Trump and our Constitutional Order

I would recommend the following essay by my good friend Michael Bailey, Associate Professor of Political Science at Berry College:  Enter Donald Trump.

A basic taste:

The Framers were war-hardened seasoned politicians who suffered no delusions about the real character of our human nature, and accordingly they built a Constitution designed to endure the rough and tumble of real-life politics. The Constitution produces a government capable of remaining intact from the rulership of the crooked or misguided leader. Such unsavory rulers are inevitable – after all, “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

But they also understood that no degree of clever constitutional engineering can mechanically ensure a decent rights-respecting republican government under every imaginable circumstance. Republican government was, and remains, an experiment – and Donald Trump is a trial too far.

Trump’s presidency threatens to conjure a perfect constitutional storm brewed from Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and overall recklessness, our separation of powers system, and a polarized party system.

A key passage:

Trump is a seventy-year old man. His character (or temperament, to use the language of the age) is set – it would not change were he elected President. Tellingly, Newt Gingrich – one of Trump’s most prominent and active allies – chalked up Trump’s disconcerting war of words with a former Miss Universe as Trump in “I got to be me” mode. Newt is right. What Trump was doing is what Trump does. He’s done it before. Rosie O’Donnell. Megyn Kelly. Khizr Khan. Trump is a man who cannot move forward once an opponent – i.e. anyone who opposes him – gets under his translucently thin skin. He is who he is.

Presidents are deluged with endless demands to solve the problems of a troubled world. As a matter of course, presidents set aside terribly important and urgent concerns to address even more important and even more urgent matters. A man whose personal obsessions impede his ability to prioritize between the important and the trivial cannot be Commander-in-Chief.

His brazen disregard for factual consistency will continue as President. His irresponsible rhetoric dismissing our national obligations, foreign and domestic, will continue as President. His mockery of vulnerable people will continue as president. His “trust my secret plan” mode of leadership will continue as President. There is good reason why unprecedented numbers of Republican Party elders – former Presidents, current Senators and House members – have refused to endorse Trump. They are not being bad Republicans. They are being good Americans.

I very much recommend the whole thing.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    I read the entire piece and enjoyed it. But here’s the problem, as always: You can’t tell people who want a demagogue not to vote for Trump because he is a demagogue.

    The same people who accuse Obama of doing things by fiat embrace Trump because they believe he’ll do things by fiat.

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    The beauty of our Republic is not that the people get what they want because, as we’ve seen, what they want can be horrifying. It’s that elections create accountability. Ultimately, the Constitution constrains what can and can not be done, regardless of what some shyster tells us “the people want”.

    The real danger we’ve been careening toward over the last 16 years is a breakdown of that Constitutional order. Ultimately, these constraints on power only work when our leaders respect them. Trump would be the death of that. This is why we should be reigning in executive power and restoring basic civil liberties ASAP. Because the next fascist may not be as slimy and repulsive as Trump. Imagine the power to drone, to jail, to detain, to spy being given to an electable Trump.

  3. CSK says:


    Okay, but again…how do you prevent people who could be seduced by a “slimy and repulsive” charlatan like Trump from falling for one less slimy and repulsive in even greater numbers?

    Trump supporters think of those constraints on power as the kind of corrupt business as usual that they want eliminated.

  4. MBunge says:

    Can’t necessarily disagree with much of that, except to point out that it’s not even half the story.

    Donald Trump did not land here from an alien world and use his power of super-mesmerism to win the GOP nomination. Those “good Americans” Professor Bailey mentions either explicitly promoted or implicitly condoned bigotry, stupidity, irrationality, xenophobia, tribalism, warmongering and a neo-feudalist approach to economics. They spent years making ridiculous promises to their supporters and convincing them to believe ridiculous things. And let us not forget that they supported what may turn out to be the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history with such mindless fervor that it was ultimately left to Donald Trump…DONALD TRUMP, FOR PETE’S SAKE…to be the voice of reason.

