to come.
If this nation eventually locks down… If Americans are rounded up and detained based on the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their political views… If law-and-order takes precedence over constitutional principles…
If martial law is eventually declared… If we find that there really is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the surveillance state’s prying eyes and ears… And if our constitutional republic finally plunges headlong over the cliff and leaves us in the iron grip of totalitarianism…
Please, resist the urge to lay all the blame at Trump’s feet.
After all, President Trump didn’t create the police state.
He merely inherited it.
Frankly, there’s more than enough blame to go around.
So blame Obama. Blame Bush. Blame Bill Clinton.
Blame the Republicans and Democrats who justified every power grab, every expansion of presidential powers, and every attack on the Constitution as long as it was a member of their own party leading the charge.
Blame Congress for being a weak, inept body that spends more time running for office and pandering to the interests of the monied elite than representing the citizenry.
Blame the courts for caring more about order than justice, and for failing to hold government officials accountable to the rule of law.
Blame Corporate America for taking control of the government and calling the shots behind the scenes.
Most of all, blame the American people for not having objected louder, sooner and more vehemently when Barack Obama, George W. Bush and their predecessors laid the groundwork for this state of tyranny.
But wait, you say.
Americans are mobilizing. They are engaged. They are actively expressing their discontent with the government. They are demanding change. They are marching in the streets, picketing, protesting and engaging in acts of civil disobedience.
This is a good development, right? Isn’t this what we’ve been calling on Americans to do for so long: stand up and push back and say “enough is enough”?
Perhaps you’re right.