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Donald Trump and Boris Johnson on the brink

TO SEE them together in New York, the two charlatans, after all their nationalist-revival shenanigans, encountering the quiet force of the law was an exquisite thing. I am not sure I have ever experienced Schadenfreude in purer form.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying President Donald Trump had "seriously violated the Constitution" and a formal impeachment inquiry would therefore begin. Baroness Brenda Hale, president of Britain's highest court, telling Prime Minister Boris Johnson that his advice to the queen to prorogue Parliament was "unlawful, void and of no effect". That two dignified women delivered the messages on the same day to these brothers in boorishness - men-children who have made a mockery of the special relationship between Britain and the United States - seemed particularly apt.

MrTrump, according to the reconstructed transcript of a July 25 call, tried to get the Ukrainian president "to do us a favour" by speaking with his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, along with Attorney General William Barr over potential dirt that might sully Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate in the 2020 election. Mr Johnson manoeuvered to railroad through a British exit from the European Union on Oct 31 via the suspension of Parliament for several weeks. The machinations were of a piece with the manipulative habits of the two egos-in-chief.

The law is not malleable or optional. It is what stands between civilisation and barbarism, democracy and despotism. Just ask the youth of Hong Kong, who know what extradition into the lawlessness of dictatorial China would mean.


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Mr Trump's bluntest expression of his view of the Constitution to which he swore an oath was this: "Article II allows me to do whatever I want." It does no such thing. The framers, through checks and balances, were intent on limiting power, not unfettering it. They knew that absolute power corrupts absolutely. America did not go through a revolution to re-create in the new world the monarchical diktat of the old.

Richard Nixon took a similar view of the powers of his office. "When the president does it, that means it's not illegal," he said. Things did not end up too well for Dick.

Mr Trump has never understood what his oath of office meant. How could he? This man was the product of two things: his family business, where no constraint on his authority existed, and contractors were there to be stiffed; and a reality TV show that prized outrage, indulged his megalomania and gave viewers a high by mainlining cruelty.

Truth was fungible. It could always be fixed through a touch of Photoshop or a pliant attorney general. It was never about implacable facts that might hunt you down.

Accordingly, Mr Trump chose to play Chicago politics with Ukraine, as if a sovereign nation at war on its eastern border with Vladimir Putin's Russia was there mainly to be squeezed for his reelection campaign. He has trashed the press, judges, the Federal Reserve, members of Congress - anyone or anything that stood up to him. He has set up operations at the White House as a shambolic exercise in terror. His Cabinet fawns, as Saddam Hussein's once did, scrambling to find loftier expressions of adulation that might delay execution.

Just ask the White House operatives who wanted the US warship John S McCain moved "out of sight" during Mr Trump's trip to Japan this year, or the National Weather Service hounded for dismissing Mr Trump's weird obsession that a nonexistent hurricane threat to Alabama existed. Never before in history have meteorologists come so close to being a bellwether of creeping autocracy.

I don't know if the impeachment inquiry serves what must be the fundamental goal of Democrats: to remove Donald Trump from office as soon as possible. It will increase the political volume; Mr Trump thrives on volume. It will further polarise the United States; Mr Trump thrives on division, not unity. It has little chance of leading to his removal because, even if the House charges him with high crimes and misdemeanours, the Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to vote to convict him. It may make life more difficult for swing-state Democratic representatives.

All of this worries me, but in the end I don't care. The balance has been tipped. Nobody can accuse Ms Pelosi of rashness. She has been deliberate. She said: "No one is above the law." That principle must be cardinal.


Mr Trump's assault on truth, the press, institutions, civility and the law has been relentless. His unfitness for office has been so glaring as to be breathtaking. As Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, wrote: "There comes a time when strategic political calculations must yield to principle if pragmatism is not to entail complicity." He continued: "The impeachment process is integral to the architecture our founders created for the preservation of democracy." For Congress to ignore what Mr Trump has done would be to set a dangerous example for future generations.

On both sides of the Atlantic, we have witnessed two men making audacious claims to power and suffering resounding rebukes from two separate but equal branches of government that made clear the executive is not above the law - in Britain from its highest court applying an unwritten constitution, in the United States from Congress exercising its constitutional prerogatives. An important lesson is this: It takes independent institutions to make the law meaningful and hold the executive to account. That is why dictatorships, or illiberal systems like Hungary's, seek to suppress them.

Mr Johnson is now in a very tight corner. His acts have been found to be unlawful; he should resign. He won't. But if the gods of retribution have really awoken, he will be gone soon and Britain will yet avoid the national disaster, advanced by his lies, of exit from the European Union. NYTIMES

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