Daily Herald opinion: Supreme Court ruling means voters must double down on weighing a presidential candidate’s character

What hath the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed?

If former president Donald Trump is re-elected in November, we may get a pretty good idea. He has promised to weaponize the Justice Department to go after his political opponents – calling for a televised military tribunal to charge former Republican Rep. Liz Cheney with treason, and to jail President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, among other threats.

We’re still processing Monday’s court decision in The United States v. Trump, that gives U.S. presidents unprecedented freedom from prosecution and goes a long way toward abolishing a two-century old bedrock belief that our government consists of the three equal branches of executive, legislative and judicial.

Legal scholars point out that under the ruling, former President Richard Nixon could not have been tried. Nor could a president who trades defense secrets for foreign investments, sells pardons, orders the military to shoot into a crowd of protesters or migrants illegally crossing the border, or who orders the military to seize voting machines.

Where does this leave the American people?

There is no appealing the Supreme Court’s ruling. There is only public dissent, such as the kind filed by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson. But those dissents, deeply eloquent as they are, amount to words on paper.

Our only hope, then, lies in public action. Not boisterous, sign-waving demonstrations, although there’s nothing wrong with a little shouting.

No, the kind of action America needs is at the ballot box.

The only way to defeat the “imperial” presidency is with elected officials who refuse to use the higher office for personal gain and payback.

If there are no consequences to selfish and/or criminal behavior from a president, then our presidents must surely be imbued with empathy, a moral compass and enough self-discipline to avoid the temptation the Justices present. We should get behind candidates who are the most likely to put the nation above their own wants and needs.

Keep in mind, this is now a fight for the ages. The danger from the The United States v. Trump ruling isn’t just about the former president and current GOP candidate, nor will it pass once he is no longer in the picture.

The history of the presidency underscores that once presidential powers are expanded, presidents don’t give them back. In other words, this ruling is unlikely ever to be revisited. This is true regardless of party and regardless of the makeup of the Court.

We fear a future Wild West-type scenario where people of dubious character will be drawn to the presidency because once elected there will be no laws to restrain them from using the office to wreak ruin on their enemies or to enrich themselves with money, power, or both.

Most American voters take character into account when choosing a president, or at least we want to believe we are choosing a person with good character. Now, we argue, good character isn’t just a bonus. It’s the vital element.

This is scary stuff. We’ve always needed our presidents to be strong, compassionate and thoughtful people, smart, and good at politics to get things done for the country. We also now need them to be in it for the right reasons.

It's up to us. If you qualify to vote but aren’t registered, do it now. Only Americans can preserve American ideals.

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