Former President Donald Trump arrives at New Orleans International Airport in New Orleans, Tuesday, July 25, 2023. Credit: Gerald Herbert / AP

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Donald Trump’s critics sometimes compare him to a man whose name arouses a strongly negative reaction: Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, who used his   1933 democratic election to quickly end democracy. But Hitler was an historic monster, so that comparison goes too far.

The better parallel could see Trump as “The Man Who Would Be King,” told in Rudyard Kipling’s story about the failed hopes of a would-be ruler.

The king in question is King George III of Great Britain, a man we like to dislike. His despotic rule was rejected in 1776 by the 13 American colonies that created the independent United States of America.

Their   Declaration of Independence is mostly a list of the king’s “repeated injuries and usurpations.” Some of those charges work for Trump.

“He has incited domestic insurrections amongst us.” Whether Trump is finally held legally responsible for causing the January 6 assault on the Capitol, his followers there believed he wanted them to overturn the presidential election by force. He “incited” them to insurrection.

“He has combined with others, giving his assent to acts of pretended legislation.” Agreeing to the illegal creation of counterfeit presidential electors in several states, who were meant to displace the legal winners on January 6, is a prime case of “pretended legislation.”

“He has obstructed the administration of justice.” When public officials, who had sworn allegiance to the Constitution, did not follow his orders, he either fired them (U.S. Attorney General   Jeff Sessions, FBI Director   James Comey) or threatened them ( Brad Raffensberger, Georgia secretary of state). He flouted a subpoena for presidential documents and hid them.

He was charged with “refusing to … encourage migration hither” to prevent population growth by new Americans. “Build the Wall!”

King George depended on his “divine right” to rule. The purpose of the Declaration and the Revolution was to replace the regal God-given authority with a government created by the people that could not be controlled by a single person.

The real Revolution was the democratic Constitution, created in a world almost totally dominated by countries under one person’s control. The balances struck between the federal government and the states and among the legislative, executive and judicial branches were meant to make royal-style rule impossible.

Now, Trump offers a different take on the Constitution. “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” he said while in office.

Article II of the Constitution states: “The executive power shall be invested in a President of the United States of America.” It does not say “all power” belongs to the president.

Article I states: “All legislative powers … shall be vested in a Congress of the United States….” Congress makes the federal laws. Period. Article II requires the president “to   take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” That falls far short of “the right to do whatever I want as president.”

If elected in 2024, Trump   proposes to act as if he has unlimited power. He has made clear that he would overrule the independent judgment of the Justice Department and regulatory agencies, refuse to spend money appropriated by Congress and replace thousands of civil service positions with his political appointees. And he would open an investigation of President Joe Biden.

It seems that he expects to have a compliant Congress go along with his plans. If he and a Republican congressional majority are elected in 2024, he will take their joint victory as a sign that the public approves of his plans. That’s why he is stating his intentions now.

In effect, Trump’s intentions would amend the Constitution. While Congress has delegated many of its powers to executive agencies, it retains the right to define their authority and displace or eliminate them. None exists without congressional authority.

The former president’s view reflects the “unitary executive theory,” which would give him complete control over every agency of government. The theory has been around as long as the Constitution. President George W. Bush was a believer. Ignoring Congress and the courts, he signed new laws while saying parts of them were unconstitutional and he would not enforce them.

This form of government may fall just short of absolute royal power, so long as there are regular, free elections. Those in charge may change; today’s dominators may be tomorrow’s dominated.

As for free elections, Trump has claimed that he should be able to   serve more than the constitutional two terms. Was it a joke? A trial balloon? Regal presidential status?

In more practical terms, Trump’s plans directly raise the issue of authoritarian versus democratic government. Should presidential elections give us leaders who do “whatever” they want or are subject to checks and balances? That could be the big question on the 2024 ballot.



Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.