Robert Reich: Trump’s Path To Dictatorship – OpEd


Trump allies have threatened that if he regains the presidency, he will invoke the “unitary executive” theory as the basis for using the Justice Department to persecute his political enemies, take over the FBI, usurp the authority of independent agencies like the FTC and even the Federal Reserve, and substitute loyalists for independent civil servants. 

The “unitary executive” theory posits that the Constitution gives the president authority to control all executive action under Article II, whose first line states that “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States.” 

As former Justice Scalia — a proponent of the theory — asserted in his dissent in Morrison v. Olson (1988), “this does not mean some of the executive power, but all of the executive power.”

Make no mistake: The “unitary executive” theory is thinly disguised justification for authoritarianism. If implemented, it would be a major step for the anti-democracy movement. 

Two of the most influential figures behind this effort are Jeffrey B. Clark and Russell T. Vought. During Trump’s presidency, Vought was director of the Office of Management and Budget. Clark, who oversaw the Justice Department’s civil and environmental divisions, was the only senior official at the department who tried to help Trump overturn the 2020 election. 

Both are now acting as Trump’s brain trust to put the “unitary executive” theory into action if Trump wins. 

A personal note: I worked in the Justice Department in 1974 and 1975, under Attorney General Edward Levi, when the department was trying to regain the legitimacy it had lost under Richard Nixon — who had used the Justice Department to go after his “enemies.” 

Central to restoring public trust were new guidelines. They allowed a president to set broad policies for the department (such as directing it to put greater resources and emphasis on particular types of crimes or adopting certain positions before the Supreme Court). But they barred a president from getting involved in specific criminal case decisions absent extraordinary circumstances, such as if a case has foreign policy implications.

Unfortunately, those guidelines were never put into law. 

Nonetheless, if Trump is reelected, he would need at least five justices on the Supreme Court to go along with his “unitary executive” theory. 

He is dangerously close to having them already. Last month, in United States ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources (decided June 16), three Supreme Court justices suggested they’d employ the “unitary executive” theory to invalidate whistleblowers’ lawsuits because the president didn’t appoint them. 

How alarmed should we be?

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

4 thoughts on “Robert Reich: Trump’s Path To Dictatorship – OpEd

  • July 21, 2023 at 6:51 am

    The nerve!—to scare monger about how Trump will go after his enemies while Biden has already weaponized the entire Justice Department to attack Trump, while protecting his son & their joint influence-peddling scheme. Pure projection—whatever Democrats accuse Republicans of is a reflection of their actions. Robert Reich, you are a lousy, lying partisan piece of

    • July 21, 2023 at 7:29 pm

      John, you remind me of so many of my friends in Florida. I will say to you the same I have said to them. Whatever Trump tells you to believe, you believe. Whatever he tells you to say, you say. Whatever he tells you to do, you do. Open your eyes and start thinking for yourself. If you then still feel the same way, recognize that you favor a dictatorial, authoritarian form of government. In that case go with God and go in peace.

  • July 21, 2023 at 3:44 pm

    we should be afraid, very afraid. These are the steps that led to Hitler, Mussolini, Putin. When you are okay w some people losing their rights (reproductive choice, voting rights, book banning) it only leaves you and you are next. Strong men ate not strong, they are destructive of your freedom. Be very afraid.

  • July 22, 2023 at 11:51 pm

    First posted on flipboard;
    Depoliticizing the three letter departments/agencies, including DOJ, FBI and IRS. Accepting the decisions of the Supreme Court, no matter how unpopular. Strengthening free speech rather than resticting it. This is the only way to ensure democracy remains intact.
    If this does not happen… When the pendulum, of politics, swings back the other way you have a very real “Path To Dictatorship.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *