I think it was in late spring of 2003 that I started telling foreigners that the US was under siege. It may have begun in Helsinki, where Dave "Dave" Koukal, his better half Sharon Vlahovich, and I were accosted by Finns while walking on the street. As I recall it, several times whlie we were in Finland, we were yelled at, generally in Finnish, presumably for being US citizens. As US citizens, we took some blame for Bush Administration foreign policy, which was then still shocking to others. I told Finns I knew that the US was under a coup, and I asked if they wouldn't mind invading. I did the same thing in Canada a couple weeks later, and in correspondence and conversation since then.
The scale of it is fascinating, in its way. A July Harper's piece described the strategy, which is called "lawfare" by the Federalist Society (a neo-con lawyers' association, with close friends in the Administration). The idea of lawfare is that law should be used as a strategic means of attack. So rather than respect the rule of law, or acknowledge that its actions are legitimately limited by law, the Administration uses it as a tool to achieve extra-, non-, or illegal ends. The examples are legion, really legion. In addition to "signing statements" exempting the Administration from complying with laws even while the President was signing them, there's the business of Dick Cheney not being subject to any legal restrictions because the Vice President's office is considered part of whatever branch of government is most convenient to the goal of evading oversight and checks and balances, and of course the bit about firing federal prosecutors for not towing the party line. A news item this morning puts it more succinctly, however: "The White House told Congress on Monday it would not comply further with demands for documents and testimony in the probe of fired prosecutors, setting up a constitutional battle with the Democratic-led Congress." The rationale? Because it would limit presidential "prerogatives."
The counter-argument here may be that every winner does everything possible to turn the political system to their own advantage. I don't disagree. The difference here is the enormous scale of it and the tremendous depth of it. The quantitative difference is large enough to make a qualitative difference: the constant exertion of exceptional status for the Administration, at every possible turn, undermines checks and balances utterly.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the now Democratically-controlled Congress responds, in effect, by saying, "Oh, you're above the law? Oh, sorry, didn't know. Sorry. We'll just carry on with, uh, well, I suppose we'll have a hearing or press conference saying what a shame it is. Let us know if you need more money."