    And we’re not just talking about Republicans and we’re not just talking about the past. Mike Pence just openly called for a proxy war with Russia in Syria. He got on national television in the Vice Presidential debate and said when Russia bombs the Syrian rebels, America should bomb Syrian government forces. Tim Kaine didn’t disagree with that. Hillary Clinton hasn’t disagreed with that. None of Bailey’s “good Americans” has disagreed with that. Who did? Donald Trump.

    None of which, of course, changes Donald Trump’s fitness for office. And it doesn’t even get into the fact that the only reason Trump has a chance in heck of being our next President is that our system vomited up an opponent who would likely be the worst major party candidate in well over a century…if Trump wasn’t around to claim that honor himself.

    Donald Trump is not the threat. Donald Trump is a warning. People like Professor Bailey are clearly not heeding it.


  5. An Interested Party says:

    …our system vomited up an opponent who would likely be the worst major party candidate in well over a century…

    Good grief, we get the message…you HATE, HATE, HATE Hillary Clinton…pity for you that she is going to be our next president…

  6. grumpy realist says:

    The question is whether the Trumpenprolitariat will actually do anything in the future, or will return to skulking in the deep corners of the internet reading conspiracy websites.

  7. MBunge says:

    @An Interested Party:

    And we all know you are a Hillary fangirl who can’t stand anyone not genuflecting before her graven image. I think my evaluation of her is validated by the fact that just a few weeks ago the polls had her neck and neck with Trump, even with everything he had done up to that point. That Trump has surged again into the lead for “Worst Candidate in a Century” doesn’t actually make Hillary any better.

    And the one deserving of pity here is…well, obviously America. After that, however, the person to be pitied is you. I mean, you’ll probably get one or two moderate Supreme Court Justices out of President Hillary, which isn’t nothing. But what do you think the next four years of the Clinton Restoration will be like? How about those 2018 midterms? The 2020 campaign when the GOP is not running Donald Trump? Or how about this nightmare scenario, Hillary running for re-election with another economic collapse and another stupid war on her resume with Trump as her “I told you so” opponent?

    Maybe a miracle will happen and Hillary will lead us into a glorious future, arm-in-arm and singing “Kumbayah” all the way. You’d best be preparing yourself for a slightly less cheery result.


  8. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:

    They’ll be reading Alex Jones and looking for the next Trump, if the old goat returns to “private” life and resumes molesting women younger than his daughter and holding auditions for the Fourth Mrs. Trump.

  9. MBunge says:

    And just to throw this out. Trump could still win. Probably not if the poll average has him 10+ points behind, but 4 to 6? All these polls are built on turnout models and I don’t think anyone can predict the impact of the two most unpopular candidates in history. Throw in a reverse-Bradley effect and…I’m not saying it will happen. It most likely won’t. It’s just not unforseeable.


  10. An Interested Party says:

    And we all know you are a Hillary fangirl who can’t stand anyone not genuflecting before her graven image.

    Oh please, spare me…you know nothing about me…there’s no need for you to make $hit up…of course she isn’t perfect (who is?) but compared to Trump? There’s no comparison…

    After that, however, the person to be pitied is you. I mean, you’ll probably get one or two moderate Supreme Court Justices out of President Hillary, which isn’t nothing. But what do you think the next four years of the Clinton Restoration will be like? How about those 2018 midterms? The 2020 campaign when the GOP is not running Donald Trump?

    Save your condescension…it’s obvious how bitter you are that Hillary is about to win…it’s funny that you think so much of Obama…while he has done a lot of good things and, overall, has been a very good president, Democratic numbers in the Congress and at the state level have plummeted on his watch…hey, maybe you can blame that on the Clintons too…as for 2020, as long as the GOP runs extremists like Trump or Cruz, the Democrats will keep the White House…

  11. michael reynolds says:


    I expect the Right will sh!t all over Hillary just as they have on Obama. It’s all they’ve got.

    The warning here is about the American people. Trump isn’t the disease, he’s just the open sore. He represents everything dark and foul and ignorant in the population, but the foulness preceded him. He’s a symptom not a cause. But he’s not a symptom of real distress, he’s a symptom of self-pity, intellectual and spiritual decay, intellectual laziness, dishonesty, self-deception, giving rise to the inevitable scapegoating and fascist threats.

