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Donald Trump’s Constitution (Forbes.com) September 15, 2017

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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Happy Birthday to the Constitution, which celebrates the 230th anniversary of its signing on September 17.     From time to time presidents have made a speech on Constitution Day explaining the founding document’s meaning in its contemporary context.

For example, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered an address on the Constitution’s 150th birthday.  With the Supreme Court turning back some of his most important domestic legislation as unconstitutional, Roosevelt spoke about presidential power, referring to the Constitution as a people’s document, not a lawyer’s contract, and arguing that the President had the power to do what “We the people” wanted.  Former President Herbert Hoover delivered an address on Constitution Day two years later, arguing that the Constitution was more of a restraining document, protecting individual liberty from government intrusion, especially in the Bill of Rights.

In 1987, on the Constitution’s 200th birthday, President Ronald Reagan delivered an address celebrating how human freedom had been guaranteed by the Constitution and the system of government it created.  Reagan emphasized that the Constitution did not come because of some golden age, but because free men fought to overcome problems and establish democracy, a battle that continues today.

We do not expect President Donald Trump to deliver an homage to the Constitution in the coming days.  In fact, from what little he has said explicitly about the Constitution, one would surmise that he has a love/hate relationship with it.   When a Muslim father whose American military son died in a battle in Iraq spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, he pulled out a Constitution and expressed doubt that Donald Trump had read it.  Trump later confirmed that he had read it and, like all presidents, he pledged in his oath “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  But since then, Trump and the Constitution have had a bit of an uneasy relationship.

Trump’s primary problem with the Constitution is not unlike Franklin Roosevelt’s:  It limits presidential power.  He said in an interview with Fox News marking the first 100 days of his presidency that the whole American system of government is “a very rough system, an archaic system,” adding that “it’s a really bad thing for the country.”  The context of Trump’s remarks came when he said, “I get things done, I’ve always been a closer.”  However, on the tough issues—immigration, debt, the tax system—he can’t “close” because he heads only one of the three branches, with both Congress and the courts having their say.  Trump believes that a dangerous and complex world requires that America have a “closer” president but, alas, the Constitution instead built walls.  It is both a restraining and an empowering document.

We all know that when President Trump becomes frustrated, he takes to Twitter to express his anger.  A federal judge who halted his immigration travel ban was referred to as “this so-called judge.”  Moreover, Trump said that a federal court striking down his travel ban “makes us look weak.”  He attacked the filibuster rules in the other branch, Congress, as “archaic.”  So obviously, Trump does not appreciate the value of the checks and balances and the separations of power that the Constitution designed and implemented.

Trump has expressed interest in the First Amendment to the Constitution and its protection of free speech.  Both candidate Trump and his presidential advisers have said that the libel laws under the First Amendment that protect “fake news” and attacks on the president should be reviewed.  Trump has said that the president’s pardoning power is unlimited, although Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution does state certain limitations.  Beyond that, he has said relatively little about the Constitution.

As always, it is tricky to sort out what Donald Trump says and what he does.  His primary action regarding the Constitution was to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, someone who, Trump said, would “interpret the law as written” and would “insure the rule of law.”  Will Donald Trump light a candle for the birthday of the Constitution or would he really prefer to be free from its restraints?

To view the column at Forbes.com:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2017/09/15/donald-trumps-constitution/#4e0e804b7620

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