The American King and the “Tiger King”

President Donald Trump has boasted about the big television ratings for his daily press briefings on the coronavirus, but he should keep in mind that “Tiger King” is the biggest hit right now on Netflix, and arguably for the same reasons. Both shows have a captive audience at the moment, and both are such bizarre spectacles that it’s hard to look away.
The press briefings always feature plenty of exaggerated self-congratulations — on Monday he said “Everything we did was right” — along with plenty of finger pointing at past administrations and Democratic governors and congressman to explain any problems, as well as insults to the “fake news” media and always a slew of statements that are easily proved false. Another highlight of Monday’s episode was Trump’s claim that he has “total authority as president” to rescind any state’s stay-at-home orders and business closings, which most constitutional scholars say is not true.
Trump couldn’t cite anything in the Constitution or federal law that gives him such authority, but offered to provide a brief at some point. When asked what his administration had done to prevent shortages of medical equipment or mitigate the spread of the virus in the month of February he angrily replied “We did a lot,” and although he couldn’t point to anything in particular he promised to provide a list at some point. In both cases we don’t expect the information will be coming anytime soon.
Several Democratic governors in populous states and a few Republicans in states more sparsely populated but hard-hit by the virus have indicated they don’t agree that Trump has the authority to rescind their public health measures, and will defy any attempt to open their states before their experts think it safe. Trump warned that any governor who defies him will pay a price in their next election, but in most cases the governors are far more popular than Trump, whose handling of the crisis is likely to be a severe liability in his reelection campaign, especially if there’s a spike in infections and fatalities after issuing an all-clear order.
Conservatism used to be a political philosophy that sought to conserve such time-tested traditions as limits on executive power and allowing a great deal of autonomy to the states according to the 10th Amendment, but these newfangled conservatives seem to believe only in complete fealty to Trump. Even if Trump somehow prevails in a packed Supreme Court, he won’t be able to order businesses to risk the health of their workers by reopening too soon, or to order private citizens to leave their homes and go on a shopping spree, and if he tries to that might be a step too far away from traditional conservatism for even some of the most die-hard fans.
We certainly hope so, as we want to see as many Americans as possible survive this plague, and we’d like to see some of those time-tested constitutional traditions survive as well.

— Bud Norman

Order in ‘da Court ‘Cause Here Come ‘da Judge

After a long and contentious history with the American judicial system as an independent businessman, President Donald Trump is now dealing with the courts in a similarly confrontational style. So far it seems to be yielding the same mixed results as back in his private sector days, when he won an anti-trust lawsuit against the National Football League but was awarded only one dollar in damages and paid $25 millions to the students of his scam Trump University but admitted no fault and seemed to suffer no significant publication relations problem, or the thousands of suits by contractors claiming they’d stiff or two wives who said they’d been done wrong or the six corporate bankruptcies where Trump always seemed to come out ahead. Less than a month into Trump’s administration his executive order temporarily banning travel into the United States from seven designated Muslim-majority has been stayed by a federal court, Trump has “tweeted” in response that he preemptively blames the “disgraceful” decision of the “so-called judge” for a future terror attack, the next appellate level has upheld the decision by a 3-0 vote, Trump in turn “tweeted” “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT RISK!,” and at this point it remains to be seen if the angry capital letters and angrier exclamation mark will sway the Supreme Court once the decision inevitably ends up there.
Trump might well wind up prevailing by that point, for so far as we can tell the law does allow the president wide authority to ban just about anyone he wants for whatever reason he might come up with from entering the country, and there are arguably good reasons for banning people from the named countries, and the general gist of the order seems well within those established legal parameters, and we’d hate to think that a Supreme Court would be either intimidated or spitefully defiant of some petulant presidential “tweets.” There’s enough arguable stuff about banning already-vetted green-card holders and heroic military assets and all the other dubious aspects of the devilishly detailed and beyond-the-gist implementation, though, and some sort of split decision strikes us as most likely. Whatever the merits of his case, though, there’s something disheartening and demoralizing to a conservative sensibility about the head of the executive branch using such language as “disgraceful” and “so-called” about a member of the judicial branch.
Even Trump’s much-lauded choice for the Supreme Court was quoted as saying it was “disheartening” and “demoralizing,” which set off yet another of those seemingly endless subplots in the Trump reality show. By all the glowingly positive and scathingly negative accounts Judge Neil Gorsuch seems very much the sort of Constitutional originalist jurist that Trump promised to such skeptical Republicans as ourselves during his campaign, and even The Washington Post has recalled a reassuringly reasonable dissenting opinion he wrote about a middle-schooler who was handcuffed and jailed for making flatulent noises during a gym class, but of course there’s enough opposition to make 60 votes difficult and getting him confirmed with just 51 would be something nobody real wants, so of course there’s much spinning involved. The first storyline trotted out was that Gorsuch hadn’t really said that, and that quoted source Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal had only said that Gorsuch said that because he’s a Democrat. Trump “tweeted” that Blumenthal had also lied about his heroic service in Vietnam, which is true, even if that does not prove that Blumenthal was lying in this case and leaves unmentioned the equally irrelevant that Trump has also told a few lies in his time, but when named Republican sources in both Congress and the administration confirmed the statements the White House Press Secretary insisted Gorsuch was speaking in general terms about disparagement of the judicial branch and certainly not about anything Trump had said.

