Trump, Article II, and January 6, 2021

He failed to fulfill his oath.

I do not have time for a lengthy run-down of last night’s hearings.* But I will say that it underscored the remarkable fact that the President of the United States sat and watched, live on TV, an attack on the US Capitol by people who were his supporters and he did absolutely nothing to try and stop it for almost three hours. Moreover, he concluded the day by sending them a video message that he understood them, that they were “special” and that he “loved” them.

We did not need the hearings to know this, indeed, anyone paying attention that day saw it in real time.

It was breathtaking that day and it continues to be the case now.

Last night made me think about something Trump said almost exactly three years ago at an event: “Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want.”

This is both wrong, and a wholly authoritarian thing to say. It is the kind of thing that no president should be able to get away with saying, but somehow (as we are seeing with 1/6) the fact that Trump is thought of as a cartoon by so many means that his ridiculous rhetoric is dismissed as hyperbole or ignorance (or, my favorite “that is just how New Yorkers talks” (narrator: No. It isn’t).

At any rate, not only does Article II (which is the portion of the US Constitution that outlines the presidency) not give the president unlimited power, it details some key responsibilities. One of these was highlighted last night.

Article II, Section 3 states that “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

How anyone can consider the events of January 6, 2021, even outside of the evidence presented last night, and believe that Trump fulfilled even a shadow of that responsibility that day is beyond me (save to note that it requires willful ignorance and rationalization of epic proportions).

His inaction was indefensible.

If a parent sat in the living room while their kids beat up a neighbor out in the backyard in full view and did not intervene for 187 minutes, this would be appalling. If a police officer sat in the local Starbucks and watched a guy across the street mug bystanders for 187 minutes before intervening we would be outraged. Heck, if an NFL referee allowed one team to commit flagrant and repeated pass interference for three and half quarters of a game before finally throwing a flag, people would be calling for his head.

I know humans are great at rationalizing. I know that we want our team to win. But people need to open their eyes to the blatant disregard Trump had for the safety of law enforcement, of members of Congress, and of his own Vice President. He didn’t make one phone call or issue one directive in regards to security. And, really, all he had to do was walk down the hall and make a statement.

Instead, he watched TV and made phone calls encouraging people to overturn the election.

*Side note: while I truly appreciate Matthew Pottinger’s willingness to testify, as well as the fact the events of the 6th caused him to resign, I have rarely seen a more self-important display, and I have studied politics for over thirty years. His need to describe his own importance was a sight to behold but on the other hand, his praise of the accomplishments of the Trump administration underscores, as Representative Cheney aptly noted, that the witnesses that are condemning Trump were supporters of Trump. This has not been a cavalcade of Democrats and Never Trumpers–quite the opposite, in fact.

FILED UNDER: 2020 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. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Seen on Twitter:

    Josh Hawley was running like Rudy’s hair dye.

  2. CSK says:

    As I said then: “I think Trump’s base believes, or purports to believe, that Article II does empower him to do whatever he likes.”

  3. Kari Q says:


    So the corollary should be that it empowered Obama to do what he wanted and Biden to do whatever he wants. Somehow, I think they are less supportive of that idea.

  4. BugManDan says:

    If a police officer sat in the local Starbucks and watched a guy across the street mug bystanders for 187 minutes before intervening we would be outraged

    As noted in Sunday’s forum by <a href="@Tony W: “>Tony W. , I am not sure that the police should be used in this comparison. Between 7pm and 10pm, 12 911 calls are made about a person yelling, attacking and breaking into a neighboring apartment. The police respond by knocking on the door and calling the person. No response, so they left. Found her dead the next morning.

  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    This has been building for a few decades now: a significant percentage of Americans really believes that the President has some kind of sweeping power just to change reality to whatever he (and by extension his supporters) want. I don’t think it’s a matter anymore of teaching civics classes better: apparently they really want a dictator without understanding what exactly a dictator can/can’t do.

    And unlike people in other countries that experienced a devastating war or social upheaval, they want it just because they do. No reason, they’re not suffering (except in their own eyes) but really just because.

    A republic, if you can keep. – Ben Franklin, who would be disappointed but not surprised at all and would slam back a tankard of apple jack and shake his head in despair

  6. Kathy says:

    @Kari Q:

    If Article II gives the president Carte Blanche to do as they like, then if I were Joe Biden I’d have ordered a SEAL Team Six style raid on Mar a Lago on January 22nd 2021.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    IANAL, but I don’t recall that oath breaking is a federal felony, so I don’t know that this got us anywhere.

