This post is pretty basic, but it needs to be said. In this day and age there are a lot of “basic” things that need to be said about how our government works, how republics are maintained, and how a democratic society functions.
In case you missed, here is Trump adviser Stephen Miller suggesting on CBS’s Face the Nation that Donald Trump’s power to protect the country are “very substantial and will not be questioned.”
No Mr. Miller, that’s not how the United States government works. We have a system of checks and balances in this country for the very purpose of “questioning” every decision that the President makes.
The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
The reasons on which Montesquieu grounds his maxim are a further demonstration of his meaning. “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body” says he, “there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may arise lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.” Again “Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary controul, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor.”
Here is Madison in Federalist #48:
In a government, where numerous and extensive prerogatives are placed in the hands of a hereditary monarch, the executive department is very justly regarded as the source of danger, and watched with all the jealousy which a zeal for liberty ought to inspire. (See my post “Political Jealousy is a Laudable Passion“).
Here is Madison in Federalist #51:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to controul the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controuls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to controul the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to controul itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary controul on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Here is George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address:
The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern, some of them in our country and under our own eyes.
Here is Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia:
The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten hold on us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered.
For a nuanced explanation of all this I recommend Aaron Blake’s piece at The Washington Post.