By most reports, John Adams could be an irascible man, sharp and sometimes confrontational in argument, and he had more than a few arguments over his lifetime in politics.
But one concept Adams first proposed for the Massachusetts State Constitution in 1780 and lived by through the end of his term as the second president of the United States, more than 200 years later seemed to his peers and his successor as beyond dispute: America should have “a government of laws, not men.”
There have been dissidents, although neither Richard Nixon nor Dick Cheney had the gumption to argue that Adams was wrong. They just went ahead and defied his concept: Nixon with his pronouncement “if the president does it, it cannot be illegal;” Cheney with his propounding of “the unitary president” in whom all powers reside.
But the summation of what can go wrong when one man who, in his own estimation, can “fix” everything ignores and debases laws and the Constitution was the presidency of Donald J. Trump.
Karen J. Greenberg, is an expert on national security, terrorism, and civil liberties and Director of the Center on National Security. Her book Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump investigates how policies forged after September 11 were weaponized under Trump and turned on American democracy itself. With key insights into events spanning the period from Ground Zero to the Capitol insurrection, she describes the strategies that were forged under George W. Bush in the name of security: imprecise language, bureaucratic confusion, secrecy, and the bypassing of procedural and legal norms. She tweets at @KarenGreenberg3.
Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, National Interest, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, New Republic, American Prospect, TomDispatch.com, and on major news channels. She is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations.