Alan Zendell, May 8, 2019
Every president’s first official act is to take his oath of office: “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.” Pretty simple, isn’t it?
The oath doesn’t talk about wars, tax cuts, immigration, or the economy. It states clearly that the President’s primary responsibility is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. From the moment he or she is sworn in, the Constitution must guide and shape every presidential action. That’s what defines our country and sets it apart from monarchies and autocracies.
From the day he took office, Donald Trump has demonstrated that his oath means nothing to him. Some of his critics say he doesn’t understand the difference between a president and a king. They claim he has no idea how government works and is ignorant of the laws he is sworn to enforce. But that’s nonsense.
The president has a huge staff of talented advisors whose sole responsibility is making sure he understands his legal responsibilities. Trump fully comprehends what the Constitution requires of him. He simply doesn’t care. His disdain for law and precedent, his attempts to politicize the courts, the Justice Department, and the Federal Reserve Board, and his willingness to lie about anything and everything when it suits him tell us all we need to know about whether we can trust him to honor his oath.
Whether or not he’s guilty of obstructing justice or there is some sinister reason behind his refusal to criticize adversaries like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, there is a more serious issue looming that we will all have to face. Nothing in the Constitution is more sacred than our election process. Yet, through his actions, inactions, and statements it’s clear that Trump doesn’t get that, because to him, nothing is more important than his own power and personal gratification.
Throughout the 2016 election campaign, he claimed the process was rigged. He threatened to challenge the outcome if he lost and even today, based on no evidence of any kind he still claims that millions of votes cast for his opponent were fraudulent. Truth and evidence don’t matter when Trump’s feelings are hurt. He continually stokes crowds at his rallies to frightening frenzies with his lies and distortions.
You won’t ever hear Trump explicitly call on his more rabid supporters to take up arms in revolt, but he will do everything short of it. He loves the lynch mob-like screams of 20,000 voices chanting “Lock her up.” If you doubt his intentions, think back to his refusal to disavow KKK leader David Dukes, or even to admit knowing who he is, while winking and smirking his secret message to all of Duke’s followers. Think back to Charlottesville, where Trump saw fine people where the rest of us saw a dangerous, murderous mob. Consider that he still will not publicly acknowledge that Russia meddled in his election.
Many people were shocked when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly suggested that Trump might not relinquish power peacefully if he lost his bid for re-election. The country has spent more than two years believing that no matter how radical and incendiary his words, surely when push came to shove he would be constrained by law and decency. But time and again he proved us wrong, and his tweets in response to Pelosi’s fears only made them more credible.
Trump claimed the two-year-long Mueller investigation was a conspiracy by Democrats that stole two years from his presidency, then retweeted Jerry Falwell’s absurd assertion that two years should be added to his term. So what if that would subvert the most important provisions of the Constitution?
Would Trump go as far as rallying his supporters to violent insurrection if he loses? Probably not directly, but that’s not how he operates. Instead, with varying degrees of subtlety, he enables and encourages the behaviors he wants. People who know him well testify that while he never explicitly orders heinous acts, his people always know what he wants them to do.
As election season heats up, if the polls show Trump in trouble or in a close race, expect more accusations of election fraud, more appeals for his supporters to defend his office. If the Democrats in the House continue to investigate his actions as President as the Constitution requires them to, expect more whining about how his presidency is being stolen. And expect more and more violence springing from his out-of-control rallies.
Nancy Pelosi would not have expressed her fears publicly if she didn’t take them seriously. We should too.
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