Donald “L’Etat C’est Moi” Trump has now let us know just how frustrated he is by the separation of powers. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by unfaithfulness to any promise he has ever made, so why would the oath of office be any different? He would really like to be executioner as well as executive. That’s his idea of strong leadership. He has no feel at all for the checks and balances that have helped keep the United States of America a functioning republic. He has a sickeningly sensitive feeling for the best ways to rub salt in social and cultural and economic wounds, but no visible desire at all to promote social unity or healing.
Donald Trump is reported to have required non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements from his employees. At his inauguration as president, he uttered an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He promised to become a public servant, that is. Now he tells us, openly, that he chafes at the restrictions. Non-disparagement clauses are apparently only for the little people, not for Trump. Since he has admitted that he really, really, wants to seize illegitimate and unconstitutional powers, we are face-to-face with the reality that protecting and defending the separation of powers is everybody’s business in this era of Trump. Most of us used to be reasonably confident that on a given day, we didn’t need to worry about our country sliding into banana republic status. But here we are.
Republican cowardice and petty feuding by Democrats are part of the landscape, sadly. Arguments over the size and shape and priorities of government will and must continue. But defending our Constitution against Trump’s assaults has to be the nonnegotiable top priority for all citizens, the priority from which all distractions are a clear and present danger. If Trump manages to fire Mueller, some say there would be a constitutional crisis. I would say it’s only a crisis if Congress and the courts fail to check Trump by reinstating Mueller in a truly independent position. We can still rely on the Constitution to defend against Trump, but the Constitution is no longer, if it ever was, a machine that runs by itself–it’s going to take people acting firmly, fairly, and consistently to restrain evildoers like him. There’s no need for and no use in panic, instead we need firm, fair, and consistently principled pushback.
Trump’s apparent use of “madman theory” logic to get his way (whatever that is on any given day) on healthcare probably won’t intimidate Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer. Will Trump-as-madman succeed any better on the Korean peninsula? Are we the people ready for an American president who can actually out-crazy Kim Jong-un? We elected him. We knew that no-drama-Obama was getting old. We wanted a little excitement. How much excitement? That’s what China is wondering! Their foreign minister just put our president on the same level as Kim by urging “all parties” to stop “provoking” each other. Should we blush with embarrassment? Trump, who says he comprehends very well, listened to Xi Jinping explain thousands of years of Korean history in ten minutes (or less, believe me) and now grasps very very well how to put America first by using the craziest words and threatening to use the biggest bombs. And why worry that Kim might be even more unpredictable than our president? North Korea has an excellent system of checks and balances, many people say. Their National Security Council is far more fully staffed than ours, so I hear. Their family dynasty, as Mr. Xi no doubt explained to his U.S. counterpart, is much more experienced than ours. So they will surely do the right thing. Oh right, we still have to worry about Trump–oops.
In or near Silicon Valley today, just a short copter ride away from Harry Callahan’s SF, President Obama said he was tired of all the fear-mongering over Obamacare. Then he let all of us know that he did not “want the whole day to be a bleeding press conference.” And then he took a question or two about secret surveillance and told us that if we did not realize that “the folks you all vote for as your representatives in Congress” were on top of this, and that if they weren’t there were federal judges with life tenure looking over their shoulder, and that “if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.” Kind of makes me feel (to switch movie references) like I can’t handle the truth!
President Obama says “I welcome this debate.” (Ezra Klein asked if Obama might actually be the leaker. Very funny? But the creepily named Palantir operation is right down the road from where he was speaking–coincidence?) Furthermore Mr. Obama is within his rights, as it were, to point to “tradeoffs” between safety and privacy, whether or not he thought he could transcend such tradeoffs when he was a younger man or younger President. But when he complains about information being leaked “willy nilly” he reminds us precisely why there is a trust problem. We are mature, serious, conscientious blah blah. . . Those leakers are infantile, unstable, DSM-5 material. Is that so? Problems indeed.