But Trump’s bewilderingly frequent uses of expansive executive power and his own statements reveal a belief that he can, at all times, do what he wants as President to further personal and political goals.
A quickening trend
The President’s disregard for the idea that good governance requires distance from personal and political motives was evident from his first hours in office and has deepened ever since. In many ways, Trump has run his White House like the tight knit personal office in Trump Tower, filled with fixers cutting corners and subordinates and family members dedicated to his personal impulses.
And he stood up an official government commission to spare his blushes at losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. (The probe was wrapped up quietly after failing to substantiate Trump’s wild claims of millions of stolen votes).
It was the first inkling that the President believes that government officials — with an obligation to their oaths of office — should actually prioritize loyalty to him.
Trump’s power plays can be trivial, farcical and troubling
In its most extreme manifestation, Trump’s use of presidential power has carried authoritarian overtones. He all but admitted on NBC back in 2017 that he fired former FBI Director James Comey because he was overseeing the Russia investigation.
Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, revealed in a transcript of his call with President Volodymyr Zelensky and in the testimony of senior officials, was a direct attempt to hobble his presumptive opponent in November’s election, Democrat Joe Biden.
The President’s lawyers in the Senate impeachment trial hit on the highly contentious defense that abuse of power was not within the constitutional criteria for impeachment. This came after the White House concluded — in a disputed claim that tested the entire idea of checks and balances in the Constitution — that the impeachment probe was illegal.
The arguments prompted counter arguments by Democratic impeachment managers that Trump was effectively claiming for himself unaccountable, monarchial powers that insult the fundamental constitutional underpinnings of the United States.
Trump’s attitude, enshrined in political and legal precedent by the acquittal from the Republican-led Senate, calls into doubt the entire notion of congressional oversight.
But the defense was squarely within the President’s own perception of his scope of powers.