It didn’t take long.
Before the presidential race had even been properly called, social media and the blogosphere exploded.
Liberals (and other #NeverTrump voters) have not been private in their despair. We’ve seen protests, trending Google searches on migration to other countries (New Zealand? Really?), the proposed secession of California, #NotMyPresident tattoos, and even alarmist articles about how to survive an authoritarian regime.
That last one may have been just me.
The conservative response has been equally predictable. Name calling, smug defiance. My favorite are the posts suggesting that there were no protests after President Barack Obama’s elections. That the left should respect the office of the Presidency, as the right had done for eight years, with grace and respect. I assume this is satire. No?
One noteworthy thing that keeps popping up is a helpful list reminding liberals what a president can and cannot do. They insist that Congress and the Courts will properly check and balance President Trump, and that we need not worry about our precious freedoms. Relax, everyone. The constitution will protect us.
That sentiment deserves a closer examination. Consider this:
1) Every armchair historian will happily point out to you that presidents of both parties have extended the power of the executive branch. Often how history judges these actions is based on whether or not we agree with the values they were supporting. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Kennedy sending the National Guard in to enforce desegregation, Bush’s rewrite of the definition of torture to exclude waterboarding, Obama’s shielding of millions from deportation. There are thousands of examples of what can objectively be called executive overreach. It might be fair to say that nearly every president has exceeded the power granted him by the constitution alone. And gotten away with it.
2) Arguably the largest power not given to the executive is the authority to declare war. However, The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed after 9/11, is still on the books. Critics have long argued that this allows any president to bypass congressional approval for war by calling any conflict a continuation of the war on terror. In conjunction with the Patriot Act, the AUMF radically expands the power of the executive branch. Both Bush and Obama — in very different ways — used these laws to extend their actions beyond what is strictly constitutional. I am trying not to think about what Trump could do with the power of the NSA behind him.
3) Donald Trump has a long habit of breaking rules with impunity. Standard rules simply do not apply to him. He suggested on the campaign trail that he could shoot someone and not lose voters. He bragged about his methods of forcing himself on women. He used information allegedly obtained by Russians in the election. He has said and done horrible things with impunity. His supporters didn’t care. So, the notion that he’s going to find humility and restraint once he takes office is absurd.
4) Telling Donald Trump what he can’t do only inspires him to do it. He’s not really a Republican, by traditional Republican standards, but he was confident he’d win the primary. He was told he’d never win the general, not even close… but he flipped Michigan and Pennsylvania. Consider other things he’s been told he can’t do. Use nuclear weapons, put a 40 percent tariff on Chinese goods, make Mexico pay for a wall, rewrite slander laws to bring in line a critical media. Is there any reason to think that telling him he can’t do these things will stop him from trying to do them?
5) Trump, as a businessman, has a history of being reckless with other people’s money. His many bankruptcies have left investors and vendors on the hook, and his foundation has been used to pay for his own debts. Generally, the less of his own money is on the line, the more reckless he seems to be. In this case, having not paid taxes for decades, it’s anyone’s guess how responsible he’ll be with our money.
In summary, the “constitution will protect us” argument isn’t too comforting to me.
On the upside, he already seems to be softening many of his campaign promises, including the cornerstone of his rallies: the wall on the Mexican border. But this doesn’t calm the nerves of most of his opponents. And I’m not sure it should.
Jeb Bush, as he was being handed his hat in the Republican primary, called Trump the “chaos candidate.” What no one understood until last week was how much the country was willing to embrace chaos. Which leads me to my bottom line on this topic. No one — not his supporters, not his staff, not even the man himself — knows what Donald Trump is going to do in office. Like his tweets, like his campaign, like his life, I fully expect he’s going to wing it.
Which, with respect to my constitution-quoting friends, is cause for a great deal of panic.