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‘The Definition of Totalitarian’: Lawyers Erupt as American President Asserts That His ‘Authority Is Total’


President Donald Trump uttered a variation of his memorable campaign declaration “I alone can fix it” on Monday’s edition of the Coronavirus Task Force briefing: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.”

Earlier in the day, President Trump incorrectly said that because he’s president he could force the states and their governors to reopen for business.

“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect,” he tweeted. “It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”

Law&Crime has analyzed at length Trump’s ability to strong-arm states into getting back to business, but that idea is different idea from declaring states “open” regardless of how state chief executives feel about it.

Unsurprisingly, Trump was grilled about this during the Monday briefing. He doubled and tripled down, asserting that his “authority is total.”

“The president of the United States calls the shots,” he said. “They,” the states, “can’t do anything without the approval of the president.”

“And that’s the way it’s gotta be,” Trump said. “It’s total.”

National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime in an email that Trump’s remarks were “so laughably ridiculous they don’t merit a substantive response.”

“He is wrong. End of story,” he said.

Anti-Trump attorney George Conway kicked off the social media eruption, however, by citing to Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952), a landmark Supreme Court decision rife with snappy lines from justices concerned about presidential overreach.

“It is not a pleasant judicial duty to find that the President has exceeded his powers, and still less so when his purposes were dictated by concern for the Nation’s wellbeing, in the assured conviction that he acted to avert danger,” Justice Felix Frankfurter famously wrote.

Lawyers’ alarmed reactions to these Trump claims of “plenary” authority were numerous and foreboding.

Where are the conservative Republicans?

“The literal definition of a totalitarian government.”



“Authoritarian rhetoric” from a president who has “wielded […] power ineffectually” during the pandemic.

Not what he said days ago…

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: “We have a Constitution. We don’t have a king.”

[Image via CSPAN screengrab]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.