Happy Constitution Day! Or, if you're President Trump, Happy Thing You Haven't Read Day!
During the Obama presidency, conservatives fancied themselves "constitutionalists." In 2011, members of Congress read the Constitution in its entirety on the floor of the House of Representatives, something that Congress had never done before. Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.) said this proved that Republicans were "serious about respecting the Constitution."
Indeed, Republicans were so serious about respecting the Constitution that some of them questioned whether President Obama had violated Article II, Section 1, which requires the president to have been born in the United States. Donald Trump was one of them.
Republican adherence to the Constitution evaporated as soon as Trump took office. No president in modern American history has displayed more contempt for — and ignorance of — the Constitution than Trump has.
Trump said that Article II of the Constitution gives him "the right to do whatever I want," which is incorrect. He said he admires Article XII, which doesn't exist. As Jonah Goldberg said, "Every time you hear him talk about the Constitution, it's like he's trying to remember his high-school French."
Of the 27 Amendments to the Constitution, Trump has spoken contemptuously of at least 10. His least favorite is the first. Before becoming president, Trump promised "to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money." By "they" he meant "anyone who isn't nice to me."
"It's frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write," Trump said in 2017. "And people should look into it."
In July, Trump accused Google, Facebook, and Twitter of "discriminating against conservatives" and promised to use "all regulatory and legislative solutions" against them. In August, he complained that Fox News wasn't "working" for him. Trump has more respect for his ex-wives than he does for freedom of the press.
He isn't even a reliable advocate of the Second Amendment. In February 2018, Trump advocated illegal gun seizures. "I like taking guns away early," he said. "Take the guns first, go through due process second." Insofar as he defends the Second Amendment, he defends only the second half of it. Like the NRA, he has no interest in "A well regulated Militia," which, of course, would entail regulations on guns.
Trump called the Fifth Amendment "horrible" and "disgraceful."
Trump supports cruel and unusual punishment (proscribed by the Eighth Amendment), unless he is the recipient. He implored police officers to beat up suspects and suggested that drug dealers be given the death penalty.
He opposes birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. "So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other," he tweeted.
Trump really, really dislikes the 22nd Amendment, which limits a president to two terms. Last year, he expressed interest in being "president for life." He recently said he'd leave office in "maybe 10 or 14" years.
As for the 25th Amendment, which provides for the removal of a president if he "is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office," Trump quoted Alan Dershowitz: "Trying to use the 25th Amendment to try and circumvent the Election is a despicable act of unconstitutional power grabbing." According to this view, using the Constitution to remove Trump from office is unconstitutional.
"In Republican government," James Madison said, "the legislative authority necessarily predominates." Trump disagrees. As New York's Josh Barro observed, Trump views congressional Republicans as his employees. Some congressional Republicans view themselves that way, too. A Republican congressman said that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Cal.) "works for" and "answers to" Trump.
Trump's anti-constitutionalism runs through his party. Forty-three percent of Republicans think Trump "should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior." In 2017, 52 percent of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 election if Trump told them to.
There's a good chance that many of these people call themselves "constitutional conservatives." They revere the Constitution in the abstract, in much the same way they cherish the flag, the national anthem, and the pledge of allegiance. To them it is a symbol, not a mechanism for governance.
In 2016, the Republican governor of Maine reckoned that America needed "Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power in our country and bring back the rule of law." This made no sense, of course. Defying the rule of law is no way to bring it back.
Trumpism and constitutionalism are incompatible. The former entails the concentration of power in a single individual. The latter entails the dispersion of it.
Trump took an oath to uphold the Constitution and to see that the laws be faithfully executed. Yet he reportedly promised pardons to aides who knowingly broke the law to build his much-hyped border wall.
In 2015, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) wrote the foreword to a book called Lawless: The Obama Administration's Unprecedented Assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law. I hope he writes a follow-up about the Trump administration.