The Founding Fathers put in place safeguards to keep somebody like Donald Trump from power. Those protections are all buckling or have already failed.
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In the world of finance, banks are subjected to stress tests to see how they will perform if disaster strikes. For the US Constitution, democracy, the courts, and other institutions, Donald Trump is that stress test… and they are all failing by and large.
The decision of the Colorado Supreme Court to keep Donald Trump off the state’s 2024 ballots on the grounds that the former president incited an insurrection and therefore violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is the perfect example. That language was put in place following the Civil War to prevent people from the South from holding office after taking up arms against the Union. However, apart from that very particular circumstance, it seems like a completely unnecessary provision. Why would anybody who led an insurrection try to run for office again, and, more importantly, why would anybody support such a candidate?
Yet here we are. Somebody who staged a coup is running for president again and is somehow enjoying the majority support of his party. The system simply is not designed for something like this.
In the case of Trump and his legal problems, what is especially significant is the outsized role that the US Supreme Court will play in 2024. Under the Constitution, the high court shouldn’t be involved in picking who gets to be president. This was already a problem in 2000 when five judges handed victory to George W. Bush. At the time, it be noted, even “strict constitutionalist” Republicans had absolutely no problem with five justices, including two appointed by Bush’s dad, “picking the president.”
But what happened then is still a far cry from what awaits us next year. Chances are that the Supreme Court will be forced to make many rulings that would have an impact on the presidential race.
First, there are rulings of lower courts — like that from Colorado — that the justices, three of whom Trump appointed, must weigh in on.
Just as significantly, the former president is pulling out all the stops to escape accountability in his four criminal trials until after the election. And many of these matters will inevitably end up before the high court. The Founding Fathers never intended for a handful of justices to have this kind of power when it comes to who heads the executive branch.
But it’s not just the courts that are stretched to the limits as a result of the Trump Stress Test. Plenty of other institutions are also flailing and failing.
The legislative branch, which has the constitutional tools to do so, has also done too little to deal with a president who is clearly unfit for office in just about every conceivable way. Democrats have tried, but to get rid of a dangerous demagogue, bipartisanship is needed. That is in extremely short supply in a country that is more divided now than at any point in recent memory. A big part of the reason is that one of the things Trump broke is a two-party system that, while flawed, has provided a measure of stability to the country since the Civil War.
With his MAGA movement, Trump has hijacked the GOP, forced out dissenters, and turned it into a cult beholden only to him. Therefore, while Senate Republicans had an opportunity to rid their party and the country of Trump during the second impeachment trial following the insurrection and coup the former president had staged, they let it go to waste. There are plenty of GOP lawmakers who have admitted privately that they are afraid of Trump supporters, and it’s tough to blame them. Many of the people whom Trump perceives to be adversaries have been subject to threats; political violence, fanned by Trump, always seems to be smoldering just below the surface of the MAGA movement, ready to erupt when something doesn’t go his way.
The fourth estate also continues to fail miserably when it comes to covering the former president — at least if the point is to provide Americans with useful and relevant information and not just make money. It is undoubtedly true that he has been a cash cow for news outlets throughout the country. But while soaking up and then regurgitating all things related to Trump might be good for business, it is bad in every other way.
Essentially, news outlets continue to hand the former president and his allies a megaphone without doing even an adequate job of providing their audiences with context…and that is not just a problem of right-wing propaganda outlets like Fox News but also of just about every other for-profit media organization. They are making money whenever Trump opens his mouth, so why let pesky details get in the way, such as the way the former president lies almost every time he speaks?
And, finally, society as a whole is failing the Trump Stress Test. The entire Constitution was designed to create a democracy that would make sure someone like Trump does not come to power. The Founding Fathers foresaw someone like him could come to power by appealing to the lowest instincts of an ignorant electorate; but they put into place provisions to prevent that from happening. Their worst fears were realized in a way they could hardly have imagined. Riding a wave of nationalistic furor, the former president not only shattered all societal norms of how a candidate should behave, but he has also smashed all those safeguards meant to keep someone like him as far away from the White House as possible.