    This whole situation is a screaming indictment of our political and legal systems. While hope springs eternal, so far our only response is to lock up low level minions and we may pass a bipartisan bill making it impossible for VP Harris to object to a blatantly fraudulent certificate of electors in 2024. While red state legislatures work to ensure she’ll get one. And President DeSantis will feel empowered to do whatever the hell he wants. Which he will be as long as GOPs hold 34 senate seats, which could represent like 10% of the country.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @BugManDan: And SCOTUS has held that cops have no legally enforceable duty to protect.

  9. Kathy says:


    That’s why it’s imperative to prosecute Benito for a host of actual felonies.

    I’m not a lawyer, but if sending an armed mob to interfere with a Congressional proceeding, and to threaten lawmakers and the people protecting them, is not a form of seditious conspiracy, intent to defraud the nation, etc., then we may as well pass a las stating clearly no laws apply to anyone past a certain level of wealth or political power. You know, formalize the dictatorship and hope for the best.

  10. Scott says:

    If a police officer sat in the local Starbucks and watched a guy across the street mug bystanders for 187 minutes before intervening we would be outraged.

    If 376 law enforcement officers stood by while an armed shooter killed 19 school children and 2 teachers in Uvalde, TX we would be…

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    No reason, they’re not suffering (except in their own eyes)

    But Lordy how they are suffering in their eyes. How often have we heard some idiot compare being “cancelled”, just by being criticized, to the Holocaust, or slavery. Over at TAC being forced to see gay sex all around you, well hear about it, well actually just imagine it, is an unspeakable torture. Not to mention back when they were forced to have abortions, oh wait, just forced to not prevent other people from having abortions.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want.

    They Saved Nixon’s Brain

  13. Mister Bluster says:

    I listened to the entire radio broadcast of last nights January 6 hearings session.
    I still need to find video of “Hulk” Hawley running for cover.
    Oh. Here it is.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    His inaction was indefensible.

    [edited to correct] Steven, I’m astounded that you watched these hearings and yet your conclusion remains that Trump is only guilty of inaction.

  15. Scott F. says:

    @CSK: But haven’t we been assured that if Trump had only been given a chance, been given the honeymoon with the media and the opposition party he deserved, then TFG’s authoritarianism would have worked out great for everybody? What’s the downside of empowering Trump to do whatever he likes?
    @Kari Q: Obviously, the downsides of empowering Obama and Biden with the same authority would be ruinous. Duh.

  16. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    Well, obviously, because Trump is a great patriot who loves this country and its people and wants only the best for it.

    Obama, on the other hand, is a Muslim Communist and Biden is a senile Communist, both dedicated to our destruction.


  17. Blue Galangal says:

    @gVOR08: And the guard rails did not – and are not – holding. Axios has a long article about Trump’s plans to re-implement Schedule F and purge the civil service of career servants and replace them with those who support his America First policy and won’t oppose him.
    I do believe reports that the only book Trump has read is Mein Kampf. He’s certainly using it as a handbook.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    The problem with accepting that Trump actually planned this fiasco is that it requires coming to grips with just how ignorant and stupid Trump is. Reasonable people understand that overthrowing the Constitution might take a wee bit more planning than, “I’ll tell the Veep to break the law, and if that doesn’t work I’ll send a mob of nuts and losers to attack the Capitol.” But that was the actual plan. That’s the caliber of mind we’re dealing with here.

    Did Trump cultivate support from a corps of radicalized colonels? Nope. Did he line up support in the intel community? Nope. Plan to seize broadcast facilities? Nope. Did he arrange in advance for various governors to back his play? Nope. He didn’t even get Sean Hannity to sign off.

    Yes, he planned it, yes this was in fact his deliberate effort to overthrow the United States government. This is the quality of work he produces. He didn’t so much as bother to read a Wikipedia article on coup-plotting. Trump is a fucking moron and a lazy one to boot.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    And SCOTUS has held that cops have no legally enforceable duty to protect.

    And that, IIRC, was before the Supremes went all RWNJey during FGs administration. Fun times indeed!!

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: It’s the only level that can be proven to 12 jurors. And 12 jurors won’t convict him either. Just like one hundred Senators couldn’t refused to.

  21. Scott says:
  22. Kathy says:


    It wasn’t inaction.

    there’s testimony he not only sent the mob to the Capitol, knowing they were armed and dangerous, but that he wanted to join them. He was prevented from doing the latter, therefore he did what he could to keep the police and National Guard off them for as long as possible.

    That’s not inaction. That’s aiding an abetting an armed insurrection.

  23. @MarkedMan: Well, I did conclude the post with “Instead, he watched TV and made phone calls encouraging people to overturn the election.”

    And I agree, in retrospect, that focusing on the inaction could be seen as a problem, but the point being his inaction alone is a violation of his oath. One doesn’t even have to go into anything else.

  24. Somewhat to Michael Reynolds‘s point: my goal here (and with the post about being known by the company you keep) is to focus on discrete issues and actions because the more comprehensive the argument, the more people have places to try and create doubts.

