What Crisis?

Donald Trump is not a good President. Life here in DC under his reign is exhausting. But we keep going to work. We—the good people of Washington, DC—keep sending Social Security checks, keep collecting taxes, keep regulating Wall Street and industry, keep healing veterans, keep protecting our radioactive stockpiles, keep keeping airplanes from crashing into each other, keep investigating train crashes, keep crash testing cars, and on and on... 

Congress might shut the whole operation down for a few weeks. It’s happened before. It’ll happen again. But even during a shutdown, most government keeps governmenting without pay, because they know they’ll get paid back after the shutdown.  

Thats not to say “Trump doesn’t suck.” He sucks hard. Is it a “constitutional crisis”? 

 

Getting technical, here’s Jack Balkin

A constitutional crisis occurs when there is a serious danger that the Constitution is about to fail at its central task. The central task of constitutions is to keep disagreement within the boundaries of ordinary politics rather than breaking down into anarchy, violence, or civil war. To be sure, constitutions are also valuable because they protect civil liberties and divide and restrain power; but their first job is to keep the peace and make people struggle with each other within politics rather than outside of it.

Are we about to start settling our differences by a river in Virginia? Are we even close?

No. 

Why can’t we use a more broad conception of “constitutional crisis”? Something like, “a situation where a constitutional officer is violating the Constitution and there’s nothing we can do about it?”

Why not? Because we already have a perfectly good word for people who do that: prosecutors. Seriously. Not a minute goes by when a constitutional officer is not violating the Constitution. Saying the system works includes a whole lot of “the system failed, here.” It fails all the goddam time.

But they say, Thornton, just because there’s other bad folks, doesn’t mean Trump isn’t corrupt. 

True. Money is going into Trump’s pocket by virtue of him being president, probably, I guess. Someone has stayed in Trump Hotel who would not have but for his being president. And he won’t show us the information that would allow us to figure out how much exactly and from whom. And the rules say he is supposed to show us that.

The question is this: why do we care about using government for private gain?

All the Italians and Irish on Staten Island should give their families’ ill gotten gain back and become sharecroppers, right? Wrong. There is no moral stain attached to the money, even though not a single one of their great-grandfathers had any qualifications for their job in the police and/or fire department. It was totally corrupt. But it was also an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. It’s not like Nazi gold that we should claw back.

Making money by getting elected isn’t malum in se. It’s bad because too much of it could, down the line, cause problems that would, in turn, cause a constitutional crisis. Anarchy isn’t going to break out because Trump owns the golf carts. A system where government officials make their private fortune through their public duty has been tried before and it doesn’t work very well. See, for example, tax collectors in the Roman Empire.

We choose not to run our government that way.

California can probably get tax returns released all by itself by requiring certain filings to get on the ballot there. Legal requirements about divestment can be extended to cover the President.

Meanwhile, he’s probably bankrupting himself by being such a douchebag, and it seems fair to say that our Constitutional system is set up in such a way that Trump’s myriad flaws are limiting his effectiveness. It’s the opposite of a viscious cycle. His bad things do not spawn more bad things. Trump International Hotel and Mar A Lago are not the start of a death spiral. The Constitution will be alright.