America’s capital is more on edge now than at perhaps any other time since the eve of the Civil War in 1860. The city was tense during Watergate, of course. But as much as Richard Nixon tested the constitutional system, as a lawyer who had served in government for decades, he recognized that there are limits that even a president dares not transgress. And now, after President Donald Trump, the First Lady, and top aides all tested positive for COVID-19, there is more uncertainty in Washington than at any time in living memory.
The nonmedical crisis now facing the United States is that Trump doesn’t recognize limits. There is scant indication that he even understands, let alone respects, America’s constitutional order, the survival of which depends on whether those to whom power has been entrusted exercise restraint.
Trump, recklessly breaking precedents and norms, has consistently attempted to disable any checks on his behavior. He insists that Article II of the Constitution “gives me the right to do whatever I want to do.” And he is buttressed in his view by Attorney General William Barr, who is the kind of fealty-first law-enforcement chief that Trump has craved.