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The Constitution has stopped Trump -- so far

Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, never promised compromise. He instead promised the opposite: reform throug...

Posted: Jan 18, 2018 8:22 AM
Updated: Jan 18, 2018 8:22 AM

Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, never promised compromise. He instead promised the opposite: reform through sheer force of will. "Nobody knows the system better than me," said Trump when accepting the Republican nomination, "which is why I alone can fix it." The trouble with such a self-centered approach? It is contrary to the Constitution.

Indeed, it is our nation's powerful legal framework that explains so much of what President Trump has accomplished, and failed to accomplish, during his first year in office. This framework sustains a system of government that resists unilateral action and rejects singular efforts to consolidate power.

But past performance is no guarantee of future results. And as President Trump's second year begins on Saturday, it remains to be seen whether these constitutional constraints will survive.

For now, the rule of law is still standing, and this durability bodes well for its future. But the rule of law cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, it is under attack -- by the same man it is constraining.

To understand the significance of legal constraints, take, for example, Trump's promise to build a "big, beautiful" wall separating the United States from Mexico. A year in, construction sites remain empty. This is because the Constitution allows the federal government to spend money -- including the billions it would take to build a border wall -- only if Congress authorizes that spending. Thus far, Congress has refused to deliver.

Trump also pledged to crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities." This crackdown has not occurred. Instead, the administration has been forced to rely on indirect means of pressuring these jurisdictions, including by increasing patrols in affected areas. The Constitution again explains: it protects the ability of state and local governments to refuse to join federal deportation efforts, and it bars the President from conscripting their services.

A similar pattern unfolds across a range of issues. "A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." "Open(ing) up our libel laws." Punishing people through "loss of citizenship." All these pledges, among so many others, run headfirst into constitutional constraints.

Still, Trump did manage to fulfill some of his key campaign promises. The rule of law also helps to explain these successes.

Most prominently, in December 2017, Trump signed into law a transformation of the US tax code. Trump could not have achieved this reform himself. The Constitution instead required that he work with hundreds of members of Congress to turn the bill into law, and he did. A similar legal dynamic explains another important reform: the legislative repeal of over a dozen Obama-era regulations.

Trump has also managed to meaningfully advance his political agenda through the courts and federal agencies. This is because the Constitution allows the President -- with the Senate's approval -- to nominate people to high-ranking positions in government.

For example, Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, a person resistant to environmental regulation, to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump anticipated (correctly) that this appointee would work to dismantle Obama-era protections, such as the Clean Power Plan, from the inside.

Trump likewise has nominated dozens of conservative lawyers for positions on the federal bench, where each appointee will have the opportunity to affect for the rest of their lives how the nation's laws are interpreted and applied.

President Trump has been able to deliver all this, and more, because the law allows him to. He has failed to fulfill other commitments because the law has posed insurmountable barriers.

Still, President Trump's actions continue to threaten the rule of law. Some of these attacks are brazen. Trump's response to judicial rulings, for example, has been to question the courts' legitimacy and even attack the judges personally.

Other attacks are somewhat subtler, but also undermine confidence in our legal structures. Trump pardoned ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, setting free a man who had refused to obey court orders protecting the rights of immigrants. He has called for his political opponents to be criminally investigated. He and his administration have repeatedly derided the First Amendment's protections of speech and the press.

There is more. Much more. But the ultimate point is the same: this steady assault on the rule of law threatens to radically increase the power wielded by politicians like President Trump -- politicians dismissive of limits and disdainful of norms. Without the rule of law, our Constitution's system of checks and balances cannot function, and a president's power becomes, in important respects, unconstrained.

Fortunately, that was not the story of 2017. But what about 2018? And beyond?

On one level, the power to protect the rule of law is where it always has been: in all of our hands. By voting, by engaging with elected officials, and by exercising the right to speak out, each of us can advance our own individual beliefs and agendas by lawful means. In so doing, we reinforce the importance of legal constraints.

This work is hard. But for the United States to remain, as its founders intended, a "government of laws, and not of men," that work is indispensable.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 132122

Reported Deaths: 2381
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin33719984
Ramsey13909358
Dakota9686137
Anoka8552150
Washington583071
Stearns574343
Scott334834
Olmsted323230
St. Louis291267
Wright243214
Clay228043
Nobles225716
Blue Earth20367
Carver17677
Sherburne166521
Kandiyohi16585
Rice16289
Mower150815
Winona124319
Crow Wing99021
Chisago9812
Lyon9596
Waseca9279
Benton9238
Beltrami8767
Otter Tail8517
Todd7865
Steele7563
Itasca71917
Nicollet71817
Morrison7129
Douglas6723
Freeborn6664
Le Sueur6205
Polk6184
Martin61117
McLeod5884
Watonwan5784
Goodhue57311
Becker5513
Pine5310
Isanti5275
Chippewa4293
Carlton4231
Mille Lacs40115
Dodge3920
Hubbard3792
Wabasha3700
Cass3665
Pipestone34517
Meeker3253
Rock3244
Brown3203
Yellow Medicine2815
Cottonwood2760
Murray2753
Redwood27111
Roseau2590
Fillmore2570
Renville25011
Sibley2493
Faribault2280
Wadena2243
Jackson2081
Kanabec20510
Swift2011
Unassigned20153
Houston1971
Pennington1851
Lincoln1820
Stevens1811
Aitkin1772
Koochiching1674
Pope1550
Big Stone1360
Wilkin1334
Lac qui Parle1323
Lake1180
Norman1140
Mahnomen1102
Marshall1101
Clearwater1050
Grant964
Red Lake772
Traverse550
Lake of the Woods441
Kittson380
Cook130

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 114201

Reported Deaths: 1620
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk18758288
Woodbury712294
Johnson580330
Black Hawk551098
Linn5420129
Dubuque510957
Scott444638
Story397318
Dallas342044
Pottawattamie320444
Sioux239616
Buena Vista224512
Marshall199536
Webster182415
Plymouth163527
Wapello150762
Clinton145726
Muscatine142058
Cerro Gordo135425
Des Moines135410
Crawford135214
Warren12147
Carroll111412
Jasper108134
Henry10465
Marion98310
Lee94310
Tama93737
Delaware76212
Dickinson7257
Wright7161
Boone7119
Mahaska67824
Bremer6619
Washington65011
Harrison64611
Jackson5963
Benton5692
Lyon5427
Clay5244
Louisa51715
Winnebago47419
Hardin4697
Hamilton4664
Winneshiek4669
Kossuth4600
Poweshiek45411
Cedar4445
Buchanan4434
Jones4344
Floyd43011
Emmet42317
Clayton4073
Iowa3968
Cherokee3922
Page3890
Sac3894
Mills3871
Guthrie38415
Franklin38018
Cass3783
Fayette3684
Shelby3671
Butler3662
Allamakee3608
Madison3563
Chickasaw3461
Clarke3453
Humboldt3203
Hancock3124
Palo Alto3092
Grundy3035
Calhoun3004
Osceola2721
Mitchell2670
Howard2669
Monroe25811
Monona2411
Jefferson2341
Taylor2312
Union2294
Appanoose2233
Pocahontas2212
Lucas1996
Fremont1971
Ida1882
Greene1840
Van Buren1722
Davis1704
Montgomery1687
Keokuk1601
Adair1551
Decatur1490
Worth1420
Audubon1411
Wayne1173
Ringgold882
Adams790
Unassigned140
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