Donald Trump and Post-Constitutional America

by Charles J. Reid, Jr

Charles J. Reid, Jr. was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he majored in Latin, Classics, and History, and also did substantial coursework in classical Greek and modern European languages. It was during his undergraduate days that he developed an interest in canon law, doing a year of directed research in Roman and canon law under the supervision of James Brundage. Reid then attended the Catholic University of America, where he earned J.D. and J.C.L. (license in canon law) degrees. During his time at Catholic University, he organized a series of symposia on the bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear arms. The proceedings of these symposia were published under Reid's editorship as "Peace in a Nuclear Age: The Bishops' Pastoral Letter in Perspective" (Catholic University of America Press, 1986). This book was called by the New York Times "among the most scholarly and unsettling of responses" to the pastoral letter (December 28, 1986).Reid then attended Cornell University, where he earned a Ph.D. in the history of medieval law under the supervision of Brian Tierney. His thesis at Cornell was on the Christian, medieval origins of the western concept of individual rights. Over the last ten years, he has published a number of articles on the history of western rights thought, and is currently completing work on a book manuscript addressing this question.In 1991, Reid was appointed research associate in law and history at the Emory University School of Law, where he has worked closely with Harold Berman on the history of western law. He collaborated with Professor Berman on articles on the Lutheran legal science of the sixteenth century, the English legal science of the seventeenth century, and the flawed premises of Max Weber's legal historiography.While at Emory, Reid has also pursued a research agenda involving scholarship on the history of western notions of individual rights; the history of liberty of conscience in America; and the natural-law foundations of the jurisprudence of Judge John Noonan. He has also published articles on various aspects of the history of the English common law. He has had the chance to apply legal history in a forensic setting, serving as an expert witness in litigation involving the religious significance of Christian burial. Additionally, Reid has taught a seminar on the contribution of medieval canon law to the shaping of western constitutionalism.  Recently, Reid has become a featured blogger at the Huffington Post on current issues where religion, law and politics intersect.

The judge, Donald Trump roared, was “very hostile.” Trump was only warming up. The judge, he continued, was a “disgrace” and a “hater.” “His name is Gonzalo Curiel.” Trump suggested that he might be “Mexican,” and complained of being “railroaded.” The judge, he added, should be “ashamed” of his actions. Trump did all of this in San Diego, where the judge keeps his courtroom. Finally, Trump mused out loud that he just might win in November and he let that thought linger in the air.

This is conduct unbecoming any private person. It was a speech that questioned the integrity of the judicial process and incited an already raucous crowd to boo and jeer at the mention of the judge’s name and ethnic heritage. It has been convincingly suggested that conduct such as this might amount to contempt of court. It was, after all, a clear and evident attempt at intimidation.

Let us keep this in mind: This was not some otherwise anonymous frustrated litigant giving vent to disappointment at the way a judge was handling the details of an otherwise private lawsuit with little impact beyond the interests of the parties. Rather, it was an address delivered by a presidential candidate in front of a large crowd of already angry voters. And this was a speech delivered not in Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia or in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This was a speech delivered by the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for President of the United States.

Donald Trump, clearly, represents something new and very disturbing in American politics. This point has been made by countless commentators in a wide variety of venues. But in this speech it is fair to say that he crossed a threshold that few if any public figures have ever dared to approach. He revealed himself as having utter disregard for American constitutionalism.

What do I mean specifically by “constitutionalism”? Constitutionalism is grounded in respect for the Constitution but it is something larger than the text of that document. The Constitution, of course, is the cornerstone of the American nation. It contains many specific provisions of importance not only to lawyers but to all Americans. Some of these provisions are quite precise in the rules they prescribe. The president must be at least thirty-five years of age. The Vice President is given the duty of presiding over the Senate. The House of Representatives is entrusted with the authority of originating “all bills for raising Revenue.” I could give other examples of the precision and craft with which the Constitution was drafted.

But the Constitution is something larger than a collection of neatly-drawn rules. And that is what I mean by constitutionalism. It is an ethos, a sense of self-restraint, and a commitment to respect and preserve the rule of law.

Constitutionalism begins with an acknowledgment that our government is one of three coordinate branches. The presidency is not supreme, nor is the legislature, nor the judiciary. Each of the three branches of government was given the capacity to “check” the other two, thereby ensuring that no one person or party amassed all of the authority in the system. The system’s success, furthermore, depends on the good will of the participants and requires the building of consensus.

