At the heart of the American political system is the Constitution. It is not perfect. It never has been. It legalized slavery. It prohibited equal rights to women. It created a crazy system to elect a President called the electoral college. Everyone has a favorite part to be amended. Yet, it has endured and been improved to allow the expansion of rights for those who were initially denied them. It still isn’t perfect. Yet, when compared to the autocratic campaign promises of Donald Trump, it stands as a beacon.
President’s have often pushed the Constitution to its furthest limits. Lincoln freed the slaves in areas of rebellion by invoking his powers as commander-in-chief, effectively ending slavery before a constitutional amendment was passed making slavery unconstitutional. Many have conducted dubious constitutional actions, such as Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase or Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese-Americans. Some, such as Andrew Jackson’s forced removal of the Cherokees or Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, have even been overturned by the Supreme Court, then ignored by the President. However, no President has ever shown the absolute disregard and ignorance of the Constitution as candidate Trump.
Again and again, Trump’s comments on the Constitution are an outright declaration of war on the Bill of Rights.
Trump has repeatedly directed his ire against the First Amendment. He has suggested closing mosques. He has proposed religious and ideological tests for incoming immigrants. He has hinted at a national registry for Muslims. Trump has gone as far as banning all Muslims, although he changed that to banning them from geographic areas. That would be a first in American history. Even during the periods when racial bias affected American immigration policy, there never was a ban on religious affiliation. Besides violating “the free exercise of religion” in the First Amendment, his ideas also violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Trump is no kinder when it comes to freedom of speech. He has proposed loosening libel laws to “win lots of money” for the times when newspapers get a story wrong and don’t print a retraction – or when he simply disagrees with their critical stories. Of course, the First Amendment stands in the way of that. There is another problem too. The federal government doesn’t have any defamation laws. Libel is a state determination. In addition to wanting to distort the Constitution, Trump doesn’t even understand how the government works.
Trump has also taken a position in favor of torture. There are international treaties that the United States is a signatory that ban torture. Of course, there is the Eighth Amendment that bans “cruel and unusual punishment” too. Torture would also violate the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
In the second debate, Trump promised to appoint a special prosecutor and “jail” Hillary Clinton. Once again, Trump fails to possess a basic understanding of the laws of the land. The President doesn’t appoint special prosecutors. The Attorney General or Congress do. If Trump orders the Attorney General to appoint one, then he is running afoul of the longstanding practice in American government that justice under the Attorney General will be administered without political interference from the President. The last President to try to politicize the office of the Attorney General was Richard Nixon when he ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
Promising to jail Clinton is as clear a violation of due process as there is. Everyone has the right to a fair trial and not to be a campaign promise fulfilled. An act such as this by Trump would shred the Constitution. No President has ever sought to jail an opponent as Trump proposes. It is the action, as Clinton’s campaign spokesman said, of a “banana republic” dictator.
The separation of powers has also gone under attack in Trump’s platform. In his squabble with Judge Gonzalo Curiel earlier this year, Trump suggested limiting the judge’s term in office. The judiciary is supposed to be an independent third branch of government, not a toy for Presidential vengeance.
Trump’s dismissal of the Bill of Rights is an existential threat upon American liberties. Yet, it doesn’t end there. His lack of knowledge about how government works is appalling. Trump repeatedly criticized Clinton in the second debate for failing to accomplish anything as a senator. Although Clinton rattled off a number of bills that she sponsored or cosponsored, Trump continued to press her on why she had not done more as a senator. The fact is that a senator is one of one hundred. There is also the House of Representatives and the President. A single senator doesn’t have control of the Senate, much less the entire Congress and the executive branch.
That Trump is a viable candidate for the highest office in the land is shameful and disturbing. Most of all, it is downright dangerous. His disregard for the Constitution should lead to a massive landslide of epic proportions. Instead, we are apt to see a level of support comparable to what Hitler received when he was elected Chancellor of Germany. That comparison should not be forgotten for the times are no less perilous.