In 1215, at rural Runnymede, England, less than 5 miles from today’s Heathrow
Airport, Western civilization took 0one of its momentous steps ever. King John, the inept son of the powerful Henry II, was forced to accept what came to be known as the Magna Carta. 25 Barons were the “sureties,” the strong regional leaders who were to hold the King accountable to the law.
There is a double significance to the Magna Carta. First, it meant that the King is accountable to his subjects, though at first this meant only a handful of Barons. Nonetheless, it was a major reversal of the usual pattern. Second, it meant that the King was accountable to the law of the land, an idea unheard of before this time. the King’s authority was no longer to be seen as absolute.
As English history developed, the Magna Carta turned out to be merely a small seed. King John never honored his agreement, nor did the English kings for several centuries to come., but the idea never died. England eventually matured into a democracy in the form of a constitutional monarchy.
As this happened in England, a new land was being developed across the Atlantic. This New World benefited directly from the English experience and continued the arc of progress toward a solid democracy. Resistance to the very idea of an authoritative monarchy was part of the air the Americans breathed.
American presidents have often chafed at the limitations on their powers but none was so blatant as Richard Nixon. He said — and you should memorize this because it is going to come to mind often as we watch trump fight against our democracy — “If the president does something, that means it is legal.”
He could not have found any other sentence more anti-American. Nixon rejected the whole development of democracy from Magna Carta onward. He betrayed an incredible ignorance of more than 7 centuries of Western history and spoke like a Medieval tyrant.
And now, by democratic means, the American people have elected someone who hubris exceeds that of Nixon. Not even inaugurated, trump is showing his disregard for the Constitution and the law of the land. Flag burners? Strip them of citizenship (which cannot be done on any legal basis) and exile them. Illegal to appoint someone to the cabinet if he has being on active military duty at any time during the last 7 years? Change the law. Energy Department employs some scientists who believe in human-caused global warming? Find their names, identify all their contacts, root ’em out.
trump has no clue whatsoever what it means to be president of the United States. He thinks like a dictator and shows every sign of intending to stay that way. America is facing a severe change in the person of an anti-democracy president. And it is going to hurt.