Each day of the young Trump presidency brings a reminder that the American republic was built from the ground-up to resist authoritarianism and corruption. That of course doesn’t mean that we’re immune from man’s fallen nature, just that our system is better equipped than virtually any other to repel it, to keep it from fundamentally tainting the entire governmental enterprise.
We’re watching that reality unfold before our eyes. Look at the two tweets below — the first from Republican congressman Jason Chaffetz and the second from Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell:
After Trump may have discussed NK missile launch in the middle of Mar-a-Lago public dining room, Chaffetz demands to know security protocols pic.twitter.com/pWC0xnHvVk— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 14, 2017
McConnell: “Highly likely” Senate Intel Committee will look into whether Trump directed Flynn to talk sanctions with Russia ambassador— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 14, 2017
This is the majority in Congress exercising its investigatory and oversight role on a president of its own party. Why? Part of it is simple integrity. This is the right thing to do, and both Chaffetz and McConnell should be commended for not automatically circling the partisan wagons. But there’s something else at work as well — institutional power and incentives. A legislature that abdicates on its core Constitutional responsibilities is a legislature that surrenders its own power and acts against its own self-interest. To be sure, some men and women will roll over in the face of a strong executive for the sake of short-term political gain, but wiser heads who care about the strength of their institutions will rebel.
Indeed, if there’s a dominant story of the first few weeks of the Trump presidency, it’s how weak he’s proven to be, not how strong. So far, there are far fewer signs of a looming autocracy and far more signs of ineffective and contentious incompetence. Trump’s been checked by the courts, by the press (make no mistake, the press forced Flynn out the door), and is now facing scrutiny from the legislature.
Here’s the reality Trump faces — he’s going to have to get better at his new job, or he’s going to find himself increasingly marginalized, not increasingly powerful. If his White House doesn’t start demonstrating basic competence (including showing that it can consistently tell the truth), the other branches of government will flex their muscles, quickly.
The Trump/Clinton race represented a series of important and consequential failures — including failures of the parties and failures of the voters. But the Founders were wise enough to anticipate our fallibility. The last few weeks have been messy and painful, but so far the guardrails are holding. The constitutional system still works.