In January 2017 the Trump White House bizarrely declared the largest inauguration crowd in history. Americans got accustomed to the new president’s lies, occasionally finding them amusing—rather like a misbehaving child of an appallingly indulgent parent getting near your crystal. It is frightening to consider a hollow man like him near your secrets, your Constitution, or your wealth. Trump had even claimed he could shoot someone on New York’s 5th Avenue and suffer no loss of supporters. We still don’t know how that would come out in real life. But after 16 months of Trump’s presidency, it’s reasonably certain that he could get away with just about any crime on the floor of the United States Senate.
The Senate majority and its chosen Leader McConnell respect their oaths of office, to be sure, though those oaths have become “to protect and defend Donald Trump,” not the Constitution. Of course, it’s customary for senators and representatives of each party to support most wishes of a same-party president. Given a Constitution constructed in a time of virtually no political parties, elected officials over two millennia have developed procedures and traditions to function in what is largely a four-way division, namely House/Democrat, House/Republican, Senate/Democrat, and Senate/Republican, for the Constitution had countenanced only a two-way legislative division: House and Senate.
It is hard for any group to be as diligent and precise as an individual. (Your city council, school board, or association board frequently exemplify how competent individuals can be incompetent as a group.) Our federal executive branch—headed by an individual—can quickly decide and mobilize while the legislative branch is still arguing over rules of debate. Thus, the Senate and House are composed of more authoritative “moving parts,” requiring them to maintain a strong allegiance to a centralizing authority while simultaneously promoting rich, wide-ranging debate. That “centralizing authority”—the point from which all functions must be derived and to which all parts must owe allegiance—is the Constitution . . . . largely Article 1 and relevant amendments.
Senators and House Members each individually owe that same allegiance. Fidelity to their political parties, their specific religions, their personal aggrandizements, or other interests—if in any way weakening or interfering with that loyalty—is a failure of duty, an unlawful violation of their oaths. So it is that neither partisanship nor individual dissent is not bad. But fulfillment of the body’s Constitutional role must be sufficiently paramount to outweigh both party concerns and individuals’ idiosyncrasies. Failure of the House or Senate to understand, plan for, and perform successfully on its Constitutional role is to imbalance the checks-and-balance architecture and to invite intrusion of the executive branch into the legislative, whether due to intent or simply filling gaps thereby left unaddressed.
If at that time the president is inclined to expand his or her influence or ignore Congressional decisions, the stage is set for severe damage to the Constitutional arrangement, a grievous harm for which both Legislative and Executive Branches are morally and legalistically culpable.
These factors are the case at this time: A president who wants prerogatives not given him Constitutionally or in law, thereby failing to take care that the law be faithfully executed. A Senate that willingly bends to the president’s every whim, thereby failing to protect the role charged to it by the Constitution. An electorate that, in substantial part, naïvely believes it has no role to play in this charade of civic responsibility, for example, to understand our Constitution and to vote thoughtfully. Elected officials and voters who fail to distinguish between (a) normal, ongoing political issues and (b) protections or threats to the rule of law and other components of American Constitutional government.
This last item will be addressed in my next post—for misidentifying the critical difference is, to a great extent, what turns healthy political struggles (about matters like budget, health care, and immigration) into dysfunctional arguments that threaten to weaken or even dismantle the healthy system within which these more conventional political arguments can safely exist, no matter how vehemently they are pursued.
[My schedule led unexpectedly to fewer posts in recent months. Due to impending foreign travel in June, that schedule interference will likely continue through the next few months.]