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Abuse of Power and Our System of Checks and Balances

Abuse of Power and Our System of Checks and Balances

abuse of powerAbuse of power by anyone in an elected position, an appointed position, or in a position of authority over others is deadly for a system of government based on the dual foundations of the rule of law and the system of checks and balances.

When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they created a system of checks and balances because they knew absolute power corrupts absolutely.  No one branch of government has absolute power and the other branches serve as a check on each other branch.  That’s the way our country was founded and for more than 200 years it has worked pretty well.  However, when an individual, whether he is president, the director of the FBI, or a law enforcement officer acts as if he is above the law and accountable to no one we have a problem.  When President Clinton was impeached by the US House of Representatives in 1999, the articles of impeachment were clear in that he was being accused of an abuse of power and violating his oath of office.  While it remains to be seen what will happen to President Trump after former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony yesterday, one thing became crystal clear-Comey believes he wasn’t accountable to anyone.  That’s a dangerous line of thought.

If we take this to the local level, when law enforcement officers act as if they are a law unto themselves, we have a problem.  Just because they wear a badge and carry a gun, doesn’t give them unlimited authority.  They are to be held accountable to their supervisors, local government, and the people whom they’ve sworn to protect and serve.

This isn’t a tirade against President Trump, James Comey, or law enforcement.  It’s not a Republican or Democrat notion either.  It’s an acknowledgment as to how this country should operate.  President Nixon’s infamous quote to David Frost after he resigned from office, “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” is a famous example of a person in a position of authority that believes he is above the law because, in his understanding, he is acting in the public’s best interest.  That’s not true to the spirit of the Constitution or to the system of checks and balances.  It doesn’t matter if the person making that statement is a president, a director of a federal agency, or a cop.

Our system of government works and is sustainable because powerful people are supposed to be accountable to the rule of law and the other branches of government, not to mention the American people.  When this breaks down, we have anarchy.

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