Is President Donald J. Trump a tyrant? That question has been raised before by his critics and detractors. It deserves more thoughtful answers. “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms,” said French author and philosopher Voltaire. That’s sound advice for civil conversation and for civil writing as well.
The word “tyrant” is defined variously as an "absolute ruler who governs arbitrarily without constitutional or other restrictions,” and as “a ruler who exercises power in a harsh, cruel manner; oppressor." Also, as “A tyrannical or despotic person.”
In my view, Trump is not truly a tyrant yet, but his rhetoric reveals he would like to be. “When somebody’s president of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump has boldly asserted.
But assertions are not facts, and the fact is President Trump’s authority and power are limited by the Constitution. And rightly so.
The oath President Trump took upon being inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States in 2016 is clear and cogent: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Despite his solemn “Oath of Office,” President Trump has often treated our Constitution like a menu, invoking it at his pleasure and ignoring it at his displeasure.
Still, our Constitution, with 27 Amendments, judicial interpretation, congressional elaboration and presidential practices, is alive and reasonably well. It divides power among our three branches of national government. It includes the well-known, but not always followed, system of checks and balances. It also allocates power between the federal government and the states. Our Constitution gives us the most comprehensive protection for individual rights and liberties of any nation on earth.
President Trump would be wise to read, and heed, the first seven words of the Preamble to our Constitution,“We the People of the United States,” not some dictator or tyrant, are the true source of sovereignty in the USA.
However, we must exercise our participation, power and influence, at the polls and elsewhere. Otherwise, we could succumb to the evils of apathy and ignorance and lose our representative democracy.
Finally, personalities aside, Donald Trump is not the “Commander in Chief” of you and me, despite what we hear from those in the media who should know better. Instead, he is our public servant and our president, for now anyway.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.