The other day I spoke with a man who had been a Bernie Sanders supporter during the primary season and, disappointed now that he would not be in the general election, was considering voting for a third party candidate: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump weren’t all that different, he said. I challenged him on that, pointing out of some of the things Trump had said and proposed. His response to this was airy: Congress, and the Supreme Court, will keep him in line, he said.
My response was that in the case of a candidate who knew and cared so little about the restraints the constitution places on the presidency, that might matter little.
Or, more concisely, I might have quoted Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
In one version of the story, Stalin and Winston Churchill were discussing forces at work across Europe amid World War II. Churchill talked about not upsetting the moral clout of the Vatican, when Stalin interrupted to ask, “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?”
In that telling of the story, “Stalin reaffirmed that he only respected force, and brought Churchill back down to earth from the nebulous heavens.”
Remind you of anyone? Someone who might well ask how many divisions the Supreme Court or Congress has? After all, their practical “power” is based on our mutual willingness to accept the terms of the Constitution.
The perception that Trump has little regard for the founding document has been widespread, pointed out perhaps most forcefully by Khizr Khan, the Gold Star parent who offered to lend Trump his personal pocket copy if he needed some review.
On July 7 Trump spoke with members of the House Republican caucus and was asked if he would stand up for the constitution. “Not only will I stand up for Article One,” Trump replied (in remarks quoted later). “I’ll stand up for Article Two, Article 12, you name it, of the Constitution.” The punch line being, of course, that is there is no Article 12 (there are only seven).
Pundit Andrew Sullivan suggested that “This is what is at stake – the core values of this country under threat from a man who has no understanding of the Constitution he would swear to uphold.” – rsShare on Facebook