Donald Trump is the kind of president the Constitution was written to protect us from, only it’s not working.
Remember all that stuff you learned in high school about the three co-equal branches of government? The founders were said to have established the executive, the congress, and the judiciary and imbued them with equal powers so that each would serve as a “check and balance” on the other.
The executive was given the power to propose laws, and once passed, to execute them faithfully; to command the armies and navies to provide for defense of the nation; to conduct the country’s business with foreign nations through diplomacy and trade; and to administer the federal government.
The congress was given the so-called “power of the purse,” the power to levy taxes and to fund or fail to fund the actions of the executive and the judiciary; to provide oversight on the executive branch’s actions; to pass laws and if deemed necessary, to override a president’s veto in order to force those laws into existence; and to declare war.
The judiciary was given the power to interpret laws passed by the congress to insure they conform to the strictures of the Constitution; to punish infractions against the law and impose sentence; to resolve cases which arise between the states and which arise out of foreign treaties; and to enforce decisions through criminal and civil contempt powers.
Unwritten in the Constitution is what you might call a “good faith” clause. This is because there was an assumption on the part of the founders that the powers granted to the president, congress, and courts would be carried out with a modicum of respect for the law and for the other branches of government.
Whatever good faith we ever had in this nation is gone. What has replaced it is a form of open warfare against the traditions and norms of government we’ve had in the past, and a contempt for the rule of law. This war is being led by Donald Trump and the Trump Republican party, and it has produced a form of fascism we’ve never seen before in this country.
This is most evident in the behavior of the Republican Party with respect to laws that have been passed by the congress and the president when they are controlled by the other party. Think back a few decades. There was a time within my memory when major legislation was passed and signed into law, and major court decisions were made, and those laws and Supreme Court decisions were recognized and treated with respect and forbearance. Think of the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in the 1960’s. These laws were controversial and difficult to pass, but once passed, war was not immediately declared against them, and attempts were not made to immediately repeal or overturn them.
Contrast that to the passage of the Affordable Care Act and what happened afterwards. A legal assault was undertaken against the law in the courts, leading to its weakening with a Supreme Court decision which made the Medicaid provision in the law optional for the states, thus stripping the law of much of its efficiency and power. Then the Republican Party made repealing the Affordable Care Act its primary reason for being. According to Newsweek, after Republicans took control of the House, they voted 54 times to fully repeal the act, and voted nearly 20 times more to strip the act of its powers in other ways.
Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders were reported to have met for dinner on the night of Obama’s first inauguration where they hatched a plan to make it as difficult as possible for the new president to sign legislation into law or make appointments to the courts, including the Supreme Court. This effort went on for eight years and culminated in the denial of even a hearing to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016.
It took Republicans longer to deal a significant blow to the Voting Rights Act, but finally in 2013 in Shelby County v Holder, they stripped the act of its primary enforcement power by eliminating “pre-clearance” by the Department of Justice of voting laws in the south. Almost immediately, multiple southern states which had been under Department of Justice supervision passed voter ID requirements and other laws making it more difficult to vote. And now the Jeff Sessions DOJ has re-focused its voting rights division to emphasize prosecution of voting “fraud,” which is largely a myth.
With the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, they’ve got Roe v Wade firmly in their sights. They’ve been nibbling away at the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, trying to establish a “right” to discriminate on religious grounds against LGBT Americans. You have to ask yourself the question, what’s next? Brown v Board of Education? Are they going to look for a “right” to refuse service to African Americans or other minorities on religious grounds? Is the assault on affirmative action going to morph into an assault on the idea of integration itself? If I were to place a bet today, I’d bet Yes. And they’re stacking the federal courts from top to bottom with judges that will find reasons to rule the way they want them to.
This has led us to the point where we now have a Republican side of the Supreme Court and a Democratic side. The NRA recently announced they will spend $1 million in support of Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, as if they were engaged in a political campaign to “elect” the Republican nominee.
Donald Trump and the Trump Republican Party have shown they want to turn the courts into a rubber stamp for the right-wing dream machine that has brought us weakened abortion, civil rights and voting rights laws. But it’s the behavior of the Republican-led congress that has really shown what they think of “co-equal” branches of government.
The Republican dominated congress has completely abdicated its duty of oversight on the executive branch. The House Oversight Committee took two years, held 33 hearings and spent $7 million trying to pin the blame for Benghazi on Hillary Clinton. The Russian government undertook an all-out assault on the presidential election of 2016 and plans to do the same thing on the midterms this year. What has the Republican House done? Two words: Devin Nunes.
Republicans in the congress are so afraid of the wrath of the Trump “base,” they’re giving him a pass on practically everything. They’re letting Trump use spurious “national security” grounds to impose tariffs on imports from such hostile nations as Canada and Mexico. Trump’s cabinet is stuffed with scoundrels like Scott Pruitt and Tom Price and Wilbur Ross and Ryan Zinke. Have they held a single hearing on the rampant corruption and outright illegality in Trump’s administration? Has a single Republican in congress even made a peep criticizing Trump’s cabinet of thugs and thieves?
