Trump Nearly Won His War on the Constitution
Today we begin with a quiz. What is the most important responsibility of the president of the United States?
a. Protecting our security interests around the world.
b. Promoting a healthy economy.
c. Combating climate change and other environmental problems.
d. Avoiding nuclear war.
e. Fostering racial equity.
The answer is: none of the above. All of these obligations are important, and any president who neglects them deserves criticism. But they are ultimately secondary matters.
The most important obligation of the president is enshrined in the oath of office: to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Aside from the simple duty to "faithfully execute" the office, that is the only responsibility specified in the oath. Nothing else a president does matters so much.
Donald Trump is remembered for the brazen lie he perpetrated on his first day in office, when his press secretary told reporters that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. But that wasn't his first lie as president. His first came in his recital of the oath, when he swore to do something he had no intention of doing: that stuff about the Constitution.
Many presidents have taken actions that press the limits of their constitutional authority. Thomas Jefferson secured the Louisiana Purchase even though the Constitution gave him no power to acquire territory. Several have conducted wars without getting a declaration of war from Congress, as the framers intended. But no president has exhibited such contempt for the Constitution as Trump.