Just Remember Richard Nixon

2 minute read
Kirsten Salyer is a writer and the former Deputy Editor of TIME Ideas

TIME spoke with Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and former Assistant Attorney General in the George W. Bush Administration, about the role of executive power in a Donald Trump presidency.

What checks will there be on a Donald Trump presidency?

The potential checks are many, including Congress and the Courts, the free press and many internal Executive branch watchdogs like inspectors generals, lawyers and the permanent bureaucracy. And of course the people in the next election.

Will they work?

It depends on what Trump tries to do. If he tries to follow through on pledges that are clearly unlawful—like re-starting waterboarding, or worse—I am sure the internal and external checks will prevent that. But there are many lawful decisions the president can make and implement that will not be checked. One obvious example concerns the domestic clean air regulations and the related international agreement President Obama famously forged. Trump can and likely will kill those. Constitutional checks do not prevent presidents who win elections from changing executive branch policies.

What will it mean for all three branches to be controlled by one party?

It will mean that Trump has an enormous opportunity to implement his agenda, especially in the short term.

Is there historic context to Trump’s approach to executive power?

Hard to say since we don’t really know what his “approach” is. To the extent he is promising to disregard or abuse the law, the obvious analogy is Richard Nixon. And the reaction to Nixon is an obvious guide.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.