The Senate is rubber-stamping Trump’s appointments so fast they’re running out of ink. Several of his nominees to the federal bench haven’t tried a single case as a lawyer or been able to answer even rudimentary questions about court procedures, and still they’ve been made judges.
Trump himself seems to look at helming the executive branch as an opportunity to enrich himself and play golf. He came into the presidency and immediately ignored the rules and strictures adhered to by previous presidents. Instead of putting his holdings into a blind trust, he maintained his ownership of his business and turned its management over to his sons, Eric and Don Jr. He’s profiting handsomely from his ownership of the Trump International Hotel in Washington and other properties, flaunting the emoluments clause of the Constitution. His sons’ trips overseas on business are supplemented by hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. According to USA Today, the Secret Service spent $230,000 in a single month in 2017 on foreign trips by Trump’s sons doing family business.
Trump has played golf at one of his own golf courses more than 110 times as of July 28, according to Newsweek (This count does not take into consideration Trump’s recent 11 day vacation at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey). During his campaign, Trump criticized Obama on Twitter at least 27 times for playing golf too frequently. According to Newsweek, at the same point in his presidency, Obama had played golf only 44 times. There are various estimates of how much Trump’s visits to his golf courses cost the taxpayers from trips on Air Force One and other expenditures. All of them are in the millions of dollars. Some are in the tens of millions.
But Trump treating the White House as a stopping-off place on his way to one of his own golf resorts is the least of our worries. Where do you begin with Trump? With his disrespect for and flaunting of election laws when his campaign received help from the Russian government in getting elected? With his flaunting of the rule of law with obstruction of justice in the Mueller investigation? With his “Celebrity Apprentice” revolving door administration, with dozens of “very best people” White House officials either fired or forced out, including the likes of Rob Porter for beating multiple women? With his bragging about sexually harassing and abusing multiple women? With his labeling of the press as “the enemy of the people,” eerily echoing dictators and strongmen like Vladimir Putin? With his overt and outrageous attempts to suppress dissent and criticism by yanking the top secret security clearances of former intelligence and justice officials? With the 4,229 lies or misleading claims he has made in the first 558 days in office, according to the Washington Post?
So many laws flaunted, so many democratic norms violated, so many traditions ignored or upended, so many unhinged tweets, so many insane rants at rallies, so many foreign allies abused and abandoned, so many dictators admired and praised, so many children torn from their parents and lost in a bureaucratic maze of incompetence, so many racist xenophobic comments, so many utterances of pure unadulterated ignorance, so many women groped and abused, and so many people who appear to approve of all of it. Since his election, his support has not varied much from 40 percent of the public.
The oxygen of fascism is lying, cruelty, corruption and criminality. Lying and committing crimes reflect a belief that the future can be manipulated by manipulating people. Fool people with lies and crimes and they will come to you and give you their time, their money, and in the case of Trump and his Republican Party, their votes.
But fascism has a deadly weakness. It’s just the same thing, over and over and over again. Look at what happened in 2016. One political party, the Republicans, stole an election by taking advantage of the Russians breaking into the national committee of the opposing party and stealing their strategy, plans, and ideas and using them to win the election of Donald Trump. In fact, they were just repeating exactly what they had done before, in 1972, when the Republicans broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate and tapped the opposition’s phones and rifled their file cabinets looking for the same information to use to win the election of Richard Nixon.
History repeated itself again yesterday. The campaign chairman and personal lawyer of the candidate of the Republican Party were convicted of committing multiple federal crimes and will be locked up in jail. Yes, it happened before, during Watergate, when John Mitchell and Herbert Kalmbach, the campaign chairman and personal lawyer of Richard Nixon, were convicted of committing multiple federal crimes and were locked up in jail. It was the same thing all over again: the same figures in the same political party committing crimes and telling lies to win an election.
That’s what fascists do. They lie and commit crimes in order to win rather than arguing facts and playing by the rules. You can fool some of the people all of the time; that’s what fascism depends on. On Tuesday night in West Virginia at Trump’s big rally, his followers chanted “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” just like they chanted the same thing at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and at rallies ever since. Demonize your opponents. Embrace acts of cruelty. Lie and cheat and steal to win. It’s what fascists do: the same thing, again and again and again.
When Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention and walked out of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, he was asked by a woman passing by on the street, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin is said to have replied, “A republic . . . if you can keep it.”
While he yells unhinged rants and his followers chant insane slogans, we’d better get out and vote. With Trump and the Trump Republican Party making their slow motion march toward fascism, I’d say our chances of keeping our Republic are about 60-40.