At the end of last month, I gave a talk at Brooklyn College on the question of whether the Constitution would protect the country from Donald Trump. My tl; dr answer was “no.” As Stephen Griffin puts it, the Constitution does not have its own police force. The real question is whether Congress and/or the courts would act as a check on Trump’s corruption and authoritarianism, and given who would control these institutions under Trump in most cases they wouldn’t.
Of course, at the time this all seemed a mere abstraction. Now, it’s all too real:
Even before the election, it was clear to anybody who paid attention that unified control of government would mean an executive branch free of accountability or oversight. The investigative arm of the Republican Congress, which had been gearing up for four years of ceaseless torment of Hillary Clinton for any offenses real or imagined, has already switched over to a policy of ignoring already-existing constitutional violations. That policy seems to be extending to the rest of the party.
Of course, most Republicans in Congress support Trump and are happy to sing his praises. In cases where they don’t, they simply abdicate any critical judgment. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy evaded questions about Trump’s unprecedented lack of transparency and self-dealing in office, first referring the matter to Trump’s handpicked counsel, then denying any knowledge of what has been front-page news.
You’d think the famous straight-talker John McCain, who is now 80 years old and fresh off reelection to a new six-year term in the Senate, might have some ability to exercise independent judgment. But McCain’s stated policy, as revealed to the Huffington Post’s Laura Barron-Lopez, is, “I will not discuss President-elect Donald Trump.” McCain added, “I’m responsible for the people of Arizona.” It’s not like he is a member of some branch of government that the founders designed as a check and balance on the executive. As far as Republicans in Congress are concerned, they’re all working for Trump now.
As long as congressional Republicans think that Trump can deliver them tax cuts, defense pork and attacks on the welfare state, and conservative judges he’ll be allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants.