A guest opinion piece in the New York Times today by Professor Eric Posner offers a saccharine set of predictions of a second Trump term. He offers the judgement that Trump in another four years in office will not overthrow the Constitution.
He claims that “the president has not yet in a clear sense violated the laws or Constitution of the United States.” His point is that “American institutions, while damaged, remain robust.” He points to the courts, the press, and state governors pushing back. While he does argue that we not become complacent, the general thrust is that our institutions will protect us.
I do not share a shred of his optimism.
Trump has conspired with foreign governments to subvert American elections. He has used the Justice Department to shield his co-conspirators — as long as they continue to serve him. He used the Constitutional presidential powers to pardon those convicted of war crimes and commuted the sentence of a convicted felon whose cooperation he still needs. He has put children in cages after separating them from their families. He, eventually, imposed a partial religious test to enter the US.
While these may squeak by the letter of our Constitution, Trump has not fulfilled the obligation to its spirit. The Preamble notes that the purpose of our government is to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Let’s take these in order.
Form a more perfect union: Trump failed to achieve a coordinated, even coherent, response to the existential threat of COVID-19. Every state is on their own.
Establish justice: Trump fired the FBI director and Attorney General to thwart investigations into his illegal activities as a candidate. Trump commuted the sentence of his political advisor to stop him from a richly deserved stay in a federal penitentiary.
Insure domestic tranquility: Trump called for police violence by advising them “don’t be too nice” to people arrested. Trump used federal police and National Guard forces to attack peaceful demonstrators for a photo op. Trump has sought to inflame his followers with calls to “lock her up.”
Provide for the common defense: After a two-hour private meeting with Vladimir Putin, Trump mouthed words absolving the Russian dictator of electoral meddling in the US. Trump knew of, and did nothing, about allegations of Russian bounties for the killing of US troops.
Promote the general welfare: Trump failed to take measures for testing and tracing the COVID-19 outbreak with the result that (as of this writing) more than 3.3 million Americans are infected and more than 125,000 are dead. As a result, the US economy has unemployment levels that harken back to the Great Depression.
Secure the blessings of liberty: While Trump does not deign to vote in person and mails in his ballots, he slams mail-in voting as “fraudulent” and resulting in a “rigged election.” Finally, Black Lives Matter.
The robust constitutional institutions that Professor Posner claims to see are not so strong. We see our institutions being hollowed out for the political benefit of one man, and one man only. The path Trump is following is clear — anything that stands in the way of his desires is to be swept away by toadies in the Administration, Congress, and the Judiciary.