Donald Trump does not understand the core principles of the Declaration of Independence. We should declare our independence from him.
The idea comes from the English philosopher John Locke, who argued that any legitimacy government can claim must come from the consent of the governed and has as its primary duty to defend the natural rights of the governed to life, liberty, and property, or pursuit of happiness, as Thomas Jefferson put it. The corollary point, and the main point of the Declaration of Independence, is that the governed, us, retain always the right, even the duty, to evaluate our government and to replace it if we see fit. The Declaration had the effect of stating that the thirteen cooperating colonies in British North America rejected the government of England and intended to establish their own, new governments, which they did.
The Declaration itself puts the point this way: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
This set of ideas carried over to the Constitution, which the Founders hoped would provide a new government that was strong, but not too strong.
All Trump can see is the powers of the presidency, not the various parts of the Constitution, which defines the Presidency, that serve, by design, to limit the powers of the presidency.
Trump likely doesn’t know it, and if he did, he would not like it, but this idea applies to him as much as it did to the king of England. We have the right to replace him.
Starting with Richard Nixon, observers had begun to express concerns that the president was becoming too powerful. With Nixon, the concern was that the growing prominence of foreign policy for the nation that was the world’s leading military power, with a nasty habit of forcing its preferences onto other nations, allowed the president, who had unusual power in foreign policy by necessity, to become too powerful in general.
This was already a valid concern, one that Republicans only exacerbated by granting too much leeway to George W. Bush in his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but those very bad decisions at least had discernible, public rationales that people could discuss and critique.
With Trump, and his obvious desire to abuse the power of the presidency, and to claim apparently unlimited power for himself, if any rationale exists, which is an open question, it seems to be whatever irrational, juvenile, egotistical impulse happens to occupy his fervid imagination at any given moment, especially whatever impulse he thinks is most likely to elicit the adulation of his thoughtless, adoring fans.
So, if blaming undocumented immigrants for all of the nation’s ills is a popular nostrum, Trump will promise to build a wall at the border with Mexico, no matter how stupid a policy solution that may be.
If enough people perceive imported products from China to be a major problem, he’ll impose tariffs! Even if he has zero understanding of how tariffs work or what the likely consequences will be.
Anyone who works for Trump must exhibit undying loyalty to Trump himself or suffer dismissal and denunciation. All federal officials, including Trump, take an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution, not any specific other official. Trump clearly does not understand the point, despite having taken that oath himself at his inauguration.
He very likely could not explain what he thinks, if one can call Trump’s mentition “thinking,” but he seems to see himself as a monarch and does not seem to grasp that we only exist as a nation because we repudiated monarchy. Our Constitution allows the president four year terms, and every president, except one, has served only two terms at most. After one president won election four times, we modified the Constitution to adopt the rule that no president may serve more than two terms.
Trump surely does not realize that he only won in 2016 because of that rule. Obama was not perfect, but he did win twice, and Trump was clearly not as strong a candidate as Mitt Romney. Even running against the first woman to win the nomination of a major Party, Trump lost the popular vote, and only gained the office thanks to an archaic, dysfunctional feature of our Constitution.
So the office Trump holds exists only because of the Constitution, and he got it only because of a weird feature of that Constitution, yet still he rails mindlessly when other provisions of the same Constitution prevent him from doing what he wants.
We have had bad presidents. The one whom Trump most invites comparison to, and who did the most to make Trump as president possible, is Nixon. But Nixon was smart. He was just crazy.
Trump is crazy, but he is also stupid. Nixon understood the rules he was breaking. He understood the Constitution and how our government is supposed to work. He just thought that his particular program was so enormously important that it justified breaking the rules to achieve it.
Trump does not understand the rules. Trump does not understand what a rule is. He certainly does not think he should have to abide by any rules.
An important idea in a republic, one that we only started to live up to at all in the 1960s,when we finally prohibited racial segregation and other forms of discrimination, is that the rules have to apply equally to everyone. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution expressly guarantees the right to due process of law, a basic commitment to fairness in government, to all “persons.”
So, as a federal judge recently held, the Trump administration may not hold asylum seekers in custody indefinitely while it evaluates their claim to asylum. They are not citizens, but they still have the right to due process of law. Reflecting Trump’s inability to understand either rules or how our government works under the Constitution, the White House responded with a statement whining about the decision of “a single, unelected judge.” The Founders wanted federal judges to decide issues on the basis of the law, so they insulated those judges from political pressure in various ways. This recent statement is similar to Trump’s own whine about the “so called judge” who struck down the first version of the Muslim ban.
More importantly, we have overwhelming evidence showing that Trump has committed various crimes. Happily, our Constitution has a mechanism for removing criminal officials, the impeachment process, another rule that Trump does not understand.
It is long past time for us to declare our independence from Trump’s criminal incompetence by impeaching him.