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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Omnipotent Government, Not Trump, Is the Problem


Many of the people who are critics of President Trump don’t realize that they themselves are partly responsible for much of what Trump is doing. That’s because over the years they have supported the assumption of dictatorial powers by the president. In doing so, they always assumed that their favorite ideal candidate would end up being the one wielding and exercising such powers.  They assumed the risk that someone like Trump would end up being the one doing so.

The United States was founded as a limited-government republic. What that means was that the charter that brought the federal government into existence strictly limited the powers of the president and the other branches of the government. The idea was that no one should be trusted with dictatorial powers, not even people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

That notion of limited government has been jettisoned in modern times. The president now wields powers any dictator would relish.

Consider Trump’s imposition of tariffs and his initiation of trade wars against various nations. He’s calling the shots. He decides, in a willy-nilly, arbitrary manner, how much in tariffs to impose against any nation in the world. If that nation retaliates, Trump wields the power to up the ante and impose even more tariffs. Or if another nation gives him what he wants, Trump can simply reduce or even eliminate the tariffs on that particular nation.

In other words, he doesn’t have to go to Congress for approval on any of this. He himself decides. That is classic dictatorial power.

The same applies to economic sanctions. Trump wields the omnipotent power to impose them on anyone or any regime in the world. Neither the federal courts nor Congress dares to interfere, and if they did, Trump and his national-security establishment would ignore them.

Trump has just threatened Iran with war.  If he wants to initiate such a war, all he has to do is just do it. He’s got the entire U.S. military and the CIA at his disposal. They will follow whatever orders he issues. If Trump says: Attack and invade North Korea, they will do it. Iran? They will do it. Syria? They will do it. Uruguay? They will do it.

Legally, under the Constitution, Trump is required to secure a congressional declaration of war before he can initiate a war. But no president has complied with that part of the Constitution since World War II, and Trump isn’t about to become the first. He wields the total, dictatorial power to declare and wage war and he isn’t about to give that up.

Along with his national-security establishment, Trump wields the power to kill anyone in the world, including American citizens. All they have to do so is say that the victim is a terrorist who poses a threat to “national security.” This particular power is omnipotent. No federal court will review it or second-guess it. Congress is not going to interfere and even if tried, Trump and any other president would ignore the interference.

The same power applies with respect to torture and indefinite detention. Trump, the military, and the CIA wield the omnipotent power to arrest people, including Americans, incarcerate them indefinitely, and torture them. All they have to do is label the victim a terrorist who poses a threat to “national security.” The federal courts and Congress are not going to interfere, and the president, the Pentagon, and the CIA would pay them no mind if they did.

The power to kill, torture, and indefinitely incarcerate people without trial is the ultimate in dictatorial power. Trump wields it. Anyone elected president wields such power.

That’s not the way things were meant to be. Limited government doesn’t mean that dictatorial power is being exercised gently, prudently, or wisely. It means that the president and the rest of the government do not even possess dictatorial powers, much less exercise them.

Think of it this way: Assume that your worst enemy or the worst possible person you can imagine is going to be president. Then ask yourself whether you want to vest dictatorial power in that person.

That’s what modern-day Americans did not do. In abandoning the principles of limited government, they hoped and assumed that their favorite candidate would be the one wielding the dictatorial powers as president.

And then the worst happened from everyone’s perspective: Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Everyone’s nightmare on one side or the other. Either Clinton would be wielding the dictatorial powers or Trump would. Either way, the freedom and well-being of the American people were going to suffer.

The solution? No, the solution is not to get rid of Trump and replace him with Hillary or anyone else. The solution is the return to founding principles, among which is the concept of a limited-government republic. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, put it well: “In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.