Less than three weeks after the changing of the guard, the imperial presidency is in full swing. This development raises at least one big problem: there’s no room in the Constitution for an emperor.
One of Mr. Trump’s first acts as president was to issue an executive order banning immigrants of seven Muslim countries from entering the United States. When the State of Washington challenged this order in a federal district court and Judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order blocking the travel ban, the President maligned the “so-called judge” and said the travel ban was so simple “a bad high school student” could understand it.
When a three-judge panel sitting as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled unanimously to uphold the decision in the lower court, the White House accused the judges of making a “political decision”. The Justice Department may or may not appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Trump’s nominee for the vacant seat on the nation’s highest court, Neil Gorsuch, called the President’s comments “disheartening and demoralizing”. That’s putting it mildly.
Do Mr. Trump’s comments taken together constitute a case for impeachment? The line between president’s words and deeds is extremely thin, if indeed it exists at all: speech is action when the speaker has the full authority and coercive apparatus of the government at his or her disposal.
The president is charged with preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution. Article II, Section 1, Clause 8:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
A president who demonstrates a flagrant disrespect for the Constitution and, thus, the rule of law, is playing with fire. Risking, if not inviting, impeachment.
The Constitution stipulates the following grounds for impeachment: “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The definition of treason is contained in Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Half of this definition is precise, namely the half that makes levying war against the United States treasonous. The other half – “giving Aid and Comfort” to the enemy – is less so. Does the word “enemy” apply only in wartime? Does a Cold War adversary and the primary object of our long and costly “containment” policy qualify?
If the story spun out in the MI6 dossier is found to be substantially true, if Trump and his minions conspired with Russian President Vladimir Putin to interfere in our election process in return for, say, lifting economic sanctions against Russia or weakening NATO, would that not amount to giving an adversary “aid and comfort”?
It’s worth remembering that NATO was made in America – our first peacetime alliance in a century and a half. NATO was the cornerstone of a global alliance system – the reification of containment. It was Russia, after all, we were containing during the Cold War.
Selling out one’s country for personal or political gain is a common theme in literature, both fiction and nonfiction. There has always been a broad bipartisan consensus that anyone who would do such a thing is a traitor. But the jury is still out on whether or not Mr. Trump is guilty as charged. We may never know.
Which brings us to “high crimes and misdemeanors”. The Constitution does not define “high crimes” but there can be absolutely no doubt that politicizing the courts and vitiating the rule of law fits even the narrowest definition.
That the district and circuit court judges see a looming threat to the Constitution is clear. The appeals court made a point of rejecting the White House’s claim that in matters of national security President Trump’s decisions “are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections.” To do any less would have been tantamount to suspending the rule of law and handing a chief executive who makes no secret of his admiration for Vladimir Putin a blank check to deal with immigrants as he wishes.
And what about critics? Journalists? Teachers? Tree-huggers? If President Trump can have his way with the courts, is anyone on the White House’s hit list safe? If history is any guide, the takeover of an independent judiciary is a first step toward tyranny. Next in line is a free press. Then all bets are off.
We may still think it can’t happen here, but it can. The reason is it hasn’t is because we have held the Constitution in higher esteem than a populist leader who places himself above the law.
It’s not too late to late to stop the formation of a full-blown imperial presidency. We know how and what to do. It’s called impeachment. We need to demand that Congress impeach this president and remove him from office.
If we fail to do so, we have no one but ourselves to blame. Donald Trump is not a mystery man. We know who and what he is. The emperor has no clothes.
So let’s not wait. We’ve seen enough. Let’s demand Donald Trump’s impeachment now.
Why? Not for his attacks on the media or for saying we are killers, too, as a defense of Vladimir Putin. Not for approving the Dakota Access Pipeline or alienating 1.6 million Muslims. We don’t have to like any of this stuff, but that doesn’t mean it’s grounds for impeachment.
His violation of the Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9) and his glaring conflicts of interest arguably are impeachable offenses. It’s called corruption everywhere else in the world.
But we don’t have to turn to this “obscure” clause in the Constitution: Mr. Trump’s failure to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution is cause enough for impeachment.