These are the worst of times, in part, because President elect Donald Trump has flagrantly flaunted American law and sound principles of governance.
Mr. Trump betrayed the nation by publicly inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the head of a foreign nation state at odds with America, to interfere in our elections and to commit cybercrimes – to hack American party emails and servers.
President-elect Trump plainly intends to dismantle our system of laws. The various Departments in the Executive Branch have evolved over time by complex statutory rights and obligations. President elect Trump might therefore seek to revise a Department’s legislative authority. Instead, Trump is infecting these Departments with incompetent pathogens, persons with no experience and antagonistic agenda at odds with the several Departments’ missions.
The Republican Party, the party of President Abraham Lincoln, has elected a man who would install as Attorney General a man who discriminated against blacks.
The party of President Teddy Roosevelt, who pressed the Congress to enact the Food and Drug Act in 1906 (the Wiley Act), has elected a man who would undermine that worthy legislation, that is, if you care what you eat or the prescriptions you use.
The party of President Dwight Eisenhower, who signed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, marking the beginning of large-scale involvement of the U.S. federal government in education, has now elected a man who would depreciate public schooling, by nominating Betsy DeVos, an antagonist of public schooling.
The party of President Richard Nixon, who created the EPA, at first by Executive Order, cared deeply how humans were compromising the quality of air that we breathe and the water we drink, has now elected a man who has nominated an Oklahoma AG who does not believe humans have any adverse effect on the environment.
This indifference to law and precedent was a grave concern at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. In those days, when men read what others thought, almost every delegate to that convention had read and studied what Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, known simply as “Montesquieu,” had written on, “The Spirit of the Laws.”
The Convention delegates were quite concerned with how despotic governments arose, where the citizens exist, isolated from one another, at the sufferance of their despotic ruler, sharing only their fear of the “ruler.”
Montesquieu wrote in his discussion of the “corruption” of government that “[t]he principle of democracy is corrupted not only when the spirit of equality is lost but also when the spirit of extreme equality is taken up and each one wants to be the equal of those chosen to command.”
The President-elect began his run for office announcing that some were more equal and confessing a virulent bias against Immigrants and Muslims, favoring isolation in so many diverse directions.
Mr. Trump also insisted that he was smarter than all the generals and public officials, and didn’t need to read or be briefed to know anything more.
The consequences of violating both principles of government, Montesquieu insisted, is that then even “the best laws become bad and turn against the state…”
Citing examples from Greek and Roman history, Montesquieu observed that “when [the people] had lost their principles [of sound governance], the more power they had, the less carefully they managed it, until finally, having become their own tyrant and their own slave, they lost the strength of liberty and fell into the weakness of license.”
We see this “license” now, before Mr. Trump takes office, by appointing persons who can’t or won’t do the job.
The loss of virtue in governance comes with a heavy price when one casts aside the law.
In “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More refused to acknowledge the marriage of Henry VIII as to do so would contradict his Roman Catholic faith; More resists at the risk of losing his life.
He is encouraged to give the oath to the King, even if it’s a lie, for what does it matter, and why would he give the Devil the benefit of law.
More responds, “Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper answers, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that?
More says, Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – man’s law, not god’s – and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – if you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”
President elect Trump is a man much like Roper, without virtue, or conscience, intolerant, and believing himself the equal of any other person, in violation of Montesquieu’s two principles of governance, and thus prepared to tear down the laws like when Alexander hacked at the Gordian knot, cutting it with a sword, and so the question is – if we don’t resist this despot, will we be able to stand in the winds that shall surely blow?