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The Emperor Has no Clothes

| Opinion | November 10, 2017

by Blair Bess

Someone needs to cloak Mr. Trump in a copy of the Constitution. The emperor clearly needs new clothes.

Whether one agrees with the president’s political philosophy – or lack thereof – Republican and Democratic leaders must remind him that the Constitution provides for the separation of powers: the Executive Branch, the Judicial, and the Legislative. All three branches of our government have clearly defined responsibilities. The president can’t or refuses to comprehend this, which is a bit disturbing, as he swore an oath that he would, to the best of his ability, “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” It appears the president’s best isn’t good enough.

The president believes the American judicial system is a “laughingstock” because he cannot bend it to his will. During an interview last week, President Trump said, “The saddest thing is that, because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kinds of things that I would love to be doing and I’m very frustrated by it.”

That’s right, Mr. President, you’re not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. It’s a separate branch of government. Article III of the Constitution trumps all. No matter how much you would love to, you’re not supposed to interfere with criminal investigations, including those that uncover illegal activities committed by members of your administration, your advisors, or your family. You are not supposed to weigh in on sentencing guidelines – be they military or civil – and proclaim that former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl or New York City terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov be put to death for their actions; interference that quite possibly influenced a military judge’s disposition of the Bergdahl case and could potentially do the same when it comes to your own Justice Department’s ability to try or sentence Saipov. And, most importantly, you are not supposed to obstruct justice.

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The United States of America is not a monarchy, Mr. President. Our government is not a private-sector organization over which you wield total control. You were elected president, not emperor. Sorry to hear of your frustration, but that’s just the way democracy works. The American colonies revolted against a monarch to form a more perfect union. Our Founding Fathers had direct knowledge of oppression and authoritarianism, thus the Constitution was crafted in such a manner as to ensure that the people of this nation would never again be subjected to the whims of a tyrant. Or wannabe tyrants, for that matter.

Some of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court, including one appointed by the president, have been or are originalists who believe the Constitution is not a fluid document, that it should remain stable as written and not deviate from its original intent or interpretation. These include the late Justice Antonin Scalia, his replacement, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Justice Clarence Thomas. And it’s not just a conservative opinion. The very liberal justice, the late Hugo Black, held this belief.
It is the mission of The Federalist Society, an organization that wields tremendous influence among Republican conservatives, to populate the entire American justice system with originalists, if possible. The society has made originalism one of the cornerstones of its existence. Hence, Mr. President, you are in direct conflict with the philosophy of the same lawyers and legal scholars who are guiding you in the selection of your present and future appointments. Presidential meddling or tampering with the way our judicial institutions operate is in direct conflict with their core beliefs. And it goes against the grain of any American who holds dear our basic constitutional rights and freedoms.

In his fascinating, but disturbing, book “On Tyranny,” Yale University professor Timothy Snyder notes that it is a mistake “to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions – even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

Draining the swamp is one thing. Trampling on the Constitution is another. Snyder writes that institutions fall, one after the other, unless each is protected from the beginning. It is our duty and in our own best interests to stand up to tyrants, no matter what our political affiliation or persuasion. We the people and our leaders must recognize this if the great American Experiment is to last beyond the decade.

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