Rule of Law

OP-ED: Defend the Constitution Against Trump

We must reinforce our nation’s founding principles to withstand the president’s ceaseless assault.

As we celebrate this Constitution Week – a time to mark our nation’s founding charter and the amendments that we the people have ratified over more than two centuries to help make our union more perfect – we are also forced to take stock of the first eight months of the Trump administration.

In his short time as President, Trump has shaken the pillars of America’s Constitution to a degree not seen in decades. He continues to thumb his nose at the foreign emoluments clause, push his Muslim travel ban, exclude patriotic transgender service members from defending our country, assault the independent investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and attempt to undermine the judiciary.

Trump was in violation of the emoluments clause from the minute he took the oath of office. Before accepting any benefit from a foreign government, the Constitution requires every government official from the president on down to first seek the consent of Congress. To avoid conflicts of interest entirely, Trump instead could have either completely divested his holdings or placed them in a genuinely blind trust. He has steadfastly refused to do any of these things, thumbing his nose at one of the Constitution’s critical anti-corruption provisions.

Meanwhile, Trump’s sweeping ban on immigrants from a handful of predominately Muslim countries followed his campaign pledge to order a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country. As one federal appeals court judge explained, Trump’s ban is “no more than what the president promised before and after his election: naked, invidious discrimination against Muslims.”

Adding insult to injury, the president also fired his FBI director, James Comey, who was leading the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump admitted, on camera, that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he fired Comey, leading the Justice Department to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate possible obstruction of justice. Subsequently, a Trump confidant suggested the president might fire Mueller if his investigation strayed into Trump’s business affairs, while reports surfaced that Trump might consider even pardoning himself and members of his family subject to the investigation.

Any one of these alone is inexcusable, but that does not exhaust Trump’s assault on our constitutional values.

Trump’s stubborn unwillingness to exclusively denounce the neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists whose violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month – and which resulted in the brutal murder of Heather Heyer – cause the foundation of our nation to quake. Such a malign failure must be combined with the Trump administration’s ceaseless attacks on the voting rights of African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, even as it wages a vicious deportation campaign that rips American children from their Mexican or Central American parents – people who have worked peacefully and productively in this country for years.

Witnessing this moment, one could be forgiven feeling despair. We should, however, take heart.

We started as a nation with the original sin of slavery, where women, people of color and poor people were denied the right to vote, but through centuries of blood, sweat and struggle moved our country along the arc of constitutional progress. We once entered a bloody Civil War that could have torn us apart, but through which we defeated a racist Confederacy to establish a “more perfect Union” – and Constitution – on the other side. We fought to prohibit slavery and guarantee liberty in our national charter and continue to do the hard work to make those promises of freedom and equality a reality for everyone.

The lesson we must take from this history is that the Constitution must be renewed with each successive generation of Americans. It is now our turn. Let us use this Constitution Week to rededicate ourselves to what President Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” to the principles that make our nation’s founding charter the envy of the world, and to the hard work of defending it.