    And when I say “intellectual laziness” it’s people like you I’m thinking of, Mike. Equating – even comparing – the dull, paranoid, and ethically dubious, but fundamentally decent, smart and competent Ms. Clinton with Trump, is utter and complete horse shit. You’ve got the local librarian who helped herself to some library fines in one hand, and Adolf Hitler in the other, and you can’t quite figure out which is worse?

    If you were the HR department of the United States and you had these two applicants you’d hire Hillary in a heartbeat and kick Trump down the stairs. This isn’t a hard choice. We’ve never faced an easier choice. The only thing standing in the way of making the obvious and indeed logically inescapable choice, is misogyny. If Hillary were a man she’d be at 65% in the polls.

    So, rather than keep telling yourself fairy tales about the righteous anger of white males, take a look inside.

  12. DrDaveT says:


    This is why we should be reining in executive power and restoring basic civil liberties ASAP.

    This is an interesting point that I haven’t seen anyone else making. America is made more vulnerable to demagogues and democratically-elected-tyranny by the wave of post-9/11 civil rights repeals and the steady stream of SCOTUS decisions validating expansion of police powers at all levels of government. We’re shedding our societal armor just when we need it most.

  13. michael reynolds says:


    We’re also subverting institutions that used to act as brakes on public enthusiasms.

  14. An Interested Party says:

    @DrDaveT: A thousand, a million times THIS…it can’t be stressed enough how so much of our reaction to 9/11 was foolish and counter-productive…that we allowed fear to cause us to take so many unnecessary and unneeded steps…in a way, the terrorists really did win…

  15. Jen says:

    So, relevant to this discussion is a WSJ report that the objective of the new “Trump scorched-earth” strategy is to drive down turnout (basically, get everyone so disgusted with politics they don’t show up) other than his base voters. I think there’s also likely a Paul LePage element to it (he won the governorship of Maine with <40% of the vote due to third parties on the ballot). So, drive down Republican moderate turnout, make independents disgusted with the process, and…somehow? drive down the Democratic vote, AND have those who do show up to vote cast their ballots for third parties, and ta-da, he wins?

    This is exactly why I will fight tooth and nail to preserve the electoral college. This could maybe, possibly, work if we went by popular vote (although honestly I think it's too late for this strategy to even make a dent, let alone work).

    Am I being naive? Could this strategy actually pan out?

  16. Liberal Capitalist says:

    On an entirely different issue…

    I’m watching Trump live on Fox, on the O’Reilly Factor show.

    On the one hand, Trump is just hyperbolic with his statements… Surprisingly, O’Reilly is not letting him get away with many of his statements.

    Yes, generally still pro-Trump, but the facade has some cracks in it.

  17. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Another very interesting article:

    Imagine you are Trump. You are trying to bluff your way through a debate. You’re running for an office you’re completely unqualified for. You are chasing some glimmer of validation that recedes ever further from view.

  18. CSK says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    I read that article, and enjoyed it, but I wonder if Trump has sufficient self-awareness to acknowledge, even on a primal level, his own gross inadequacies.

  19. DRE says:

    Conservative Christians who support Trump because they think he will appoint better Supreme Court Justices are taking a huge risk. You have to ask yourself what Trump cares about. Anyone who has watched him in action knows that he doesn’t care about morality. He doesn’t care about religion. He doesn’t care about life. He cares about power and his ability to use it without limits. The claims he makes about what he will be able to accomplish as President, and the way he talks about leadership, show that he does not understand or approve of our constitutional division of power. If this man has a chance to make appointments to the supreme court, his primary goal will be to remove obstacles to his power as a “Leader”. Any concern for morality or religious freedom will be purely secondary.
    Anyone who values our constitution and institutions (as a conservative should) ought to be very afraid of Donald Trump.

  20. MBunge says:

    @Jen: Am I being naive? Could this strategy actually pan out?

    Yes, but not because of Trump. If it works, it will be because of this joke.

    “What’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats? Democrats already knew Bill Clinton had been publicly accused of sexual assault and rape when they asked him to speak at the last five Democratic National Conventions.”