The Corner

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Constitutional Debilities

In response to No, Trump Isn’t Threatening Our Constitutional System

David Harsanyi writes about his argument with Tom Nichols over who — Trump or the assorted Democratic candidates — poses more of a threat to the constitutional order. This grim competition seems to me closer than he lets on.

It is true, as Harsanyi points out, that Trump has not taken the authoritarian step of routinely defying court orders. Neither did Barack Obama. But like Obama, Trump has fought congressional subpoenas and taken several executive actions that stretch the limits of his authority: declaring a national emergency to divert funds to a border wall; deeming steel and aluminum exports of allies a national-security threat to impose tariffs on them; temporarily withholding security aid in an attempt to coax the president of Ukraine to announce an investigation into Trump’s political rival. And Trump’s unique debilities have in subtler ways “eroded some norms that buttress constitutional government,” a problem flowing not from authoritarian power grabs but from caprice and unseriousness. Some of this is orthogonal to the argument that prompted Harsanyi’s post, and it says nothing about the 2020 Democrats. It still belongs in the ledger.

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