First, read this Greenwald article. It describes one Marty Lederman; strong opponent of secret detention and expansion of executive power when Bush was President, and author of secret law once Obama became President allowing the President to have people assassinated at will.
What Lederman did is, in some ways, worse for the system than what Obama did. People expect Presidents to run off the rails. You don't get to be President in the first place without a strong liking for power and a lot of narcissism that convinces you that whatever you do must be right. The rest of the system is supposed to keep Presidents in check. Well, it obviously doesn't. The Supreme Court has been a joke since Bush v Gore. The Justices are, openly, appointed-for-life ideologues, chosen for their adherence to some political position or other, and the decisions on important matters don't come down to law but come down to this. And now it couldn't be more clear that the Constitution restrains nothing, that lawyers only rationalize whatever their client wants to do, and no judge will ever call them to account.
It's easy to shrug cynically and say, what did you expect from lawyers. But cynicism is too easy here. When Yoo and company were writing for Bush, they were an aberration. Even Ashcroft refused to do everything his President wanted. But now lawlessness has been normalized. There is no reason to think that any important decision about war, torture, surveillance, imprisonment, or assassination is ever going to be governed by anything but secret memos again.
We are currently imprisoning a higher percentage of our population than any other country on Earth. The rich are immune from prosecution for rich-people crimes like defrauding people out of their houses; the poor can be thrown in jail for any number of activities involved in being poor. Democratic legitimacy has gone from being a farce, a bought-and-paid-for property of lobbyists and PACs, to being simply irrelevant. The President can have anyone imprisoned at a black site, or killed, for secret reasons that presumably involve the accusation of being a terrorist. The President can declare war on Libya without even bothering to pretend to consult anyone. The population welcomes this, even people like Josh Marshall are perfectly willing to take the government's word that someone "was essentially waging war against the United States from abroad" without any of those messy trials or presentations of evidence that ridiculous documents like the Bill of Rights say we're supposed to have.
We no longer have a legitimate state. I'm tempted to write that what we have is an oligarchical anarchy -- anarcho-capitalism as it really is, not how its deluded advocates think it would be -- but that just confuses the issue, probably. In any case, law is now just something that you have to watch out for, not something that you have to take seriously at any intellectual or moral level.
Our elites are incompetent at even running a corrupt system in their own interest. It's likely that the system will collapse in one way or another, not because of anything that people do purposefully, but just because it will get increasingly unable to respond to reality, just as everyone knows what we have to do in our current economic crisis (and in our current global warming crisis) but somehow no one can do it. When we pick up the pieces afterwards, I hope that we don't try to put together the same fantasy that we had before.