There are many things wrong about Donald Trump becoming our President:
- His ignorance and contempt for facts, and truth.
- His childish sensitivity and impulsiveness.
- His self-centered narcissism, and lack of conscience.
- His willingness to stir up racial and ethnic hatred and violence.
- His lack of relevant knowledge or experience.
- His “bromance” with Vladimir Putin, and his admiration for other brutal autocrats such as Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.
- His selection of cabinet members and advisors — with the exception of Defense and State — who are incompetent, opposed to the mission of the department they are supposed to lead and/or involved with the neo-Nazi “alt-right.”
These are all serious problems, and I don’t minimize them.
But I submit that the single worst problem — the one that poses the greatest threat to America’s democracy — is Donald Trump’s ignorance and contempt for law, including the Constitution.
I yield to no one in my distaste for Mike Pence: He’s a cruel theocrat who would be terrible for woman’s rights, unions, blacks, immigrants, LGBT people, etc. He would feather the nests of the 1% just as vigorously as Trump. But my impression is that he understands and respects the Constitution; he accepts that the President is bound by federal law; he understands the concept of “balance of powers”; he could pass an eighth-grade civics test (if such a thing still existed). None of this is true, imho, of Trump. Pence would do terrible damage and cause immense suffering, but he would not destroy the Republic; Trump may.
For all his failings, Trump does understand power. Both hard power — the boss’ ability to say “You’re hired” and (famously) “You’re fired” — and also the psychological power of manipulating people’s emotions by saying what they want to hear, whether or not this has any connection with reality or what he will actually do. Indeed, I am prepared to acknowledge that he has a genius for ruthlessly wielding psychological power. Absent proof of actual vote tampering there is no other explanation for how he managed, despite his obvious unfitness, to get nominated and elected.
Although he understands power, Trump has no patience for limits on his power imposed by law or the Constitution. His business career is littered with alleged frauds and other violations of law; he admires autocrats like Putin and Duterte; and he has as much as said that he doesn’t think that laws against conflicts of interest apply to him. There is no reason to suppose that he will respect any of the laws or Constitutional provisions that seek to constrain Presidential power. If Trump is allowed to run roughshod over the Constitution and federal law American democracy will end and he will be our autocratic ruler.
How can Trump be stopped? (If, as I expect, he will rampantly violate federal laws.) The first recourse must be to the courts. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think that many federal judges have enough integrity to stand up to Trump. Possibly even Chief Justice Roberts (who broke ranks to uphold Obamacare). But court cases take time, and judicial decrees aren’t self executing; they’re enforced by the Executive branch, which will be Trump’s plaything. Will the courts move quickly enough? Will they show courage and integrity, or will they fall in line like the Republican Congress is now doing? Will Trump respect judicial decrees even if he dislikes them? If Trump dismisses judicial orders will the Republican Congress eventually impeach him? I hope that the answer to each of these questions will be, “Yes!”
I submit that violation of law is the issue that we must keep our eyes on amidst the maelstrom of distressing and distracting information that will descend on us in the Trump Era. Ignorance and contempt for law could be the Achilles heel that brings him down. But only if we keep focusing on it, and avoid being distracted by the Trump tweet du jour.
A famous English legal maxim reads, in Latin, “Non Sub Homine Sed Sub Deo et Lege.” In English, “Not Under Man But Under God and the Law.” The idea of government under laws that apply to everyone is the fundamental principle of democracy, and it must be defended.