The framers of the Constitution were prescient in crafting a document that not only defines the structure, powers and limitations of each branch of government, but, as well, establishes a lodestone of values and norms which has grounded American democracy for over 200 years—values and norms embodying truth, tolerance, forbearance, empathy, humanity, respect, and leadership.

Sadly, however, President Donald Trump seemingly believes that he is above the Constitution, above the law, and above the values and norms that he swore to support, protect and defend just a little over two years ago.

Indeed, it is well to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson: “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.”

Unfortunately, a short review of some of the President’s mischief, shows that he is not bound by any Constitutional or normative restraints. For example:

The President has, and continues to blatantly violate the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments clauses of the Constitution’s Article I sec 9 and Article II sec 1, respectively. Since he refused to divest from his personal business interests, Mr. Trump unlawfully profits from foreign and domestic transactions which funnel cash through his Trump Organization personal businesses.

Those direct constitutional violations aside, the President has also, on an unpresented basis:

 attacked the First Amendment guarantee of a free press by demonizing the press as the “enemy of the people” peddling “fake news;”

 attacked the court system, the judiciary and judges as being “broken and unfair,” “[a] terrible, costly and dangerous disgrace;”

 promoted racism, fascism, white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia;

 humiliated public officials and removed or forced the resignations of those who disagree with him or fail his personal loyalty tests;

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 encouraged distrust of elections, those running for political offices and restrictions that make it more difficult to vote;

 berated America’s long-standing allies and NATO, while at the same time establishing warm and solicitous relationships with nearly every dictator on the planet: Putin, Kim Jong-un, Duterte, Erdogan, Abel Fattah el-Sisi, and Mohammed bin Salman;

 implemented policies that treat immigrants and those seeking asylum inhumanely;

 lied daily to members of the public about his personal entanglements and affairs of state.

And this is only a partial list.

The long and short of it is that the President’s misconduct is a direct attack on our Constitution and democracy. And, just as bad, “Trump being Trump” not only denigrates America, but on a global scale, encourages and emboldens authoritarian regimes throughout the world to follow his example.

Our Constitution and the rules, guardrails, norms and values that it embodies must be protected, lest we lose our democracy to the President’s imperceptible chipping away at the constitutional foundations of our Republic.

Violating the Constitution, the democratic values that have served us for over two centuries, and the rule of law must not be allowed to become the new and accepted normal-- just because the Chief Executive does it and, seemingly, gets away with it.

Those who are committed to our Constitution and to the norms and values it guarantees, must speak up and act out, regardless of political affiliation. Although some are doing just this, including Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a nonpartisan group of over 400 leaders in the legal profession, and a group of Republican lawyers calling themselves Checks and Balances, more must do so now.

Donald Trump must be bound down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution. We the People must be the ones to forge the links.

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James C. Nelson is a retired Montana Supreme Court justice. He lives in Helena.


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