Trump and the Constitution – Prof. Scott Hibbard, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science. DePaul University

Prof. Scott Hibbard

One of the key challenges created by the 2016 election is whether the integrity of American institutions will withstand a President who is defined by a disrespect for the rule of law, a proclivity for lying, and a history of unethical behavior bordering on illegality. Those with an optimistic bent have argued that the core institutions of constitutional government created by the founders of this country could withstand such an assault. Others, however, were more pessimistic. Two and a half years later, it is clear that Trump and his associates are setting dangerous new precedents, many of which are undermining the integrity of American democracy and the rule of law. Two recent articles highlight why this is the case. The first is from a colleague, David Lay Williams, who directs our attention to the Federalist Papers, and how the founders were particularly wary of the danger posed by demagogues to constitutional governance. What the founders – at least Hamilton, Madison, and Jay – did not expect, however, was the willingness of leaders in other branches of government to be so deferential to a President with an authoritarian personality. In short, the founders expected Congressional members and other elected leaders to have greater virtue and strength of character. Indeed, the American system of checks and balances is premised upon it. This, then, gets to the second article, which focuses on the Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his role in subverting American democracy. The importance of this second article is that it reinforces Williams’ point that the American experiment in constitutional government only works if there is a commitment among the country’s elected representatives to something beyond their immediate self-interest. This is clearly not the case with McConnell, however, nor many of his fellow travelers, who have placed the interests of their party (and their financial backers) above that of the nation. This second article also highlights the fact that Trump is not as much of an anomaly as one might assume. The right wing of the Republican Party has long pursued anti-democratic and theocratic approaches to governance that are antithetical to the vision of the early founders. More on that in a later post.

Article 1: David Lay Williams: “Trump has made my students skeptical – of the Constitution,” Washington Post, June 7, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/06/07/trump-has-made-my-political-science-students-skeptical-constitution/?utm_term=.43390f30cf4e

Article 2: Adam Jentelson, “How Mitch McConnell Enables Trump,” The New York Times, February 18, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/18/opinion/mitch-mcconnell-trump-emergency.html