After resigning in disgrace over the infamous Watergate affair, President Richard Nixon told an interviewer, “When the president does it that means that it is not illegal,” and everybody had a good laugh. Well, nobody is laughing now. Except perhaps Donald Trump.

The U.S. is not the country it was earlier this week—then Americans were citizens, now it appears they are subjects. Their Supreme Court ruled this week that their president has “absolute immunity” for “official acts.” Well, if a country’s leader is above the law then he is in effect a king, is he not, and his citizens subjects.

The United States has come full circle. Two and a half centuries ago it staged a revolution to distance itself from monarchy and now the Supreme Court has in effect restored it.

According to Chief Justice John Roberts: “At least with respect to the president’s exercise of his core constitutional powers, this immunity must be absolute. As for his remaining official actions, he is also entitled to immunity.”

The Court’s decision was 6-3, with all six conservative judges supporting the decision and all three liberal judges dissenting. And they dissented with vigour. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson described the decision as “a five-alarm fire that threatens to consume democratic self-governance and the normal operations of our government.”

And threaten democracy it does. One of the bedrocks of democracy is the Rule of Law which simply says we are all equal under the law, no exceptions. Its heart and soul is that it applies to the leaders of society as well as the led. You and I know that if we break the law we will pay the price; the question is will those at the top. If the Rule is honoured, the answer is yes. The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that in America, the answer for the guy at the very top is no. They have in effect trashed the Rule of Law.

It almost appears as if the Court is setting the stage for an autocracy. If this means that Donald Trump can avoid conviction and punishment for his crimes, his path to the presidency is smoothed. And if he should win the presidency, he will have extraordinary powers. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out, “The relationship between the president and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably. In every use of official power, the president is now a king above the law.”

We might think Justice Sotomayor is exaggerating but in the times of Trump, who has promised to use the Justice Department to pursue his enemies if he’s elected, her fears are well founded. Indeed, if the president is no longer bound by law, it’s difficult to see how the Justice Department can even remain an independent authority.

Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the majority decision, claimed fear of criminal prosecution could interfere with “vigorous, decisive, and speedy execution” of the president’s duties. Incredibly, the Chief Justice of the United States seems to be saying that the president has to be free to break the law in order to do his job. What is that court coming to.

Democracy has experienced another sad day in the U.S. They are adding up.

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