Despite such assurances, many of Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were expressing their indignation about Gorsuch’s alleged disloyalty in talk radio shows and countless comments across the internet. What with The Washington Post admitting a begrudging respect his for reasonability there’s some suspicion that Gorsuch will be another one of the milquetoast Republican appointees who wind up giving a pass to Obamacare and otherwise disappointing the base, perhaps setting off a right flank in the fight against Gorsuch’s nomination. We’re still as irked as the next Republican about Chief Justice Roberts and that damnable Obamacare decision, and our general disappointments with milquetoast Republican nominees goes way back even before our birth to Ike’s choice of Earl Warren as a Chief Justice, but we don’t expect this Gorsuch guy will withstand a challenge from the right. He owes his loyalty to the Constitution rather than to Trump, his apparent preference for the respectful language that has long characterized even the most hard-fought legal questions seems impeccably conservative by the pre-“burn-it-down” definition of the term, and for Trump to withdraw the nomination he would have to admit a mistake.
Another popular theory is that Gorsuch’s disputed comments were purposefully leaked to reassure not only the opposition over at The Washington Post but also such skeptical Republican hold-outs as ourselves and the public at large that Gorsuch deserves the eight Democratic votes that would get him confirmed without resorting to the mere 51 votes that would cause such problems down the road. This seems plausible enough in our day and age, when a Republican Senator’s dad was in on the Kennedy assassination and the latest two presidencies should have been terminated according to the latest president, who won despite the election being rigged, and if so we’ll give credit Trump credit for being shrewd. Based on everything we’ve learned about their lives we like this Gorsuch fellow a lot better than we do Trump, and our weary eye on the news had concluded the leaked remarks were Gorsuch showing the frankness that Trump is celebrated for and the reasonable Trump rarely summons, and that he winds up confirmed by 60 votes and provides a necessary check and balance on both legislative and executive craziness for decades to come.

— Bud Norman

The Separation of Powers and Other Constitutional Irrelevancies

Much of what we learned in our school days has been rendered obsolete by the march of progress. An automotive class once taught us how to rebuild a carburetor, a skill that has proved useless in dealing with the fuel-injected automobiles we have subsequently owned. We once prided ourselves on our ability to sift through card files and Periodicals of Publications and arcane volumes gathering dust on library shelves to come up with needed information, but even that skill has atrophied with infrequent use over the past many years of internet search engines. Our recollection of food pyramids and global cooling and the rest of what they kept yakking about in our health and science classes is vague, but we assume most of that is also out of fashion.
All that stuff they taught us about the Constitution and its checks and balances and separations of power and how a bill becomes law is apparently no longer applicable, as well, although we’re not at all sure this is progress.
An up-to-date curriculum would now teach students that the president has the unilateral power to make immigration law, enter treaties with foreign powers, enforce carbon regulations that even the most left-wing Congress in history explicitly declined to pass, and assume control of the internet without even answering any questions from Congress. Even when the most left-wing Congress in history did grant the president’s request by passing the abominable Obamacare law the president insisted that it be implemented according to his most politically advantageous timetable rather than according to what is written into the law, and that part about subsidies being available only through state exchanges is apparently to be ignored entirely because it doesn’t say what the president wants it to say. Now the president intends to enforce gun control regulations, so it seems all that stuff we were taught about the Second Amendment and its right to bear arms will also need revision.
The president’s latest dictate doesn’t ban AR-15 rifles, only the bullets that go in them, but this will make little difference to the law-abiding owners of those weapons. For some reason the AR-15 is an especially offensive firearm to the left, probably because its appearance is so similar to that of the weapons used by that nasty military of ours, to the extent that the last round of post-school-shooting hysteria offered up legislation to ban it, but the fact that Congress voted down the idea is apparently no longer an impediment to its implementation. There’s still some resistance to the president’s executive actions in both the courts and the House of Representatives, but enough of the Republicans in the Senate are resigned to the president’s unilateral power to make immigration that it might well be so. The White House has offered a “tweet”-sized explanation that “We’re a nation of laws, but we’re also respecting the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants,” which doesn’t seem very respectful of the notion of lawful immigration, but so the president has “tweeted” and so shall it be done. At least we’re able to grouse about it on this electronic forum, but it remains to be seen if that will out-last the Federal Communication Commission’s new regulations, which the FCC chairman declined to explain to the duly-elected members of Congress.
All of this will be perfectly fine with the president’s more devoted admirers, who much prefer him to that old system of checks and balances and separations of power and how a bill becomes a law, but they ought to be asking themselves how they’d like such powers to be in the hands of a Republican president. It could happen some day, after all, and would not only easily un-do all the presidential proclamations of the Obama era but unleash a wide range of policies that would surely unsettle the left. They could expect some help from principled conservatives who support the ends but not the means, and perhaps the courts will offer some restraints on the executive branch after years of wrangling over President Obama’s orders, and of course the press will suddenly be outraged, but we expect they will find it  a dangerous precedent.

— Bud Norman