Constitutionalism, furthermore, demands the self-restraint of the system’s participants. Richard Nixon surely challenged the integrity of the constitutional order during Watergate but even Nixon obeyed court orders and finally resigned the presidency when his crimes were unmasked.

Good will, self-restraint, and respect, in other words, are crucial to the functioning of the entire system. Presidents are not bosses. They are not mercurial CEO’s or petty tyrants empowered to fire or to intimidate members of the other two branches of government. Presidents must operate under the rule of law.

At a fundamental level, Donald Trump does not grasp the significance of the American constitutional order. The same can be said for the mob that cheered his taunts. One might ask, is Trump the cause or the symptom of American constitutional decline?

It seems that he might be both. Much of American popular culture no longer regards self-restraint and playing within the rules as positive goods. Consider professional wrestling — an activity with which Donald Trump has some personal acquaintance. It is all about the celebration of strength. There is a good guy and a bad guy. Emotions are aroused, and after gruesome acts of simulated (and sometimes real) violence, a kind of catharsis is reached.

Or consider action movies beginning, say with the Rambo movies of the mid-1980’s. The establishment — whether it be military command and control, or timid elected officials, or other weak and vacillating authority figures — betrayed the hero or the hero’s friends, and now the hero must fight not only real enemies but his own superiors.

The good will required to lubricate the system, to keep the branches of government working harmoniously, furthermore, has been under attack for a long time. One need only look at the so-called House Freedom Caucus — far-right obstructionists who hounded the Speaker of the House John Boehner from office and who continue to prevent the House from doing much needed business.

So, certainly there are antecedents to Donald Trump. But he nevertheless represents a new magnitude of threat to the constitutional order. He rails against freedom of the press. He attacks journalists by name, he mocks them for their physical disabilities, and denounces them for the questions they ask. He engages in vile racial and ethnic stereotyping and condemns whole world religions, even threatening to bar Muslims from entering the United States. He is an enemy of constitutional stability more akin to the demagogues of 1930’s Europe than anything we have seen in the United States.

And now he means to break the constitutional order altogether with his attack on the judiciary. We must not see this outburst as just another petty grievance voiced by the most singularly unfit man to run for the presidency since the nineteenth century. He is not some private litigant who is angry now that his scheme to fleece the public has been exposed. Donald Trump is a presidential candidate who has attacked the way we do constitutional business here in the United States.

Donald Trump cannot be entrusted with power. He is already abusing his position as presumptive nominee. He is temperamentally unfit to hold elective office. And all persons of good will, whether of the left or the right, should unite in opposing him.




Related article:

What Enlightenment philosophers would have made of Donald Trump – and the state of American democracy

by Anna Plassart

TO FOLLOW WHAT'S NEW ON FACTS & ARTS, PLEASE CLICK HERE!


 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Added 14.05.2018
During the first century of modern art, Paris was a magnet for ambitious artists from all over Europe. Remarkably, the current exhibition at Paris’ Petit Palais tells us that “Between 1789 and 1914, over a thousand Dutch artists traveled to France.” Prominent among these were Ary Scheffer, Johan Jongkind, Jacob Maris, Kees van Dongen. But of course most prominent were Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondrian.
Added 10.05.2018
The Jewish Museum in New York City is currently presenting the work of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), featuring just over thirty paintings by one of the most distinctive and significant artists of the early twentieth century. Focusing on still life paintings, of which he was a master, "Chaim Soutine: Flesh" includes his vigorous depictions of various slaughtered animals - of beef carcasses, hanging fowl, and game. These are dynamic works of great boldness and intensity, and taken together they constitute a sustained and profoundly sensuous interrogation of the flesh, of carnality - of blood, skin and sinew.
Added 08.05.2018
The impact of air pollution on human health is well-documented. We know that exposure to high levels of air pollutants raises the risk of respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer as well as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But there is growing evidence to suggest that air pollution does not just affect our health – it affects our behaviour too.
Added 05.05.2018
 

The May bank holiday is intimately linked to labour history and to struggles over time spent at work. In the US, May Day has its origins in the fight for an eight-hour work day at the end of the 19th century.

