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?
Please see related posts:
Trump Part II – Review of Recent Elected Authoritarians
Trump Part III – The Use of Security Crises
Trump Part IV – The Economic and Financial Crisis
Trump Part VI – Principled Republican Leadership
And related posts:
Candidates Clinton and Trump: Economic Policies
Candidate Trump on US Sovereign Debt
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6 Replies to “Trump Part V – The Constitutional Crisis”
Yesterday, I re-read Sheldon S. Wolin’s “Democracy Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.” Written at the end of Bush II presidency, it’s filled with recognizable political descriptions pointing to Trump’s election. Wolin makes a point that Republicans will increase the debt and cut social programs until it is impossible to overcome the subsequent problems when Dems finally regain control, putting Republicans right back in the driver’s seat. Obama spent two terms attempting to solve the problems created by Bush et. al., obstructed constantly by Republicans. Now, with racist authoritarians in positions of power and authoritarian religious fanatics gaining control of federal education, courts, and much of the legislature, both federal and local, our country is in for some challenging times. I’ve read your series on Trump. My own extensive reading in leadership, history, and politics leads me to agree with your analysis and, yes, I fear for our democracy. When people consider the right’s smear of Pres Obama as a muslim dictator with Democrats’ fear of a Trump authoritarian dictatorship as equivalent political hyperbole and quote Breitbart, Fox News and other propaganda sources as legitimate news, our country is seriously impaired.
Thanks for reading and writing in. I haven’t read Wolin. Sounds like I should.
My own view on Ds and Rs is that they’re both pretty guilty/short-terming when it comes to financial leadership. The Rs used to have a stronger claim to principled fiscal conservatism. That seems to have disappeared under W. Bush. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but I don’t see adults in either party willing to make long-term difficult decisions (balanced budgets, real spending limits, taxes sufficient to cover our expenditures, in a sustainable way.) Its easy to spend more and cut taxes…the reverse is hard. I guess its hard to get elected by being a grinch. Explains why I’ll never run for office!
Thank you for this series!
You’re right that the laws are only as good as those willing and able to enforce them. Sadly, much responsibility falls to the House, and Ryan is providing us with a deep study in cowardice.
Jeremy – Thanks for reading and for your note. As I write in Part VI – Ryan is one of our only hopes!
So, from your list:
– demanding an apology for rude behavior
– complaining of widespread media bias
– wanting his trusted advisor with him in the white house
– stating that the Mexican judge who identifies as Mexican and is affiliated with local racial politics is probably biased
– more people might end up staying at hotels and properties branded with his name
– putting Mulsim immigrants in a registry
This is the list that makes you fearful that the Constitution is going to burst into flames? You can do better than that.