April 7, 2020

A Misunderstanding

By Stephen Tuttle | July 29, 2017

“I, [name], do solemnly swear [or affirm], that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully execute the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”That is, by law, the oath taken by nearly all federal employees, including members of Congress. (The president swears a separate, constitutionally required oath, and Supreme Court justices take a second oath.) 

You will notice in particular the lack of any section requiring loyalty to a party, office, or individual. President Trump seems to believe otherwise.

What we have here is a misunderstanding. The president of the United States doesn't understand the obligations and responsibilities of other federal employees, including those he appointed or that were elected. Nor does he much care.

For this president, everything is personal, a win-lose situation, and he must always win. Oaths of office, the Constitution, and the people being represented are awkward inconveniences in his quest for victory.

Every day there is another perceived personal affront he must avenge with a Twitter rant. He still won't let go of having lost the popular vote despite having been the president for six months. The failure of the House health care bill was Speaker Paul Ryan's fault. Failure of the Senate bill was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's fault. The Russia investigations are James Comey and Jeff Sessions' fault. That all of it is actually being reported is the media's fault. He's a winner and everyone else a loser. 

One of his more recent Twitter tirades included a shot at Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from ongoing probes into any Trump campaign/Russia investigations. Trump claimed Sessions had been “unfair to the president.” Then he said — and this is especially interesting — he wouldn't have appointed Sessions had he known Sessions would recuse himself.

Members of the Trump team have acknowledged they did know about Sessions’ meetings with the Russians, so apparently that didn't bother them at all. No, what so troubled them was his refusal to defend Trump while, one assumes, Sessions investigated himself. 

The attorney general is the leader of the Department of Justice and the country's chief law enforcement official. Though this person serves at the pleasure of the president —  Sessions could be gone by the time you read this — it isn't his or her job, at all, to run interference on investigations into the president's campaign.

The same day Trump said that Sessions had been unfair, he tweeted that some members of Congress should “protect their president.” 

It could be that some members of both the House and Senate believe they owe first loyalty to their party or the president. There might even be a few who believe they rode into office on Trump's tiny coattails. But not many. 

Trump misunderstands that elected officials have their own constituencies that might not care what the president wants. Not every Republican state or district is enthralled with Trump, as evidenced by his 36 percent approval rating. (Or, as the president puts it, “almost 40 percent,” as if that's better.)

Nor does he seem to understand Congress is the constitutional equal — many believe the first of equals — to the executive branch and need not do its bidding. 

Trump is oblivious to all of that. The best example has been his involvement, or lack thereof, in the health care debate. He wants the Affordable Care Act repealed. Period. He believes Congress should do it because he says so.

But he cares very little about what might be in any replacement legislation. He had no clue what was in either the failed House or Senate bills, which is why he could neither explain nor sell them. He can tell you “Obamacare is death” but not why. He can tell you getting rid of it is good but not how. His bad habit of gleaning information from a single page of bullet points or morning news shows doesn't give him much insight.

Unfortunately for the president, members of Congress, even in his own party, actually have to explain why they vote the way they do, and “because the president said so” isn't a good start. It gets plenty sticky trying to explain to constituents that they are about to lose health care coverage simply because that's what the president wants.  

The good news here is that even though Trump misunderstands much, his confusion is not an insurmountable obstacle — at least as long as members of Congress understand their loyalty is first to the Constitution and second to all the people they represent, but never to just one person. 



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