Victor Davis Hanson writes 2017 and the End of Ethics in National Review Online:
During the next presidency, will the filibuster still be bad, or will it suddenly be good again? Will there be a nuclear option again? Recess appointments? Executive orders? Signing statements? Votes against extending the debt ceiling? Are these again to be excesses, or is it a case of “It depends”?
What will the media do if the next president hires lobbyists, ignores the revolving door, or wins record donations from Goldman Sachs — while promising to run the most transparent administration in history? Will minority activists hound the next president should their constituents’ employment rate and income nosedive? Or is the answer to be, “It depends on the president’s race”?
Yet, I am not so sure that it will be quite that simple for a decade or so. We have become inured to the press as an adjunct Ministry of Truth and to the notion that the president feels that he can do whatever he wishes without much worry over public audit. Such obsequiousness and exemption are now institutionalized, just as, after the divine Emperor Augustus, there was little accountability for the emperors or free speech allowed in criticizing them. So we are entering a new period in presidential history, and it may be difficult to go back to the status quo ante 2009, when reporters were not state megaphones and the president paid a price for not telling the truth.
Nor have we fully appreciated that a president who has supposedly taught constitutional law has done more to damage the Constitution than did Richard Nixon — and, so far, without consequences of any sort. The next president in theory can tap the communications of his opponents, pick and choose which laws are to be enforced and which are mere suggestions, and use federal agencies to monitor the politically suspect. He can go to, ignore, undermine, or praise the U.N. as he sees fit. He can bypass Congress to bomb a foreign country, and give pressure groups amnesty from any federal law he chooses. If the next president’s chief adviser claims that liberal Democrats are analogous to the mass-murdering Jonestown cult, would it really matter?
We have three years before January 2017. If we are to have any credible press left at all, it has just 36 months to rediscover its ethics and professionalism — or more or less forfeit its integrity for a generation. The president too must either start respecting the Constitution or expect that his successors will follow in his footsteps in pressing their agendas by any means necessary — while always citing the Obama example. Will the next president simply drop the employer-mandate portion of Obamacare? And if he did, would the media point out that he was not faithfully executing the laws that had been enacted?
Because we are now right in the middle of this conundrum, Americans often fail to appreciate how low we’ve sunk — and how little time our president and press have to restore the institutions that they have so undermined for such paltry political advantage.