As Donald Trump has closed in on the Republican nomination, people are getting nervous. Republican and Democratic figures look at his kind words for Vladimir Putin, or how he praised the Chinese for putting down protesters at Tiananmen Square, or the strangely complimentary way he speaks of Kim Jung Un executing his family members, and they think: What if we have a tyrant — an incipient fascist dictator — on our hands?
They're right to worry. For all the talk of the polarization in Washington, the truth is that both major parties under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have worked to remove the restraints on the presidency and drastically exaggerate its authority. If Donald Trump wants to wield nearly unlimited power, he's seeking an office that provides it.
The Bush administration brought you Abu Ghraib, indefinite detention, rendition, enhanced interrogation. It brought you the mundane humiliations of body-scans and finger-swabs with the TSA at your airport. Bush promised, in his insanely grandiose second inaugural, to usher in worldwide ideological revolution. For these very things Bush was praised by pundits like Robert Kagan, who criticize Trump as a fascist today.
The Bush days — when Americans could still get upset about the Feds looking at their library cards — seem quaint, don't they? Today we shrug at near-total surveillance of our digital lives. President Obama keeps a kill list. He simply announces that congressional gridlock grants him new extraordinary executive authority to stop enforcing immigration laws on millions. When Romney looked like a threat to become president, the Obama administration considered coming up with rules for killing strange foreigners. That impetus passed. And the president got used to handing over the power of life and death to the "priest-like presence" of CIA Director John Brennan, to whom Obama outsourced his conscience on drone killing.
Although he claims to be handing over a more peaceful world, Obama is giving his successor several time-bombs. He will bequeath Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton a Middle East in which American special forces are already on the ground in the midst of civil war and disorder in four states: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and, soon, Libya. In any one of these theaters, U.S. troops could be attacked or kidnapped, and Donald Trump's unusually-sensitive sense of honor and desire "to hit back 10 times as hard" would be triggered. Great thing, as Coach Bobby Knight said in his endorsement, that Trump has the "guts" to drop a nuclear bomb.
Why did the #NeverTrump movement fail? For the same reason that the Congress implicitly granted Kathleen Sebelius the right to tell Catholics when to buy birth control, or the same reason they demanded Secretary Clinton talk about her emails and not the CIA's mission in Benghazi. Congress transfers much of its legislative powers to the Executive, and all of its ability to check that branch to the Supreme Court.
Democrats are just as supine too. Did the Democratic Congress of 2006 use its time to put anyone from the Bush administration in jail for domestic spying, or to really grill the administration on the use of torture and rendition? Do Democrats put pressure on Obama over his expansive use of kill lists and drone warfare? Of course not. So we get the prospect of handing the keys of Gitmo to Trump.
In their lack of jealousy for their constitutional powers, in their opportunistic indifference when the president inserts American troops into a handful of civil wars in the Middle East without congressional approval, in their utter passivity and cravenness before the Executive branch, our ruling class has been implicitly crying out for the rule of a tyrant. Donald Trump is just answering the call.
And the danger doesn't end if he is defeated by Hillary Clinton. If the office of the presidency can turn George Bush's "humble foreign policy" to "setting a fire in the minds of men" or President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize into a paperweight for his kill list, surely the office will similarly corrupt Hillary Clinton. America will get a dictator someday, relatively soon. That's the job description we advert for in these elections.