Donald Trump and America’s thriving constitutional order
Eddie Damstra | Thursday, February 15, 2018
Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for over one year now. And contrary to what many alarmists predicted, our republic is not destroyed and the world is not ending. Freedom and equality are just as preserved today as they were in past administrations. Stock prices experienced a brief drop recently, but, overall, the economy is doing quite well. The United States engagement abroad is largely unchanged. Domestic policies and institutions are nearly entirely identical as they were before Trump entered office. With the exception of the new tax law, Trump has not had much of his agenda manifested into legislation.
Some may attribute this lack of significant change to failures of the Trump administration to implement an agenda, while others may explain it as a result of the prominent success of Trump’s opposition. Neither of these explanations are correct. Rather, the lack of tangible disruption within the general institutional order of the United States can be attributed to the stability fostered by our Constitution. In fact, Trump’s first year in office is an amazing testament to the ingenuity of our Founding Fathers and a hopeful reminder that America’s true strength is found not within the capability of a head executive but rather within the institutional framework of the Constitution.
The Constitution possesses the necessary separation of powers and system of checks and balances required to maintain a stable, just and prosperous republic. There was perhaps no better person to test the true endurance and strength of such a constitutional order than Trump, an inexperienced politician with rather unconventional ideas and an untamed personality. The constitutional order has been tested, and it has remained firm.
The success of America’s constitutional order can be seen in many instances of the Trump presidency. Trump’s travel ban is now in its third iteration, as the previous two versions of the ban were met with resistance from federal judges, including criticism from the Supreme Court. Some may question the motive and bias of these circuit courts, perhaps with some merit; however, the judicial system has undeniably proven to be an effective and potent tool in checking executive power.
The legislative branch has also been successful at checking the president’s executive power, as it has essentially done for the entirety of American history. Many people bemoan the inefficacy of Congress. However, I believe Americans should welcome this perceived uselessness of Congress with open arms. The inability for Congress to pass much of Trump’s agenda items, including controversial proposals such as a border wall, is a sign of a thriving system of checks and balances within the nation. The late Justice Scalia famously asserted that “gridlock is good.” Scalia was absolutely correct, as he often was.
Gridlock is good because it prevents centralized power and unrepresentative government. If it were easy to pass legislation, a single party or faction could essentially assume sole autonomy over the legislative process and dictate the bills drafted and policies implemented within the nation. Such a system would be entirely unjust and would lend the nation very susceptible to transforming into a quasi-autocracy.
With this said, it is certainly possible to possess too much gridlock, and I think one could reasonably make the case that our nation is bordering on such a reality. Still, however, I would much rather the United States possess too much gridlock than too little.
No matter one’s political leaning, the difficulty of the legislative process should be met with appreciation. The American legislative system tones down policies and, ultimately, provides an appropriate balance between differing perspectives on the political spectrum.
While America’s system of checks and balances has prevented the enactment of much tangible change within the nation, the impact of Trump’s rhetoric and behavior should not go unmentioned. The reckless manner in which the president hurls insults and behaves immaturely lessens the world’s perception of the United States and pours gasoline on the fire of polarization and divisiveness within the nation. These are certainly effects of the Trump presidency. However, the fact remains that these effects are not tangible in nature. Trump has changed political and media dynamics within the United States, but he has not brought about any substantial institutional changes or, for that matter, major policy changes. Tangibly speaking, the United States today is the same United States as the United States two years ago — or 10 years ago, for that matter.
A former reality television star with no political experience and a seemingly lacking ability to filter his thoughts is the president of the United States. When presented with this predicament before the 2016 election, many people would probably predict this republic’s demise or, at the very least, a drastic institutional overhaul. So far, this has not occurred, and I am confident that such a scenario will not happen in the foreseeable future, even if someone more untamed than Trump were to be elected. The ability for this nation to rather easily transition power and maintain institutional order in the face of unprecedented circumstances reaffirms the fact that this nation is great not because of its government, but because of its limitations and checks on government.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.