Firing an FBI director after telling him to stop investigating his former National Security Advisor. Talking about yacht sex in a speech to the Boy Scouts.
The list of bizarre decisions, action and statements from President Trump is almost as long as the tax code and it gets longer daily. A new approach to politics in itself would be a breath of fresh air, but not at the expense of both the legal and the conventional checks on the power of the office of the presidency.
He announced the plan to ban people who are transgender from serving in the U.S. military without consulting the Joint Chiefs. Say what you want about the policy, the means Trump used are not those of a constitutional president, but of an authoritarian
Sniping at members of his own administration is not normal, nor is it presidential. The latest target of Trump’s is Attorney General Sessions, all because Sessions recused himself from investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, in which he was involved. Twitter rants are bad enough. Threatening to fire the AG is worse. Yes, he has the legal authority, but dismissing the country’s top lawyer when an investigation into his own campaign doesn’t go as he hoped (all because the AG is following the norms of his office) reeks of bad autocracy.
It’s also really weird. Robert Tracinski at The Federalist recently referred to the Trump era as the “monkey house” – a crazy, smelly place that begins to seem normal after you spend enough time in it. In his words,
Anyone entering freshly into the monkey house that is the Trump administration would be overwhelmed by the stench. But too many people who have been living with this day in and day out find their senses distorted by the weird priorities and mental habits they have grown accustomed to regard as normal over the past year and a half.
To conservatives, the norms of the presidency are the utmost importance. The execution of government should be clear, consistent and predictable. America is a nation of laws, not of men. That requires that the president follow the Constitution and the conventions of the office, not just for the sake of decorum, but to avoid the abuse of his power. A president does not pardon himself, regardless of whether it is legal for him to do so, but because an ability to pardon oneself puts one above the law.
When normal presidential behavior goes out the window, who keeps the president in check? The media? Sure, it is one role of the media to keep government in general and the president specifically honest. That said, how well is the media fulfilling that role? The knee-jerk reaction of the liberal media and most of the (almost as liberal) mainstream media is too react hyperbolically in criticism of anything President Trump does. Often he deserves criticism, but often too the criticism is inconsistent or regarding issues that don’t matter. On the other side of the aisle, a concerningly large percentage of the conservative media will defend the president on anything he does, regardless how ridiculous or inconsistent it makes them.
The American Constitutional system is one of checks and balances. Divided government is intended to keep each branch in check. It is the job of Congress to fire warning shots across the bow of the president when he seeks to use the office inappropriately and, if necessary, to take action. Senator Ben Sasse understands the importance of that role and, though he is not a knee-jerk Trump critic, he also hasn’t let the monkey house become normal.
In a speech on the floor of the Senate, Sasse warned Trump that if he is thinking of firing Attorney General Sessions, he could “forget about it.” Here are the relevant parts of his speech:
In the fall of 2015 when I first spoke here on the Senate floor, I gave Nebraskans and every member of this body my word that I would speak up when a Republican president exceeded his or her power. At that moment the Democratic president had taken to himself powers that the Constitution had not given him. My opposition was not that President Obama was a Democrat, but rather that our brilliant constitution intentionally separates the executive and legislative powers.
I gave my promise because then, because despite the lazy rhetoric of this city, not everything is actually a blood feud between Republicans and Democrats. That’s because American politics at our best are acutely aware of the difference between justice and strength. That’s because when our body is working well here in the Senate, we take seriously our history, our duties, and the unique place in the Constitutions architecture of separate powers both vertically and horizontally….
So today, I’ve come to the floor to keep my promise and to offer a word of humble advice to the President.
If you’re thinking of making a recess appointment to push out the Attorney General, forget about it.
The presidency isn’t a bull and this country isn’t a china shop.
Mr. President, you’re a public servant. In a system of limited government, with a duty to uphold, defend and to teach to our kids the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. And this…this…is the world’s greatest experience in self-government. It works only if all of us: presidents, senators, Republicans, Democrats, Independents and judges, if we all keep our faith to the American institutions and to the rule of law.
Our oath is not to popularity, it’s not to polls, it’s not to political parties. Our oath is to the Constitution and the rule of law. Our duty is to the American people, the men and women who elected us.
Senator Sasse is absolutely right. Amidst not only President Trump’s odd and erratic behavior, and the inability of Congress to do their jobs and keep campaign promises regarding health care, at least one of the politicians in Washington is acting like a public servant.
As for President Trump, Andrea Ruth was absolutely right here when she wrote, “The first six months were a mess, the next six are shaping up to be worse and shouldn’t be. There is no, “he’s new to this” anymore. Get yourself together, Mister President.”