Sounding the Alarm
The danger to our republic is real. It is time for a 21st century Paul Revere to sound the alarm. This isn’t just about policy, although on that score Trump and his Republican allies have been a disaster. No, this is about the subversion of our Constitutional norms, and far too many Americans don’t even know this is happening, because they are ignorant of basic Constitutional principles, and we live in an upside-down world where ignorance is not only bliss, but is also seen as some kind of perverse virtue. When Barack Obama (a thoughtful, prudent man who is also a Constitutional scholar) was president, the public’s lack of knowledge and concern about Constitutional principles and norms wasn’t such a threat, because he was a trustworthy steward of our democracy. But with Donald Trump as president, the ignorance of the populace puts our future as a constitutional democracy in grave peril.
Several days ago I woke up to a headline on the front page of the New York Times which read “President Says Inquiry Makes U.S. Look Bad”. In that article Trump is quoted as saying “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department”. This statement should strike terror into the hearts of every patriotic American. Let’s take a moment to parse this so we can see why. What would be the implications of this statement if it were true? Most people would focus on the current Trump/Russia investigation, which, given its prominence in the news, is understandable. If Trump’s “I can do what I want with the Justice Department” were true, he could fire Independent Counsel Robert Mueller and derail the entire investigation, putting himself above the law. But there is so much more. If Trump’s statement were true, he could put anyone he wanted above Federal law. If his kids, associates, and/or cronies broke the law, King Donald could just direct the Justice Department not to prosecute. Simple as that. And as for Trump’s enemies, who are legion and growing more numerous by the day? Trump could direct the Justice Department to arrest anyone he wants (Lock her up!). If they’re acquitted, just keep charging them until they run out of the strength and resources needed to challenge him. Does that sound like America to you? To me it sounds more like modern day Russia, which I don’t think is a coincidence. And lest anyone suggest that all presidents think this way, let’s look again at President Obama. This is from Joyce White Vance, a University of Alabama law professor who served as a Federal Prosecutor for 25 years: “The first time President Obama met with U.S. Attorneys, he told us “I appointed you, but you don’t serve me. You serve the American people. And I expect you to act with independence and integrity”. None of us ever forgot that”.
Trump’s beliefs are the road to totalitarianism. Can’t happen here? Why not? Because we have a constitution? That document is not worth the paper it’s written on if people don’t honor it. Whereas John Adams said “We are a nation of laws, not men”; King Louis XIV of France said “L’etat c’est moi”, or “I am the state”. What King Louis said was exactly what John Adams and his fellow revolutionaries were fighting against. The idea that one man, above the law, could do what he wants with the apparatus of government to enrich himself and insulate himself from the rule of law. We have to remain vigilant and aware of all of this or we are doomed. That the United States will remain a constitutional democracy is no sure thing in the age of Trump. The things he says and believes about the nature of our government and the role of the president are not normal, and must never be allowed to be thought of as normal. Otherwise, we are lost.