Members Only | December 6, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Trump’s ‘heresy’ was giving away the Republican Party’s game
He said the Constitution should be terminated, putting the lie to the idea that the founding document stands above democratic politics.
Last weekend, the criminal former president got his scandal-mongering groove back. He said that the United States Constitution ought to be terminated. No, really.
“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude,” Donald Trump wrote, “allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
This is nothing but sour grapes, yet Trump’s critics couldn’t help themselves. That says more about them than it does Trump, and that’s good information. It reminds us that most Americans, with much encouragement by the Republican Party, believe the Constitution stands above democratic politics, as if untainted by human sin.
The opposite is true.
The Constitution has been used for achieving political ends just like anything else that’s politically useful. Those ends might be empowering democratic politics to expand liberty, equality and happiness. They might be stopping democratic politics from challenging the status quo.
Alas, the latter is more common.
Yet we cling to the Constitution as if we’d surely perish without it – as if a piece of paper were the only thing standing between the people and tyranny. It isn’t. Believing otherwise is foolish. We should put faith in the outcomes of democratic politics, not things said to stand above it.
Oh, the outrage!
On the one hand were conservatives who don’t want Trump to run in 2024. Here’s the Post’s Marc Thiessen: “This is many things, but it’s not conservatism. Respect for the Constitution and its original meaning is the bedrock of the modern conservative movement … For someone seeking the Republican presidential nomination to call for the Constitution’s termination is nothing short of heresy.”
On the other were Trump’s critics saying see see tolljah! The Post’s Jennifer Rubin: “In a healthy democracy with two sane, stable and pro-democratic parties, it never would have come to this.”
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Neither side seems to understand the truly radical thing about Trump’s statement, which is this: nothing, not even the Constitution, is untouchable. Nothing is immune to democratic politics. In denouncing him, critics demand that he stop politicizing everything, especially the Constitution. But Trump understands something others won’t.
Politics never stops.
Sorry, not sorry, he’s right.
Granted, this is pretty extreme, even for Trump. It’s not everyday you hear a former Republican president belittle what most Republican voters believe is a sacred text akin to the Ten Commandments.
But it’s not extreme because most Republican voters believe it’s a sacred text. It’s extreme because it sabotages why most Republican voters say it’s a sacred text. They say that because appeals to the Constitution slow down, encumber or stop democratic politics. The more the GOP can stop democratic politics, the more they win.
Think about it.
Democratic politics is a numbers game. The more people who want X, the better chance of X becoming a reality. That includes the law, government policy and amending the United States Constitution.
The Republicans, by their nature, are a minority party. They represent mainly the very obscenely rich, religious zealots, paramilitary cranks and a smattering of conservative and libertarian intellectuals. That’s it. If politics were just about numbers, the Republican would lose.
So they have a huge incentive to bring into democratic politics, or protect what’s already there, ideas and concepts that they can present as untouchable by human hands – as if they were given to us by God Himself, the unquestionable referee of politics. If God says it’s X, then it’s X, and the GOP, by some miracle, always knows what God wants.
With these ideas and concepts, the Republicans can say that we, as a government of the people, can’t do something, and by saying that we can’t do something, they are serving and protecting the orders of power that democratic politics always seeks to weaken by flattening. You can see why accusing Trump of heresy isn’t about ideology.
His heresy was giving the game away.
Does it do what we say it does?
If Trump is a heretic, so are the Supreme Court’s Six.
They have done plenty to give the game away by throwing out legal precedent, fabricating history and otherwise making things up.
As destructive as Trump has been to brand of “constitutional conservatism,” the Six have been more so. In effect, they admit in their written opinions that the Constitution isn’t a covenant between and among consenting members of a free community. It’s a weapon of the GOP for slowing down, encumbering or stopping democratic politics.
Given that, shouldn’t we rethink what we say we believe about the Constitution? Yes, but we aren’t. A bipartisan chorus of voices rose up to defend the Constitution as if it needed defending from Trump.
New York Congressman-elect Mike Lawler told the Associated Press: “The Constitution is set for a reason, to protect the rights of every American. I think the former president would be well-advised to focus on the future, if he is going to run for president again.”
Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, went even farther, laying it on thick by saying that the Constitution “is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country. Attacking the American Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation.”
I mean, I get why the White House said this, but c’mon. The Supreme Court’s Six don’t buy that. Why should we? Does the Constitution “protect the rights of every American”? Does it guarantee “that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country?” Is “attacking the American Constitution and all it stands for” really “anathema to the soul of our nation.” Mmm. If so, there’s no point to democratic politics.
That’s hard to square with a new report by the Post showing that fatal shootings by police officers have increased, even as many go unreported. Does the Constitution stop police from killing people? Did the Constitution prevent police powers from killing George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and others?
If anything, the Constitution can be, and has been, used to rationalize giving agents of the state more power, to the point of manufacturing a court doctrine giving legal immunity to cops who kill people.
If not the Constitution, what then? What is the bulwark against tyranny? Normal, ordinary democratic politics – raising organized hell, strategic pressure on key decision makers – does more to prevent agents of the state from crushing people than much else.
Why then is the White House talking as if democratic politics were bad by way of the Constitution standing above it? Part of me thinks it comes from continuing to believe people like Marc Thiessen and their bad faith. He said: “Respect for the Constitution and its original meaning is the bedrock of the modern conservative movement.”
Because its original meaning was anti-democratic.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.