The dam of American checks and balances is leaking, and there are few fingers in the dike. The presidency of Donald J. Trump is stress testing our systems and I think the opportunity to fully test the system is upon us, like civil engineers testing a bridge to be sure it will hold.
We can talk about the campaign for the White House, but that was more a display that the delicate political norms we all take for granted were nothing more than a thin veil covering the dark underbelly of racism, tribalism and nationalism. Voters still voted for the man who called Mexicans rapists, who mocked the disabled, who threatened to jail his political opponents, who proposed banning an entire religion from entering the United States. This was shocking certainly, but not a failure of the underlying principles of our governing process. No, the first test of the system would arguably have been the Convention; where the delegates could have selected someone else as the nominee, despite the voters preference, but this did not occur.
The next test was the election itself, which demonstrated yet again that this geographic parsing of the weight carried by votes in a given state failed to put forth the most popular candidate to the highest office, and instead elected someone despite the fact that 11,000,000 more Americans had voted for someone else. The actual Electoral College then had an opportunity to use their judgement and not cast their state’s votes for a man so obviously ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the position that a minority of American voters chose him for. They did not, and Donald J. Trump, a 70-year old former Beauty Pageant owner and Game Show Host with no political experience, became the President of the United States.
As Trump appointed sycophants and cronies to cabinet positions, selected according to some analysis as the persons most opposed to the function of their assigned department, the confirmation process was another failsafe built into the system. However, it also failed to prevent the ascendancy of the ironic appointments to positions of power. Underlying it all was the overwhelming weight of evidence indicating that a foreign power had interfered with the American election, and that the President’s own team had been aware of it, actively encouraged it, and potentially colluded with the attempts to discredit and undermine the opposition candidate. Despite all the evidence, the President refuses to acknowledge even the possibility that it occurred.
A Supreme Court vacancy was filled by discarding existing Senate rules to allow a simple majority of Senators to approve the President’s nominee, despite having obstructed the former President from allowing his nominee to ever get a hearing or consideration for the position. Again, a systemic failure allowed the unthinkable to occur right before our eyes. The President has refused to divest himself from his business interests and is actively using the office of the Presidency to enrich himself and his family. He has elevated members of his family to fabricated positions of power in the White House and his children are featured regularly on the propaganda wing of the Republican Party, FOX News, to disemble, convolute, confuse, distort and demean. The Department of Justice, the ultimate overseer of legal compliance, has deemed it lawful for the President to receive income from foreign powers who stay at his hotels, use his golf courses, or otherwise engage in business with the Trump Organization’s private, for profit ventures, in spite of the Constitution specifically prohibiting it. The dam is proving to be straining to hold back the flood waters.
And now we come to the most pressing issue we face as a nation of laws and founding principles. The President himself appears to have obstructed the judicial process by attempting to influence the law enforcement agencies investigating his campaign for their involvement in the interference by a foreign nation of our election. On more than one occasion, the President attempted to sway the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempts to get to the bottom of the breadth of knowledge, cooperation and potential collusion with the Russian government or Russian operatives by his team or possibly the President himself. When this attempt failed, the President fired the head of the FBI. To avoid any confusion, the President went on national television and assured the American public that he, Donald J. Trump, had fired the head of the FBI because of the investigation into Russian interference in our election: “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won’.”
James Comey then appeared before Congress and provided significant details about his private conversations with the President, including indicating that he had asked not to be left alone with Trump. Trump had asked for loyalty, and as this 1992 interview with Trump will show, being disloyal to him is unacceptable:
Meanwhile, the Deputy Attorney General appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the ongoing election interference and potential collusion with President Trump, his campaign personnel and/or members of his current administration. Robert Mueller, a former head of the FBI, is now in place with wide powers of investigation, and as one would expect under a systems stress test, rumors are floating about that the President is considering asking the Deputy Attorney General to fire Mueller, or if he refuses, firing him and replacing him with someone who will do his bidding, or potentially testing his legal authority and just firing Mueller himself. According to some legal minds, this would create a Constitutional Crisis in the United States, where the President has placed himself above the law and will do everything in his power to prevent a true accounting of any possible illegal activities he or his team may have been involved in. A Constitutional Crisis is defined as a situation where “separate factions within a government disagree about the extent to which each of these factions hold sovereignty. Most commonly, constitutional crises involve some degree of conflict between different branches of government (e.g., executive, legislature, and/or judiciary), or between different levels of government in a federal system (e.g., state and federal governments).”¹
The history of Constitutional Crisis in this country is a sordid one, with epic, far-reaching effects that are still felt to this day. The most significant was the secession of seven states from the Union over the issue of slavery which lead to the American Civil War, with countrymen killing and maiming each other within our own borders. But the most recent is also the most familiar. In 1972, President Nixon, under investigation for his part in a political hacking eerily similar to the foreign hacking we are dealing with in 2017, fired the special prosecutor assigned to investigate him. The President ultimately was forced to resign when informed the votes existed to impeach him, and have him legally removed from office.
This is where we stand today. On the precipice of another dam-breaking crisis despite the systems erected after every preceding crisis to prevent this exact situation, and I say it’s time to see if the dam will hold. I want to see President Trump exert every effort, including firing the special prosecutor, to rid himself of this investigation into his possible collusion with the Russians to undermine his political opponent and ascend to the highest office in the land. I want to see the Republican majority in the House and Senate put to the ultimate test of party vs. country. I want to see if a minority party, in this case the Democrats, have any power at all when in the minority. I want to see if the Judiciary will be truly independent of the Executive and the Legislative bodies of government. We’ve come this far, we are in it deep, and we need to see if the freaking dam will hold.