    But there is no doubt he did not do anything to call of the riot for almost three hours while he watched it live.

    I am clearly not making a comprehensive argument here.

  25. Mu Yixiao says:


    Steven, I’m astounded that you watched these hearings and yet your conclusion remains that Trump is only guilty of inaction.

    Inaction is the wrong word to be using. It should be “refusal to act”.

    There’s a difference between “not doing anything” and “doing nothing”.

  26. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Yes, all those things are evidence of Trump’s planning and hence criminal liability (or more likely the planning of a toxic combination of Bannon, Stone, Giuliani, etc with Trump egging them on). As you point out, being a moronic criminal doesn’t erase the “criminal” part.

    But that’s not what I was alluding to above. I think the tweet inflaming the crowd towards Pence after 2:00pm definitely showed criminal intent. Now, Steven could argue that it might not be enough to prove it in court. I don’t know how you could see that tweet and not immediately know that Trump was in on this from the start, that someone had told him that Pence was the weak link and had to be pressured, and that he did so in the only way his enfeebled and febrile mind could think of.

  27. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He couldn’t even arrange to be at the Capitol.

    Things would have developed very differently if Benito had been at the head of the mob.

  28. How about this: there are at least two ways to address Trump and maybe, just maybe, get someone to change their mind.

    One is a comprehensive approach.

    One is bite by bite, starting with the easiest to understand and digest.

  29. gVOR08 says:


    He couldn’t even arrange to be at the Capitol.

    And why he couldn’t is still a mystery. Who decided? Who ordered the SS to not follow the president’s orders? Why? Had he told anyone what he’d do if he got there? And what did they plan to do with Pence if he got in the SUV? The “Secret” in Secret Service seems to have a whole new meaning now. Sure hope somebody can recover their texts. And soon, before they wipe any backups. And somebody gets these clowns under oath.

  30. Tony W says:

    @BugManDan: And that happened in liberal/commie California! Although San Diego is also the region of one Darrell Issa who is certainly not my representative, but from the area.

  31. al Ameda says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Josh Hawley was running like Rudy’s hair dye.

    This morning on MSNBC’s ‘The Morning Show’ Joe and Mika’s guest John Heilmann suggested that you really couldn’t call it running, it was ‘prancing.’

    Hawley, contemptible weasel that he is, deserves to be mocked, deserves it every single day for the rest of his greasy political life.

  32. Jen says:

    @gVOR08: I could be wrong about this, but I believe that the Secret Service’s duty is to protect the President, and that would include preventing him from putting himself in a dangerous situation.

    For example, if Bush 43 had wanted to head into a fighter jet on 9/11 (a-la Bill Pullman’s character in Independence Day), the Secret Service would have been well within their duty to prevent him from doing so. (I think.)

    Basically, I don’t believe there’s any big mystery with that aspect of it. Bottom line, if they’d allowed Trump to head into a mob, and something happened to him, they would have failed in their duty to protect.

  33. dazedandconfused says:

    Reading between the lines of the comments from the committee last night, they harbor little to no confidence what Trump did is prosecutable in a criminal court. How can this be?

  34. Tony W says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The next Trump won’t be an idiot.

    And the House Select Committee knows it. Frankly, that’s their raison d’etre

  35. @Jen: I think that is correct and is the basic answer.

  36. dazedandconfused says:


    It’s complicated.

    Stems from an absolute need in an emergency for there being someone, and only one someone, calling the shots and everybody instantly knowing exactly who that someone is.

  37. Kathy says:


    It does get kind of complicated. Hell, I only recently learned the Secret Service was moved from the Treasury to Homeland Security (do they even go after counterfeit money even?)

    The point is Benito should have made arrangements with the Service, and whoever else was necessary, to be taken to the Capitol at the appointed time. The reason I suppose he didn’t, aside from congenital mental trumpiness, and none of his co-conspirators did either, is they feared their coup plotting would get exposed, perhaps by some whistle-blower.

    We were lucky this was a Keystone Koup. The next one won’t be. that’s why it’s imperative, I reiterate, to prosecute El Cheeto and lock him away, along with any and all others involved in the plot (Rudy, Bannon, Eastman, etc.)

  38. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, I think this is a situation where the “Napoleon’s corporal” test applies. Make it stupefying simple that Trump’s combo of action and inaction constitutes culpable behavior. The analogy is that (supposedly) Napoleon used to keep a stupid corporal close to him so that, when an order was written out, the corporal either could or couldn’t understand it. The Trump story needs to be pitched to the simple-minded.

