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A Pandora’s Box for the Supreme Court

/ Director - 2 July 2024

The ruling introduced the unprecedented principle that any US President can legally subvert the institutions. It has changed the US and the terms of its competition with Russia and China.

Did the Supreme Court ruling open a Pandora’s box for the United States and the world? Looking at it from Rome it’s all very puzzling and can spin Machiavellian thoughts.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that former President Donald J. Trump is entitled to some level of immunity from criminal prosecution, a decision that may effectively delay the trial of the case against him on charges of plotting to subvert the 2020 election.

A flurry of public criticisms ensued; here are just a few samples:

“The Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority fundamentally altered American democracy on Monday, awarding the President a sweeping and novel immunity when he weaponizes the power of his office for corrupt, violent, or treasonous purposes. This near-insurmountable shield against prosecution for crimes committed while in office upends the structure of the federal government, elevating the presidency to a king-like status high above the other branches.”[i]

“Today’s decision to grant former presidents criminal immunity reshapes the institution of the Presidency. It makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of Government, that no man is above the law. Relying on little more than its own misguided wisdom about the need for “bold and unhesitating action” by the President… the Court gives former President Trump all the immunity he asked for and more … The main takeaway of today’s decision is that all of a President’s official acts, defined without regard to motive or intent, are entitled to immunity that is “at least … presumptive,” and quite possibly “absolute.”[ii]

“The Constitution, after all, states that the president “shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” So, if presidential authority is “conclusive and preclusive” when presidents exercise their constitutionally granted powers, the Court appears to have ruled that yes, Trump could order the military to assassinate one of his political opponents. And nothing can be done to him for it.”[iii]

Trump’s advisor and ideologue Steve Bannon had just declared:[iv]

“Project 2025 and others are working on it — to immediately focus on immigration, the forever wars and on the fiscal and the financial. And simultaneously the deconstruction of the administrative state and going after the complete, total destruction of the deep state. In the first 100 days — this is going to be different than ’16 — we will have 3,000 political appointees ready to go.”

On July 1st in a televised speech US president Joe Biden took up the challenge and described the ruling as a “dangerous precedent”. Biden said the judgment undermined the “rule of law” and was “a terrible disservice” to Americans.

Therefore, this is a problem now: What’s to stop Biden from acting against Trump’s plans to subvert the US? Biden might justify his actions “to save the Republic” and go scot-free. One could argue that, as the Democrats risk losing the vote, if Biden doesn’t act, he could usher in a dictatorship; if he does, America won’t be the same again.

So, the ruling has already deeply changed America. If Biden doesn’t act, what guarantees are there that Trump, or any other future president, won’t do it either? As Mao might say, the US president is now “wu fa, wu tian“—bound by no law or higher authority.

Between 2015 and 2016, after a series of conversations with Angelo Codevilla, I concluded that Trump would win. In early 2020, when I saw that Trump was underestimating COVID-19, I believed he would lose. If, after the loss, he had conceded defeat, he could potentially be president again now. Trump’s statement, essentially arguing, “If I don’t win, Biden rigged the elections,” destroys any sense of democracy and undermines the US’s most significant assets—its system and values.

The Supreme Court ruling has opened the gates to fears that America could be lost if Trump wins.

Trump’s followers argue there was vote rigging in 2020. But vote shenanigans have existed since voting began; in Ancient Greece, some believed drawing lots was fairer than voting. Kennedy was elected amid suspected vote-rigging, but Nixon conceded. Bush Junior’s first election win was not too clear, yet Gore conceded. What is at stake is the system and the values it projects worldwide. Without it, American leaders would be like any other, and Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping might be considered better than Biden or Trump combined. Without that system, Putin or Xi Jinping could undermine America and turn the world upside down.

Did the Supreme Court fully consider the broad implications of its ruling? It grants a blank check to Biden, who, over the weekend, was considering withdrawing from the election due to his poor performance in the debate with Trump.

Yet now, until he steps down from office, Biden could do whatever he wants. This could last for an unspecified time—seven months if not re-elected, or four months, followed by four more years with re-election. Then, if Trump’s January 6 actions are not considered insurrection, Biden’s future actions won’t be judged as such either. In other words, Trump, to save himself from a relatively small danger, opened himself up to much larger jeopardy. What will happen to him if Biden decides to act on his new powers granted by the Supreme Court?

Why shouldn’t Biden prevent a publicly announced plan to subvert American institutions, as detailed by Bannon? It would be a dereliction of his duties not to.

Being old and frail, Biden might even be a better guarantee of democracy in the US, as he is unlikely to extend his hold on power after the next four years. These are not mere hypothetical scenarios; they are realities. The Supreme Court has handed Biden an incredible and unprecedented instrument. He will be criticized regardless of what he chooses to do with it. Thus, he may only choose the lesser evil. Then, perhaps it’ll start a path to restore US values and democracy.

[i] https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2024/07/supreme-court-john-roberts-opinion-trump-immunity-nightmare.htm

[ii] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/supreme-court-gives-trump-permission-to-stand-above-law.html

[iii] https://www.vox.com/scotus/358292/supreme-court-trump-immunity-dictatorship

[iv] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/07/01/opinion/steve-bannon-trump.html

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Francesco Sisci
Director - Published posts: 73

Francesco Sisci, Taranto, 1960 is an Italian analyst and commentar on politics, with over 30 years experience in China and Asia.

1 Comment
    F. Tuijn

    Trump didn’t dare publish the still secret part of the Warren Report on the murder of J F Kennedy. If he succeeds in reforming the US state as Bannon describes he would destroy the power of the murdering institution(s).
    He risks being murdered too and I don’t expect him to succeed.

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