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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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313942

Reported Deaths: 7240
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21580258
Hinds20330415
Harrison17879309
Rankin13594278
Jackson13429246
Madison10088217
Lee9970174
Jones8370163
Forrest7670152
Lauderdale7188241
Lowndes6387146
Lamar622486
Lafayette6184118
Washington5332133
Bolivar4801132
Oktibbeha462198
Panola4582106
Pearl River4506146
Marshall4435103
Warren4386121
Pontotoc420172
Monroe4107133
Union410076
Neshoba4030176
Lincoln3962110
Hancock378486
Leflore3493125
Sunflower335990
Tate333384
Pike3316105
Scott315773
Alcorn312768
Yazoo311469
Itawamba299777
Copiah296865
Coahoma295179
Simpson294988
Tippah288168
Prentiss279760
Adams278782
Marion269080
Leake267473
Wayne262641
Grenada261386
Covington258281
George247848
Newton246261
Winston227081
Tishomingo226667
Jasper221048
Attala214273
Chickasaw207757
Holmes188873
Clay185254
Stone182433
Tallahatchie178541
Clarke177980
Calhoun170532
Yalobusha164238
Smith162334
Walthall133945
Greene130533
Lawrence128524
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123042
Carroll121828
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107033
Tunica105226
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96533
Kemper95728
Franklin83623
Quitman80716
Choctaw76318
Wilkinson67230
Jefferson65528
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 531404

Reported Deaths: 10985
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765501522
Mobile41036805
Madison34789503
Tuscaloosa25788453
Montgomery24340589
Shelby23449249
Baldwin21154308
Lee15882171
Calhoun14511314
Morgan14306279
Etowah13843353
Marshall12232223
Houston10570281
Elmore10068205
Limestone9974151
Cullman9676194
St. Clair9661243
Lauderdale9427241
DeKalb8831186
Talladega8227176
Walker7241277
Autauga6926108
Jackson6814112
Blount6678137
Colbert6306134
Coffee5519119
Dale4838111
Russell441538
Chilton4296112
Franklin426082
Covington4129118
Tallapoosa4023152
Escambia393677
Chambers3573123
Dallas3551152
Clarke351161
Marion3122101
Pike310977
Lawrence300398
Winston274473
Bibb260964
Geneva250477
Marengo249564
Pickens234461
Barbour231057
Hale223077
Butler216069
Fayette212562
Henry188844
Cherokee185245
Randolph180542
Monroe177540
Washington167339
Macon159650
Clay156756
Crenshaw152557
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107628
Sumter104732
Greene92534
Choctaw60724
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