  39. Mister Bluster says:

    In addition to listening to last nights live NPR radio broadcast of the January 6 panel hearings I know that I heard other radio news coverage of the hearings over several days. Buried somewhere in my memory is a recollection of a news report of someone relaying the events when Trump was insisting on being driven to the Capitol. I think the witness stated that the Secret Service agents told Trump that there was no security at his desired destination and that they could not take him there.

    After some searching I think that I have found what was buried in my brain:

    CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: When I returned to the White House, I walked upstairs towards the chief of staff’s office, and I noticed Mr. Ornato lingering outside of the office. Once we had made eye contact, he quickly waved me to go into his office, which was just across the hall from mine. When I went in, he shut the door, and I noticed Bobby Engel, who was the head of Mr. Trump’s security detail, sitting in a chair, just looking somewhat discombobulated and a little lost.
    I looked at Tony and he had said, did you f’ing hear what happened in the beast? I said, no, Tony, I — I just got back. What happened? Tony proceeded to tell me that when the president got in the beast, he was under the impression from Mr. Meadows that the off the record movement to the Capitol was still possible and likely to happen, but that Bobby had more information.
    So, once the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought that they were going up to the Capitol. And when Bobby had relayed to him we’re not, we don’t have the assets to do it, it’s not secure, we’re going back to the West Wing, the president had a very strong, a very angry response to that.

  40. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08: As for why the SS didn’t take Trump to the Capital, I assume that it was because there were armed rioters there and bringing the President into that situation was extremely dangerous. I suspect only Ornato and maybe one or two agents were in on the coup. The rest of them saw it as their duty to protect his life above all else. Just another example of his shambolic ineffectiveness. If he were more organized all the agents would have been in on it. If he weren’t a fat tub of blubber he would have walked to the Capital instead of getting in the car and demanding to be be driven.

  41. CSK says:

    He probably wanted to arrive with an entourage.

  42. Jay L Gischer says:

    I could be wrong, but I think I recall hearing that Secret Service members cannot be compelled to testify against their charge (the President, or VP, etc). This is because without this, the charge would likely withdraw from their protection.

    So, we are unlikely to see any testimony from Secret Service members, it seems to me. At least as regards Trump.

  43. Joe says:

    @Jen and Steven L. Taylor:
    While I agree it is the charge of the SS to protect him, they still work for him and it should have been his ultimate call whether to put himself in danger after being fully warned by his SS detail of their inability to protect him. The fact that they so summarily overruled him is a testament to his ineffective projection of competent leadership.

  44. Jen says:


    they still work for him and it should have been his ultimate call whether to put himself in danger

    No. They have the authority to overrule the President, if they deem it to be necessary.

    From the link provided by @dazedandconfused:

    By law, the Secret Service can override the President. The President communicates with the Secret Service about what he would like to do or where he wants to go. It is then up to the Secret Service to determine if it is a risk to national security for the President to do so. If not, a protection plan is formulated and executed by Secret Service agents.

    I remember looking this up after 9/11. I was working at a large, multinational PR firm at the time, and my boss (who also had a background in politics) was complaining, an hour or so into the attack that morning, that Bush shouldn’t have been flying to an undisclosed location/bunker, he should be in front of cameras, delivering messaging. I remembered thinking “no, absolutely not–you keep the President SAFE, FIRST.” Even if he’d wanted to be on the ground in DC, it didn’t make sense until the level of threat was determined.

    So, no–the President does not and should not have the authority to put himself or herself in immediate danger.

  45. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I realize I have a professional as well as civic-minded contempt for Trump. This is how he thought you write a coup? This was his final draft? I could have done it so much better, but literally any writer could. The guy who writes horoscopes could do a better job. The guy who scripts stepmother porn could.

    This wasn’t a plot (in the literary sense), it wasn’t even notes on a plot. It wasn’t half an elevator pitch worth of plot. It’s the South Park kids – Phase One collect underpants, Phase Two… ? Phase Three: Profit. I mean, come on, you need some disaffected colonels at the very least.

    It was a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

    Hmm, that last line is rather nice. Feel free to quote me.

  46. Gavin says:

    Both the 1/6 committee and Fetterman’s campaign have exemplified something that I hope a lot more Democrats do: Identify a weakness in an opponent, hammer it, keep hammering it, and never stop no matter how much the opponent whines and cries – like weak Republicans always will.
    The 1/6 committee is functioning with the vast majority of the otherwise-unaware public similar to the way Fox does with 29% of the population, and thus the R party is getting beaten down because people are seeing them for who they really are.

    I have less than zero faith in Garland’s willingness to prosecute Trump for Trump’s obvious crimes. If I was Garland I’d have been prosecuting Trump on day 1 of being AG purely because of what McConnell did.. but of course Garland doesn’t have a shred of self-esteem.

  47. James Joyner says:

    @Scott: But, we are in fact collectively outraged and appalled by the cowardice of the police at Uvalde.