When presidents “solemnly swear” to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and … preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” we more or less take them at their word.
We have to.
We assume the process which brought them to office assures us of their fitness to serve, and that the oath they take weighs heavily on their decisions.
Over time, recognizing that it’s not 1789 anymore and the world now moves more quickly, Congress has voluntarily ceded even more substantial powers to the executive.
Our system therefore depends, in important measure, on the good faith and integrity of its leaders.
Donald Trump has neither. He therefore presents a clear and present danger to our democracy.
So did Richard Nixon. However, in his day, we could count on the good faith and integrity of Republican elected officials to keep a rogue president in check.
It was Arizona Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater who precipitated Nixon’s resignation by leading a small delegation to tell the president his support among fellow Republicans had collapsed after the “smoking gun tape” had been released.
(It’s worth recalling that the “smoking gun” which cost Nixon his GOP support consisted of the president agreeing with his chief or staff that the White House request the CIA to urge the FBI to curtail its Watergate investigation — child’s play compared to what’s already known about this president’s attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation.)
Alas, there are no Barry Goldwaters or Howard Bakers today; no Republican leaders who put country over party, the good of the republic over good politics.
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), for example, is prone to outbursts of faux moral outrage. When his friend Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was alive, some of those rants had at least a modicum of merit.
But Graham surely jumped the sycophancy shark.
Not long ago, Graham willingly admitted Trump was a “kook,” a “jackass,” “a race-baiting bigot” and “the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican Party.”
Graham made clear Trump’s wall was a fantasy, saying, “There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period.”
Now he seems to idolize Trump and attests to the necessity of his wall and lies about its importance.
Just Sunday, Graham rightly lamented deaths caused by opioid addiction, but then claimed “all of it’s coming across the border.”
Only some opioids are coming across the Mexican border, and most in ways a wall would not affect.
According to the DEA, the most common method of opioid smuggling is transporting them “through U.S. ports of entry (POEs) in passenger vehicles.” A wall on the border won’t stop drugs being smuggled through the doors.
The DEA also reports that over half the drug deaths in the U.S. come from medications used illegally — again, unaffected by a wall.
The point here is not to trace the routes drugs follow into the U.S., but rather to indicate just how far Trump’s GOP has veered from good faith and integrity and to note how destructive that is to the very system of government Republicans, like Democrats, profess to revere.
To restore the constitutional balance, future Congresses will be forced to claw back some of the authority this one has ceded to presidents and our system will be less supple, less flexible and less adaptable to changing circumstances.
The dishonesty and bad faith exhibited by Trump and his GOP enablers in Congress will be to blame for weakening our country.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.