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Once again, the guardrails hold

Charles Krauthammer on

WASHINGTON -- A future trivia question and historical footnote, the spectacular 10-day flameout of Anthony Scaramucci qualifies as the most entertaining episode yet of the ongoing reality show that is the Trump presidency. (Working title: "The Pompadours of 1600 Pennsylvania.") But even as the cocksure sycophant's gobsmacking spectacle stole the show, something of real importance took place a bit lower on the radar.

At five separate junctures, the sinews of our democracy held against the careening recklessness of this presidency. Consequently, Donald Trump's worst week proved a particularly fine hour for American democracy:

(1) The military says no to Trump on the transgender ban.

Well, not directly -- that's insubordination -- but with rather elegant circumspection. The president tweeted out a total ban on transgender people serving in the military. It came practically out of nowhere. The military brass, not consulted, was not amused. Defense Secretary James Mattis, in the middle of a six-month review of the issue, was reportedly appalled.

What was done? Nothing. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs simply declared that a tweet is not an order. Until he receives a formal command and develops new guidelines, the tweet will be ignored.

In other words, the military told the commander in chief to go jump in a lake. Generally speaking, this is not a healthy state of affairs in a nation of civilian control. It does carry a whiff of insubordination. But under a president so uniquely impulsive and chronically irrational, a certain vigilance, even prickliness, on the part of the military is to be welcomed.

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The brass framed their inaction as a matter of procedure. But the refusal carried with it a reminder of institutional prerogatives. In this case, the military offered resistance to mere whimsy. Next time, it could be resistance to unlawfulness.

(2) The Senate saves Sessions.

Trump's relentless public humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions was clearly intended to get him to resign. He didn't, in part because of increasing support from Congress. Sessions' former colleagues came out strongly in his defense and some openly criticized the president's shabby treatment of his first and most fervent senatorial supporter.

Indeed, Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, warned Trump not to fire Sessions because he wouldn't get another attorney general -- the committee's entire 2017 schedule was set and there would be no hearings to approve a new AG. That was a finger to the eye of the president. Every once in a while, the Senate seems to remember that it is a coequal branch.

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