Trump is a catastrophic fourth branch of government

By Harlan Ullman
Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of criminal proceedings on the second day of jury selection at Manhattan criminal court in New York on Tuesday. Pool photo by Mark Peterson/UPI
Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of criminal proceedings on the second day of jury selection at Manhattan criminal court in New York on Tuesday. Pool photo by Mark Peterson/UPI | License Photo

April 17 (UPI) -- Revolting against autocratic rule from Britain, the drafters of the Constitution purposely created three branches of government to prevent any single branch from becoming all powerful in a system based on a balance and division of power. Article I established the legislature underscoring which branch the Founding Fathers intended to be primus inter pares. Article II was the executive branch meant to carry out the laws and rules set by Congress. And Article III was judiciary. Interestingly, the judiciary was not assigned any specific authority to declare laws unconstitutional.

Without any legal or political precedent including amending the Constitution, however, seemingly out of nowhere a fourth branch materialized -- perhaps a political "big bang" that created the universe. Hence arose the Trump branch of government or TTBG. Former President Donald Trump has achieved a political masterstroke unmatched in 235 years. He is now the fourth branch.


How can this be? First, Trump appointed a majority of Supreme Court justices. Supposed to be independent, it is hard to find cases where Trump's views have not been maintained in the court's finding. The test will be when one or more of the four legal cases against Trump is appealed and that appeal reaches the high court. Some will argue presidential immunity is already beginning that test.

But unless the court completely loses all objectivity and common sense, it must conclude all presidents are accountable. The only relief for presidential misconduct specified in the Constitution of impeachment and conviction is insufficient. However, as the court ended Roe vs. Wade on a woman's right to choose dealing with pregnancy and, in essence, did the president's bidding, one hopes the immunity finding will not be so influenced. If it is, God help the Republic.

About the legislature, Trump has quelled any dissent through the threat of primarying -- that is supporting an opponent -- to end the incumbency of someone who falls out of line with the president. In the Senate, Trump eviscerated Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who had the longest tenure as a GOP leader. Although Sen. Lindsay Graham may have parted company over abortion, Trump can easily tolerate minor defections. And if Republicans win the Senate in November and Trump is elected, he will control that body as no president before him has.


In the House, Speaker Mike Johnson, as some of his predecessors, made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to gain the former president's blessings and support. Because the margin of control of the House is razor thin, any speaker can be blackmailed or threatened by a single member of his party that could shift control to Democrats. Trump however hits from both ends.

His whims become actions members must take. And by deploying right-wing firebrands such as Marjorie Taylor Green as ground troops to attack those not in line with Trump, the House is under pressure from both the top and bottom. It is hard to recall any president who had that hold on both Houses even when one party had huge majority control of Congress.

About the presidency, this may be the most sinister consequence of TTBG. When Trump took office in January 2017, to say he was ignorant of how government and the presidency worked would be understatement. The same applied to foreign policy.

Trump however is a quick learner. Armed with a handbook written by the Heritage Foundation called "Project 2025" on staffing his government if elected, make no mistake. Trump knows how to use the levers of power, legally or otherwise. His calls for retribution and revenge on those he considered enemies or opponents are not rhetoric. Facing nearly 90 specific charges in four separate cases and scrutinized in the Mueller report that was defanged to eliminate turning any of his alleged wrongdoings into criminal indictments, Trump has insights into weaponizing the legal system to his advantage.


If the Founding Fathers were to return to present day Washington and observe the condition of the system they created, predicting their reactions would not be difficult. Stunned, appalled and perplexed might represent a few. If asked about his comment that America can have a republic as long as it can keep it, Benjamin Franklin might likely confirm his belief. But he would surely conclude that the days of keeping a republic were certainly numbered.

How and where TTBG might take the country is purely speculative. Yet, that speculation is not likely to be in the nation's and the public's interest.

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, a senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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