Our President is at war with his own government. He claims in unending Tweets that he’s being persecuted and deprived of his Constitutional rights, which were designed to protect citizens from abuse of political power.
President Trump claims this Russia investigation is to be “the greatest witch hunt in American history.” Those conducting it seem to him to be his employees whom he finds unlawful and disloyal. He finds the justice system itself and officials in his own Justice Department as enemies when they do not support him. The same goes with his top cops in the FBI. He hires his own attorneys to protect him from his own government. When the law is used against his desires, it puts him into hyperdrive outrage, and he is sure the best option is to fire all parties.
But, let’s be certain of some facts: First, Trump does not run our country, nor is he supposed to. A president’s enormous power is open to challenge by the courts and ultimately accountable to Congress. The Founders created this government of shared authority with the Supreme Court as final arbiter interpreter of the Constitution. Opposition is built in to our system and is legal. Everyone, including the president, is supposed to be accountable to the same rules, and not on a sliding scale. To have executive power in America does not mean the right to rule. Our Constitution expects three powers to work together to get the job done, and provides set job descriptions.
Second, Trump is not the boss and thus cannot make the rules. He must compromise on a budget and may not switch line items set by Congress. Sovereignty is invested in The People who rule (theoretically) by choosing by votes to elect Congress as well as him, and those who make the rules expect them to be followed. The Bill of Rights protects each of us citizens from abuse of power. This includes minorities who might otherwise be excepted. And a definition of abuse includes error. If the three branches of government cannot work together, this country might fail.
The problem, of course, is that he is being scrutinized for possible wrongdoing, and he’s blaming everyone else instead of his own behaviors. This is a rare situation in our system with not too many precedents. Even so, as we try to understand, I think it is a grave error to declare what innocence should look like. It is far better to leave the story-telling at home and unearth the facts to make the case. It should not be surprising that a President might feel violated and mad as hell.
Far more relevant for this president are his global business concerns with a possibility of influence peddling. The Clinton foundation was a concern here as were wars against oil producing dynasties to the Bush family. This issue is now a head-on collision. It is not a matter of wealth, but that a global businessman routinely deals with heads of state as just part of doing business. Successful business practices may not be good statesmanship, even if you seek your own advantage in both. In business, you might have friendly relations with dictators or heads of totalitarian regimes. And it may be bad for your business when governments clash over deal-breaking differences. What is good for your business and good for your country may not be the same. Thus, presidents and high officers of government are supposed to separate themselves from their businesses while in public service.
This President and his family do not seem to differentiate these two roles very well. A business partner in another country is not always a political ally, and friendly business relations do not make a friend to be trusted. Because President Trump and his family have merged these two aspects, the special investigation now seems imperative to us all, but it goes far beyond determining guilt or not. It’s now a globalized world, and this problem is likely to come again with another president.
Do we expect too much? We rake candidates and even presidents over the coals of public scorn and poke right into their most private personal space. They are up for grabs for any kind of snotty remark, and this is not a matter of separation of powers. The media must be a protected watchdog for the public, but could it also see that we use the decent manners that we have toward each other? That might help as we work out the solution to this conflict over personal or public needs and risks of special interests gaining unfair access.
This decision makes a precedent for the future, but the principle of honesty and desire to prevent deceitful practices we hope will always remain.
Sharon Robinson has worked in the cartoon industry (Underdog), the ACLU office in New York, public relations writing for an international engineering firm, the transit division of the state of Oregon and a PR firm on Madison Avenue. She has published two books of poetry and prefers to listen to the waves and birds of Semiahmoo but finds this love threatened and thus speaks out.