The Framers of the Constitution built a structure to assure that power could not be concentrated in one branch of government. They especially wanted to avoid even the possibility that a single person, the president, could become a tyrant. The Senate gives advice and consent on Presidential appointments to high office. Presidential actions are subject to judicial review. The president has the power to pardon a person convicted of a crime as a hedge against judicial excesses. Only Congress has the power to remove a sitting federal judge or the President from office. Separation of powers and checks and balances are the Constitutional safeguards against tyranny. The Founding Fathers were clear – they did not want the Presidency to become a cult of personality.

But that's exactly what Donald Trump wants – except he calls it "loyalty." When Macy's department stores dropped Candidate Trump's clothing lines after his first foray into insulting Mexicans, he tweeted they were disloyal. Candidate Trump asked for loyalty, not for votes, from his supporters. When Sens. Paul Ryan and John McCain expressed doubts about Trump's campaign, he tweeted about their disloyalty. When Acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to enforce Trump's travel ban, he fired her because she "betrayed the Department of Justice." Betrayal is the opposite of loyalty. President Trump equates dissent with disloyalty. But what did Trump say Ryan, McCain and Yates were disloyal to – not their oaths of office to uphold and defend the Constitution. Trump accused them of being disloyal to him. Sunday, he tweeted his displeasure at congressional Republicans, writing "they do very little to protect their President."

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Trump's interactions with former FBI director James Comey also revolve around personal loyalty. Trump is alleged to have demanded a pledge of loyalty to him. Comey refused. Shortly afterward, Trump fired him. How far would Trump go to rid himself of his perceived enemies? Multiple sources report that he considered putting up $10 million to defeat Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, one of his more outspoken conservative critics.

Last week, Trump appointed a new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. In his first public appearance in that job, he repeatedly proclaimed loyalty to Trump, saying no less than five times, he "loved" this President. Scaramucci didn't promise to tell the truth. His job is to get the President's distorted message out.

And what about that separation of powers thing? Trump's attacks on the judicial branch include accusing more than one judge of being prejudiced against him. He excoriated the 9th circuit "so-called" judges who stayed his travel ban. Even Trump's Supreme Court nominee said that was "demoralizing." And Trump declared the judges who blocked his sanctuary city executive order were personally biased against him. No, these judges did not bear personal animus toward Donald Trump. They answered to a higher calling, honoring their oaths to defend the Constitution.

Last week, Trump's bizarre views on loyalty touched one of his most dedicated supporters, Jeff Sessions. In an interview with the New York Times, Trump said of his Attorney General, "So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president." It also raises significant questions about investigations into the President's ties to Russia. Apparently, Trump thinks the AG's job is to insulate him from inquiries into those connections. Trump either doesn't know or doesn't care that the AG is the country's lawyer, not the President's personal attorney.

And that brings us to Trump's threats to interfere with those investigation. He launched full-fledged attacks on deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, and Special Investigator Robert Mueller, whom Trump accused of being biased against him for hiring staffers who donated money to Democrats.

These events are not unrelated. Trump's attacks are intentional. They're designed to reduce public trust in the judiciary, the Department of Justice, Mueller and his investigation. His recent comments about having "complete power" to pardon his son, son-in-law, former staffers and even himself were aimed at Mueller, as if to say, "don't bother going after me through them. After I pardon them, you'll have no case against me." Whether intentional or accidental, Trump's actions take us down the dangerous path toward autocracy. Nothing would please Trump more than to be free from those annoying Constitutional checks and balances. Nothing would harm our country more.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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