These are extraordinary times. The President of the United States is, by every indication, a serial liar who genuinely seems incapable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood. He entered office on January 20 under a cloud of profound constitutional questions related to his fitness to serve and legitimate doubts about his loyalty to the country. His first days in office have been an unmitigated disaster and have featured repeated lies, disastrous cabinet appointees, outrageous conflicts of interest and a series of executive orders that were either horrifically destructive or absurdly and sophomorically nonsensical or both.
As the Capitol Broadcasting Company noted in a scathing and on-the-money editorial yesterday:
“It is not OK to have a president who barely has a casual relationship with the truth….
Lying from the Oval Office carries far graver consequences than fibs from the penthouse at Trump Towers….
Presidential lies aren’t trivial quibbles over the size of the crowd at an event or how many votes won in an election. Imagined, or hoped-for facts cannot become the basis for policies and laws that have consequences beyond the stage-managed world of reality TV….
Failure to deal with the truth leads to tyranny.”
Now, tonight at 8:00 p.m., the prevaricator-in-chief has deigned to inform us, he will presume to name a new appointee to a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court. This is, of course, a nomination that was stolen wrongfully from the previous president and one that could well cement Trump’s reckless and outrageous agenda for decades.
It is, in other words, a make or break moment that goes right to the heart of the future of the republic and quite likely the single most important episode in the fight against Trumpism in 2017.
This is not about the nominee, whoever it turns out to be (though, it seems worth noting that any person who would accept a Trump nomination is supremely suspect). It is, rather about Trump and his questionable presidency and whether the American people and their elected representatives will force this immoral and dishonest man to play by the established rules of our democracy.
Here, therefore, are five initial reasons why Trump’s nominee must be rejected by the Senate or, at least, delayed indefinitely until the president alters his course of behavior and addresses several fundamental questions:
#1 – The very legitimacy of the Trump presidency is in doubt – President Trump took office January 20 while facing crucial and fundamental questions about whether his presidency is legitimate. Last week, the national nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a team of prominent ethics experts and legal scholars filed suit against Trump claiming that he is violating the Constitution by receiving money—through his businesses—from foreign governments. As the New York Times reported:
“In the new case, the lawyers argue that a provision in the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause bans payments from foreign powers like the ones to Mr. Trump’s companies. They cite fears among the framers of the Constitution that United States officials could be corrupted by gifts or payments.
The suit, which will not seek any monetary damages, will ask a federal court in New York to order Mr. Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities. Such payments, it says, include those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses; loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments; and leases with tenants like the Abu Dhabi tourism office, a government enterprise.”
#2 – The Senate is investigating whether Russia helped make Trump president – As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr should know better than anyone that there are fundamental questions about Trump’s election and even his loyalty to the nation. As Burr’s vice-chair, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia said in a joint statement he released with Burr earlier this month announcing an investigation into Russia’s interference:
“This issue impacts the foundations of our democratic system, it’s that important. This requires a full, deep, and bipartisan examination. At this time, I believe that this Committee is clearly best positioned to take on that responsibility, but whoever does this needs to do it right. If it turns out that SSCI cannot properly conduct this investigation, I will support legislation to empower whoever can do it right.”
Simply put, the Senate must refuse to act on any President Trump nominee to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court (even if it were, miraculously, to turn out to be a qualified person) until there is a thorough and independent investigation into Russia’s interference in the election. There can be no more serious charge against an elected official than that he or she is doing the bidding of a foreign power. The nation must know, once and for all, whether this will be a choice by a legitimately elected president or a choice influenced by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
#3 – Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns – While some might attempt to dismiss this matter as a quibble over a symbolic detail, the hard truth is that: a) Trump’s refusal to release his returns is a gross violation of a vital precedent, and b) no president has ever entered office for whom as many questions have been raised about his financial ties. Just this past weekend, there was profoundly disturbing evidence on Trump’s controversial immigration orders that his decision was influenced by his personal financial holdings. As the New York Daily News reported:
“President Trump’s most recent executive order effectively bans citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days — but some Muslim countries were spared from the order’s blacklist, even though they have deep-seated ties to terrorism.
Conspicuously, Trump doesn’t hold any business interests in any of the countries on the list, but holds major stakes in several of those excluded from it, records show.” (Emphasis supplied.)
#4 – Trump’s demonstrated contempt for basic constitutional values – It was one thing for Donald Trump to stand in front of the American people on January 20 and swear to “preserve, protect and defend” a document with which he clearly has no more than passing familiarity. It’s quite another for U.S. senators sworn to uphold the same document to cravenly abet Trump’s dishonesty – especially given his blatantly unconstitutional and un-American actions this past weekend in, in effect, establishing a religious test for traveling to this country. As columnist David Leonhardt observed yesterday:
“Let’s not mince words. President Trump’s recent actions are an attempt to move the United States away from being the religiously free country that the founders created — and toward becoming an aggressively Christian country hostile to other religions.”
#5 – The outrageous failure to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland – As Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon bluntly observed yesterday in announcing his intention to filibuster Trump’s nomination:
“This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat.”
Merkley is absolutely right, of course. That there is even a vacancy on the Supreme Court for Trump to presume to fill is a travesty. The Senate’s refusal to consider the nomination of Garland – a highly respected moderate submitted by an honest and duly elected president nearly a year before the end of his term – was an example of modern American politics at their bottom-of-the-barrel worst. To now hand off that nomination to a dishonest, compromised and quite possibly disloyal charlatan like Trump just doubles down on that outrage. Surely, Burr and Tillis have more integrity than to go along with such a scam.
The bottom line: Before the American people allow Trump to leave his mark on the Supreme Court for decades, we have a right (indeed, a duty) to demand that he show that he was not elected with the help of a foreign government, that he is not using his presidency to increase his personal fortune and that he will not act to overturn our bedrock constitutional principles.