Sunday, October 23, 2016

Steven Johnston — Donald Trump and Constitutional Crisis

Steven Johnston 

Author of American Dionysia: Violence, Tragedy, and Democratic Politics.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign presents a distinctive set of problems for American democracy. The very substance of his campaign should have disqualified him from office long ago. The number of his positions—from building a giant wall on the Mexican border to banning Muslims from entering the country, from his attacks on Planned Parenthood to his determination  to appoint to the Supreme Court more hate-filled bigots like Antonin Scalia—that are morally and politically repellant shocks the conscience. What’s more, Trump is manifestly unfit, psychologically speaking, to hold any elected office. Trump is a racist, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a thug, an ignoramus, a narcissist, a pathological liar, and a crooked, incompetent businessman of monumental proportions. He has encouraged his supporters to commit violence against opponents at his campaign events and has effectively called on second amendment fanatics to kill the rival candidate in defense of their gun rights. He also threatens to jail Hillary Clinton if elected.

Despite the recent revelation involving Billy Bush, which reflected and reinforced his basic modus operandi in the world, Trump may still become the next president of the United States (or, failing that, found a neofascist movement that menaces and scrambles American politics for the foreseeable future): the latest polls indicate Trump declining, but he retains a core of steadfast supporters who wallow in the resentment he channels and many remain opposed to a Hillary Clinton presidency under any circumstances.

Citizens that plan to vote for Trump, should he win, ought to prepare themselves for the unique problems he will pose for the United States. If and when he turns out to be a man of his reckless, belligerent, criminal word, and there is every reason to believe that Trump means what he says and says what he means, in all likelihood he will induce a series of constitutional crises in the United States. Trump will so conduct himself in office that he will have to be impeached, put on trial, and removed. Citizens that plan to vote for him must be ready for this result. In part, they will be responsible for bringing it about. If Washington has suffered from undue paralysis for the past eight years because of fanatical racist opposition to Obama’s presidency, it will worsen under Trump.

Candidate Trump has made it clear that he has no regard for the Constitution or international law, or law of any kind. If elected, he has declared his intent to commit high crimes and misdemeanors, including war crimes, such as torturing human beings and murdering family members of alleged terrorists to prosecute the war on terrorism. He has also indicated that he will indiscriminately deploy American firepower to “bomb the shit” out of the Islamic State in utter disregard for civilian casualties. President Donald Trump will have much blood on his hands. And he will force it on ours.

Trump would not be the first American president to commit crimes while in office. The list of presidential criminality in the post-World War II era alone is depressingly impressive, including LBJ, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. These men did not enter office, however, boasting of the crimes, especially war crimes, which they planned to commit. Barack Obama notoriously refused to prosecute Bush Administration officials for their gross infringements, insisting that the country, given the many critical problems facing it, needed to look forward rather than back. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has effectively put his party and its loyalists on notice. He is forcing them to look forward to his villainous potential presidency. Since they claim to hold the Constitution sacrosanct as democratic citizens must, to vote for Donald Trump means that they must be prepared to see him, ultimately, tried, convicted, and removed from office for his felonious conduct within it.  The Constitution is the legal and political foundation of American democracy. Without it, America cannot stand. A Trump victory would amount to a first in American history for those who voted for him: the election of a candidate they know plans to commit, among other things, murder and treason.

If Trump delivers on his promises, those responsible for putting him in office will have no (ethical) choice but to press for his removal from office and his subsequent prosecution to the fullest extent the law allows—this according to their own principles. Consider what it would take to deport every immigrant without papers in the United States. The infrastructure of violence (armed roundups of human beings, forced marches, prison trains, concentrations camps, etc.) necessary to implement this malevolent ambition would make a shambles of due process rights, both procedural and substantive, afforded persons under the Constitution and render the United States a global pariah.

Trump has other people of color in his sights as well. As the self-styled law and order candidate, he would pacify American cities and give police free rein. Local authorities would have nothing to fear from a Trump Justice Department, which would effectively unleash the violence of the state at all levels against black Americans should they resist police brutality and killings. America’s incarceration rate, already among the highest in the world, will accelerate and intensify the country’s pace on a destructive path. Black Lives Matter could easily be designated a hate group or terrorist organization. Trump, of course, would need assistance to successfully criminalize democratic politics. For such a project he could turn to no one more fitting than his most loyal pimp, Rudy Giuliani. With Giuliani at the helm of the F.B.I. an American police state becomes thinkable.

Internationally, Trump’s vile pronouncements have already provided the Islamic State with vital recruiting propaganda. Imagine the assistance he could render them if he matches his bigoted words with murderous deeds, as promised, by indiscriminately using America’s military might. How many more American lives would he jeopardize with every innocent casualty his policies produced? This could meet the definition of treason under United States Code, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Even if Trump knew in advance that his plan would backfire, he would do it anyway. That’s how his politics of revenge operates. It creates endless enemies.

What’s more, Trump would not tolerate any criticism of his presidency. Hypersensitive to negative appraisal of any kind, what would he do when faced with serious, sustained opposition and dissent? He’s already indicated that he would attempt to change libel laws to silence political critics (The New York Times and The Washington Post reside at the top of his hit list). Like Nixon, a disgraced criminal figure he admires, he would be in position to deploy the power of the federal government against those he identifies as enemies.  As he proudly boasted in the second debate, if he’s elected president he will order his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor whose task is to put Hillary Clinton behind bars. Nothing short of a cult of personality would satisfy this totalitarian once in office. American citizens would be expected to behave as mere subjects.

In the immediate aftermath of the Access Hollywood disclosure, there has been fevered talk of forcing Trump to quit the race, if only to save the GOP from electoral disaster in the House and Senate. Democrats need to oppose this possibility loudly and often. Not one of the things that Trump said about or admitted doing to women is new. The confession (to crimes) does not constitute legitimate grounds for those who have remained loyal to him to date to change their minds. Opposition to his candidacy should have been a moral and political imperative from the get-go regardless of party (or ideological) affiliation. It was not such an imperative for one simple but terrible reason: Trump is a creation of conservative republicans and the political culture they have been fostering for decades. And they know it. Despite a few policy differences, Trump is one of them and they are of a piece with him. Some Republicans seem to think they can redeem or rehabilitate themselves by opposing or replacing Trump at the eleventh hour, but they created a party all too amenable to Trump’s seizure, which means they can’t take it back from him now because he has become the party. Perhaps this explains Paul Ryan’s tortured stance of not campaigning with or defending Trump but still “endorsing” him.

Perpetual constitutional crisis is what those citizens who plan to vote for Trump need to think about and prepare for as November 8 approaches. What the GOP must do is destroy Trump at the polls—even if it destroys them, too. He is a political monster they have created in their own image. It’s their responsibility to kill it. But I am not holding my breath while I wait for them to do it.



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