Added 01.05.2018
Quote from the article: "Who is talking about how globalized the world was between 1880 and 1914 -- until war broke out and fascists subsequently determined the course of history -- and the parallels between then and now? Globalization always had a down side, and was never meant to last forever -- but the gurus chose not to talk about it. It is always just a question of time until economic nationalism reappears, but the gurus have done a poor job of addressing the nexus between economics and politics, and its impact on business, which is the real story."
Added 29.04.2018
"......if we did manage to stop the kind of ageing caused by senescent cells using telomerase activation, we could start devoting all our efforts into tackling these additional ageing processes. There’s every reason to be optimistic that we may soon live much longer, healthier lives than we do today."
Added 29.04.2018
Many countries have introduced a sugar tax in order to improve the health of their citizens. As a result, food and drink companies are changing their products to include low and zero-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar. However, there is growing evidence that sweeteners may have health consequences of their own. New research from the US, presented at the annual Experimental Biology conference in San Diego, found a link with consuming artificial sweeteners and changes in blood markers linked with an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in rats. Does this mean we need to ditch sweeteners as well as sugar?
Added 25.04.2018
Female doctors show more empathy than male doctors. They ask their patients more questions, including questions about emotions and feelings, and they spend more time talking to patients than their male colleagues do. Some have suggested that this might make women better doctors. It may also take a terrible toll on their mental health.
Added 25.04.2018
The English-born Thomas Cole (1801-1848) is arguably America's first great landscape painter - the founder of the Hudson River School, the painter who brought a romantic sensibility to the American landscape, and sought to preserve the rapidly disappearing scenery with panoramas that invoke the divinity in nature. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Thomas Cole: Atlantic Crossings" is an astounding exhibition featuring a painter of extraordinary power and vision, underscoring his environmentalism and the deep sense of loss that pervades many works as he reflects on deforestation, the intrusion of the railroad, and the vanishing beauty of the untrammeled wilderness.
Added 23.04.2018
Quantitative evidence from three independent sources — auction prices, textbook illustrations, and counts of paintings included in retrospective exhibitions — all pointed to the fact that some important modern artists made their greatest work late in their careers — Cézanne, for example, in his 60s, and Kandinsky and Rothko in their 50s. But the same evidence indicated that other important artists produced their greatest work very early — Picasso, Johns, and Stella, for example, all in their 20s. Why was this was the case: why did great artists do their best work at such different stages of their careers? I couldn’t answer this question until I understood what makes an artist’s work his or her best.
Added 19.04.2018

People of all ages are at risk from diseases brought on by loneliness, new data has revealed.

Added 09.04.2018

I was a senior university student in Baghdad, Iraq. It was March 2003, and over the past few months, my classmates had whispered to each other about the possibility of a US-led invasion and the likelihood that 35 years of dictatorship and tyranny could be brought to an end.

Added 26.03.2018
In 1815, 69-year old Francisco de Goya painted a small self-portrait. Today it hangs in Madrid’s majestic Prado Museum. Next to it are the two enormous paintings of the uprising of May, 1808, in which Madrid’s citizens had been slaughtered by Napoleon’s troops, that Goya had painted in 1814 for King Ferdinand VII, to be hung in Madrid’s Royal Palace. One of these, of the execution of Spanish civilians by a French firing squad, is now among the most famous images in the history of Western art.
Added 15.03.2018

Soon after I enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1964, I encountered a fellow student, two years ahead of me in his studies, who was unsteady on his feet and spoke with great difficulty. This was Stephen Hawking.

Added 03.03.2018

A lack of essential nutrients is known to contribute to the onset of poor mental health in people suffering from anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and

Added 27.02.2018

Mindfulness is big business, worth in excess of US$1.0 billion in the US alone and linked – somewhat paradoxically – to an expanding range of must have products.

Added 23.02.2018

Reverend Jonathan Arnold, dean of divinity at Magdalen college, Oxford, has written about the “seeming paradox that, in today’s so-called secular society, sacred choral music is as

Added 16.02.2018

Orson Welles was a flamboyant showman: Andrew Sarris observed that “Every Welles film is designed around the massive presence of the artist as autobiographer…The Wellesian cinema is the cinema of magic and marvels, and everything, especially its prime protagonist,

Added 08.02.2018

Almost all of us have experienced loneliness at some point. It is the pain we have felt following a breakup, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or a move away from home. We are vulnerable to feeling lonely at any point in our lives.