News & Politics

'I'm the Only One That Matters': Trump's Chilling Imperial Power Grab

Trump has never understood the limits on presidential power. Now he’s trying to make them disappear.

Photo Credit: a katz /

President Donald Trump is overseas right now, doing personal appearances at his properties and making a fool of himself. So far, he's asked Japanese car makers to start making cars in the United States, apparently ignorant of the fact that three out of four Japanese-branded cars and trucks are already manufactured in America. And he hawked U.S. military equipment as if he were selling Trump steaks on YouTube.

That wasn't the worst of it. He also told American and Japanese troops that no nation should "underestimate American resolve." Then he quipped, "Every once in a while, in the past, they underestimated us. It was not pleasant for them, was it?"

Trump's previous foreign trips have also been embarrassing, but he seems more off-kilter than usual this time. That's obviously because of the pressure he's under back home, with the indictments of his former campaign officials by special counsel Robert Mueller. That pressure has once again brought out into the open the authoritarian impulses that are becoming more and more pronounced by the day.

Back when Trump took out full-page ads calling for capital punishment and allowing police to brutalize citizens, he was just another tabloid blowhard. And during the presidential campaign, when he endorsed torture and war crimes and made racist comments about a judge's Mexican heritage, people assumed he was just being hyperbolic. When he repeatedly declared his opponent guilty of crimes, even spitting out the nasty jibe, "If I were president, you'd be in jail," at Hillary Clinton in a presidential debate, nobody thought he actually meant it. But after more than nine months of his presidency, it's become clear that Trump truly has no respect for the rule of law.

Trump's authoritarian tendencies are showing up in other ways as well. Axios reports that when he met with Native American tribal leaders and they complained about land use regulations that prevented them from extracting energy resources, he responded, "But now it's me, the government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here. So what I'm saying is, just do it." Trump may actually believe he has the unilateral power to lift any regulation he wants to, and he unquestionably wishes that were true.

He recently told reporters, "My attitude is the only one that matters," when it comes to dealing with North Korea, adding that he is "stronger and tougher" than his advisers. Similarly, when Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked Trump last week whether he planned to fill appointments at the State Department, he replied, "Let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be."

We don't know how much this president really understands about the limits of his authority. And we don't know how far the members of his own party and law enforcement officials who support him are willing to go. But we know what he would "love" to do because he's told us. He would love to use the police power of the federal government for his own purposes. By firing Comey and pardoning Arpaio, he's already pushed the boundaries. This used to be called abuse of power. Under Trump it's business as usual.


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Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.