We can and have survived security crises. We can and have survived economic crises. My worst fever dreams are about how much Trump has already threatened to spark a constitutional crisis. Authoritarians often start out acting within constitutional norms but work to subvert institutions that limit their power, over time.
Trump does not respect or seem to understand the constitutional point (Article 1, Bill of Rights) about freedom of speech, when he demands an apology from actors at the Broadway show Hamilton making a political statement. He does not seem to respect the freedom of the press when he threatens the Washington Post with “such problems” when he is elected, or when he threatens to change libel laws to allow him to sue newspapers and journalists, many of whom he professes to hate.
Trump does not respect the freedom of religion when he says Muslims resident in the country may need to sign up with a specific registry. He undermines both the rule of law and the separation of powers when he attacks the court investigating his Trump University fraud – because of a specific judge’s ancestry.
Even in this period before Trump assumes the presidency, he has threatened numerous unconstitutional actions. Are we far away from a regime in which we could see far more unlawful search and seizure? (Article 4, Bill of Rights) Torture? Violation of the emoluments clause? (Article 1, Section 9) Constitutional threats spring up around Trump like mushrooms after a particularly rainy season.
Even short of Constitutional threats, he’s already ripped up traditions and best practices that are often as important as codified law. The fact that he repeatedly lied about not releasing his tax returns because of an IRS audit – thus flouting modern tradition about financial disclosure from Presidential candidates – shows he will push the limits on unwritten norms, when it suits him.
His plan to not put his business into blind trust – but rather turn it over to his children – opens up his administration to being the most corrupt in history.
His attempt to make his son-in-law a White House advisor – despite clear anti-nepotism laws against it – is outrageous.
This limit-pushing instinct, combined with a disregard for Constitutional checks on power, make Trump a danger to the Republic. At every turn he attempts the immoral, illegal, or unconstitutional choice. It’s going to take alert and brave members of government and society at all levels to keep the US Constitutional issues front and center, and viable.
As Matt Levine pointedly reminded us the day after Trump’s election, the Constitution and other laws are only as good as the people who are willing to enforce them. Otherwise laws just become silly pieces of paper, worthy of little notice, or the kind of things to knowingly flout like speed limits that few heed on a highway. That’s why it’s a little extra frightening right now that the opposition party in Washington is so weak. Are there Republican leaders who can stand up to Trump? I really hope so.
It should be obvious by now – even before he takes office – that, as President, Trump will attempt to violate many of our most important constitutional protections and best practices in his first few years in office. The question will be whether and how people respond. Chavez, Putin, and Hitler all managed to eliminate checks and balances to their power in their early years in office.
Do our leaders roll over and allow him to get away with it?
Will we all let Trump get away with it?
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