Ignorance of the Constitution is No Excuse

So called President Donald Trump

So called president Donald Trump’s vast ignorance of the United States Constitution is astounding. He did, after all, take an oath “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” (U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, final paragraph).

He has repeatedly exhibited, however, a profound ignorance of the provisions of the Constitution and the functioning of the government it creates. Soon after a federal judge in Seattle struck down the first version of his Muslim ban, Trump denounced him as a “so called judge,” thus indicating that he does not appreciate how the Constitution very deliberately gives federal judges insulation from political interference because the Founders had too much experience in the colonies of judges who did the bidding of the king without regard for what the law says.

In the United States, federal judges are supposed to base their decisions on the law, even if that means striking down an executive order. It is possible for the president to violate the law in this sense.

The Constitution provides that federal judges enjoy their appointments “on good behavior” and forbids Congress from reducing their salaries during their tenure in office. U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 1. Such provisions might seem puzzling except in light of the history of the Founders’ experience with the government of England. Trump’s “so called judge” is a Republican who got his appointment from President George W. Bush and enjoys enormous respect among his colleagues, which is more than Trump can say.

Trump does not understand the independence of the federal judiciary.

Just over a year later, after the president of China succeeded in inducing his country’s government to repeal its term limits, making him presumptively president for life, Trump praised the Chinese president and suggested that he thought we should try having a president for life. Again, this reflects staggering ignorance of our nation’s history and the rationale behind the Constitution. We only exist as a nation because we decided to repudiate a king, who got his position by luck of birth and held it for life, preferring instead to have a president whom we choose — albeit through a process that looks badly flawed, now that it has given us two idiots as president within twenty years — and who serves terms of four years.

Okay, we waited until 1951 to ratify the twenty-second amendment, which limits the president to two terms. But our first president established the custom of serving no more than two terms as president, which every subsequent president observed until Franklin Roosevelt, who died shortly after his inauguration to a fourth term. Amending the Constitution to limit the president to two terms soon after the death of the only president to serve more than two terms, especially when that president was widely popular and highly successful, is very strong evidence that the citizens of the United States want their president to serve only two terms.

Trump does not understand this point.

Now President Whiner has called for television network NBC and its weekly comedy show, Saturday Night Live, to “be tested in the courts.” Once again, this statement is impressive only for the ignorance of U.S. history and law it reveals. In 1988, in Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, the Supreme Court reversed a court judgment in favor of famous Baptist minister Jerry Falwell, who sued because Hustler, the notorious pornographic magazine, had published a parody ad suggesting that Falwell first had sex in a drunken incident with his own mother. The decision was unanimous.

The logic of the Court was that the First Amendment has as its primary purpose the protection of free speech and a free press to ensure the most robust possible debates about matters of public importance, and that robust debates will sometimes include claims that are spurious or even scurrilous, but that anyone who chooses to become a public figure, as Falwell did, and as Trump undoubtedly has done, accepts in doing so that s/he may become the target of vicious criticism and parody. The most recent Saturday Night Live sketch Trump was presumably whining about this time was quite tame compared to the Hustler parody ad about Jerry Falwell, and Trump occupies the single most public position in our nation. It is hard to imagine that any thinking lawyer would even file such a suit. It would be obviously devoid of merit.

Trump’s ignorance of our history and system of government is vast and vastly embarrassing.



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William B. Turner

William B. Turner

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.