- Can a sitting president be prosecuted?
- Does he have the constitutional power to pardon himself?
- Does the 25th Amendment allow removal for megalomania and low impulse control?
- And if the president decides to unleash thermonuclear “fire and fury” on North Korea, is there anything Congress—or anyone else—can do to stop him?
At this juncture, the prospect that Trump’s erratic behavior might irreparably weaken the presidency seems like an odd thing to worry about, yet some people do. “If Congress and the courts diminish the power of the office to constrain him,” Eric Posner and Emily Bazelon wonder in the New York Times, “could they leave the office too weak for future presidents to be able to govern effectively?”
It’s early days yet, but I’ll hazard a guess: no. Nearly every modern president has left the office stronger—and more dangerous—than he found it. So far, Trump appears unlikely to depart from that pattern.
Barack Obama left office as the first two‐termer in American history to have been at war every single day of his presidency. In his last year alone, U.S. forces dropped over 26,000 bombs on seven different countries. Trump blew past that tally nine months into his tenure. Indeed, this putatively “isolationist” president has deepened entanglements on every battlefield Obama left him, ramping up airstrikes, kill‐or‐capture missions, and civilian casualties.
The legal justification for all this is the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force Congress passed three days after 9/11, and which Trump’s two predecessors transformed into an enabling act for globe‐spanning war. Far from resisting mission creep, the Trump administration has employed that authority for everything from boots on the ground in Tongo Tongo to a “Make Afghanistan Great Again” troop surge.
Outside of the ever‐expanding purview of the AUMF, the Trump administration believes it has enormous inherent powers over war and peace. And as a practical matter, they may be right: “don’t expect the law or lawyers to provide avenues to constrain the President from using force in North Korea,” warns Jack Goldsmith, who served in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration.