When you are elected President of the United States, your name is in the history books. The only issue is what will be written next to your name. We, the voters, have reason to elect people sensitive to the judgment of history, because that is a value more reliable than any other to keep one of the most powerful men in the world coloring within the lines.
The POTUS is only “one of” the most powerful men rather than “the” most powerful man because the Constitution hems him in on all sides. The “nuclear football” that follows him everywhere containing the launch codes to begin the end of H. sapiens as the dominant species here on the Goldilocks Planet is not his personal possession.
An obvious constitutional restraint on the power to launch nuclear hellfire (excepting when somebody else’s missiles are on the way to Hoboken or Harrisburg or Helena with the aforementioned hellfire to begin the end in the U.S.) is that only Congress is vested with the power to declare war.
The coastal elitists claim that what I’ve called an obvious constitutional restraint is already broken. In particular one of those elitists who started on the Left Coast and migrated to the Right Coast where she now lives in Massachusetts and works in New York running her mouth for MSNBC.
Everybody’s favorite left wing lesbian, Rachel Maddow, has to be one of those elitists because she holds a degree in public policy from Stanford, where she earned a Rhodes scholarship that enabled her to take two more degrees in politics, M.A. and D.Phil., from Lincoln College, Oxford.
If Maddow were not un-American for having sex with another woman, she would be un-American for studying in the UK, where they don’t even speak English and they drink milk in their tea. Don’t get me started on warm beer. When she was not riding the tube to save petrol or eating bangers and mash, Maddow wrote a book called Drift.
The title of the book describes the incremental process of Congress abdicating its power to declare war or not. Even in moving to fulfill the promise President George W. Bush made from atop the still smoking ruins of the twin towers, Congress was only able to slap together one somewhat sloppy Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
Almost a decade later, President Barack Obama was practically begging for a new AUMF as U.S. forces chased terrorists belonging to organizations that did not exist when the U.S. was attacked. The problem was not that Congress was against a new AUMF; the problem was the cowards we elected were afraid of a record vote. Without a record vote, they could claim credit for military success based on voting for the appropriations bill but still fly their dove feathers if the war went south. That combines with their general failure to serve in the military to explain why we call them “chicken hawks.”
Who but an elitist would discuss houbara bustards in a book about how soldiers get their marching orders? If you don’t believe she’s an elitist lesbian leftie, take a look at her own words:
I’m undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform.
I think Maddow was referring to the sentiments in this smoking gun that the general who became POTUS actually reduced to writing:
Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this–in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
We now know that Ike was too optimistic. The Tea Party believed such things were doable, and it acquired enough House seats to wield effective veto power over legislation, although it had less luck enacting its own ideas. The few Tea Partiers left have joined the mainstream Republicans to become The Trump Party.
The problem with a Trump Party is that Donald John Trump AKA “The Donald” espouses no coherent ideology. Some on both sides of the aisle have described him as “a political day trader.” He seeks to “win” each news cycle and string together so many “wins” that he consumes all the political oxygen and no politician can get noticed without engaging Trump.
“Day trading” means his normal event horizon does not exceed 24 hours. This is why he can lie with such abandon about things that are sure to be exposed quickly. I remain gobsmacked that he can stack lie on top of lie with no apparent consequences.
Trump supporters may be stupid, but they are not stupid enough to be taken in. The ones I have talked to are aware that he’s a liar. The stupidity comes in when they profess not to care.
I have to wonder if I am the stupid one with my quaint faith in truth-value. Can it really be that our current sojourn in post-truth politics is permanent?
I am old enough to remember the public relations bath President Eisenhower took when he got caught lying about the existence of the U-2 spy plane. It turned out that the Soviets had shot one down and captured the pilot when he failed to take his cyanide. The existence of the program was so secret that most people in government had no clue that Eisenhower was lying to protect it.
Ike’s was the kind of lie even Jimmy Carter would have told, but even when there was good reason to lie, it was a big deal. Trump lies about things that do not matter beyond the current news cycle. His supporters shrug and wait for him to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight.
Once the truth has taken such a public pounding by the former Leader of the Free World (a title he ceded to Angela Merkel), can we ever go back to the way it used to be? Perhaps the Democrats should order gimme caps proclaiming MATA — -Make America Truthful Again. But does anybody but a few geezers care anymore?
Having established that the major constitutional restraint on the president has been forfeited by the cowards in Congress and the public relations restraint that used to keep pols at least loosely tethered to the truth appears dead from disuse, what remains to cabin executive power?
The courts have held up well so far, but Trump has done his best to populate them with believers in the highest octane version of unitary executive theory. With the collusion of a senate willing to ignore traditional qualifications, Trump is getting judges confirmed at a pace that smokes previous presidents.
Trump has taken the positions that Congress has no power to oversee the president and that executive privilege applies to all conversations without regard to content or context. Both positions are facially absurd, but his stonewall has held so far. He could have built a paper wall with all the subpoenas he has ignored with no consequences yet.
How about the Reconstruction Amendments, 13 through 15, that were adopted to enforce the promise in the Declaration of Independence that all are created equal?
For anyone who has not paid attention to the cheering for Trump among White Nationalist followers of Richard Spencer and David Duke (among others), Trump appeared to drop all pretense in a Twitter assault on four rookie Congresswomen known as “The Squad.” They are all Democrats and all non-white: Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and the perceived ringleader, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who is already known by her initials as AOC.
The Squad had a pretty serious public spat going with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California until Trump attacked the four, suggesting that they “go back where they came from.” All are U.S. citizens and three are natural born. The third, Rep. Omar, came to the U.S. as a child of a Somali refugee family and became a naturalized citizen at age 17.
None of The Squad have fewer ties to this country than the Trump family. Trump’s mother, his grandfather, and two of his wives were immigrants. There were all, however, white.
Pelosi, many Democrats, and even a few Republicans sprang to The Squad’s defense. Former Republican Max Boot published an op-ed in The Washington Post that summarized his disagreements with The Squad before denouncing Trump’s racism and making the statement that became the head of his column:
I may not agree with AOC’s squad, but they are better Americans than Trump.
Trump has doubled and tripled down on race-baiting and added:
These are people that hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.
Can this be the same Donald Trump who is so tight with Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Rodrigo Duterte, and Mohammad bin Salman?
However the Twitter war ends, Trump has shown no inclination to be limited by the goal of the Reconstruction Amendments. Those amendments were the first attempt to cash the check written in the Declaration of Independence about the equality of all.
Having failed at my project of identifying hard limits on Donald Trump, I am reduced to observing that the independent judiciary and the free press have so far withstood Trump’s regular assaults and have moved to check his worst excesses if not his worst rhetoric.
But I am wrong. Trump probably is the most powerful single human being on the planet. It’s painful to admit, when he has destroyed so many political norms and made no attempt to live by the ideals the United States has always claimed to honor.
Trump would claim The Squad is hiding behind American principles, but the opposite side of the Democratic Party, in the person of former Vice President Joe Biden, had it right in an interview with Mika Brzezinski, a daughter of Polish and Czech immigrants, commenting on our failure to live up to the ideals in our founding documents:
We’ve never lived up to those ideals but we’ve never wholesale given up on them.
Unless those ideals have room for racism and post-truth politics, Donald Trump may still lead us to a wholesale surrender. But it is written in our Constitution and laws that the ultimate check on a U.S. president who wishes to be an autocrat is the will of the voters. Trump has given every indication that he will not recognize the legitimacy of any election he does not win, but if everybody else does recognize the result of the election, The Donald will have no choice.
This post was previously published on Medium and is republished here with permission from the author.
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