An Open Letter to the American People on the Dangers of Taking a President at His Word

Updated:
Posted in: Constitutional Law

Dear Fellow Citizens:

When the Framers of the United States Constitution gathered in Philadelphia, they were dealing with a governing system—the Articles of Confederation—that had failed. There was great unrest across the states as the state governments could not deliver what the people needed. No state government could effectively negotiate with foreign countries over trade or conduct war from a unified front. There was no stable currency. The state legislatures had become vortices of corruption where representatives served powerful individuals without heed of the public good. The governors were comparatively weak and incapable of uniting to make the system functional.

So the Framers traipsed to Philadelphia with a dark cloud on the horizon: there was good reason to believe they might not succeed. Still, they gathered on those steamy summer days, locked themselves inside, and debated what system might just work. There were many ideas on the table, but there was a shared world view: don’t trust anyone who holds power.

As I discussed here, the Framers handed the people the right to choose their elected representatives, but following that moment of power—during the term of representation—they cannot themselves choose public policy. They can, however, question, shame, and judge. To do that they need communication, critical analysis, and a lively, varied press to check the presidents and members of Congress they have empowered.

The Trump Administration has encouraged you to abandon this second part of the relationship. President Trump repeatedly has responded to critics by saying that he “won” the election and, therefore, challenges to him, the legitimacy of the election, or his policies are just sour grapes. He also has taken a panoply of positions that are intended to seduce you into thoughtlessly acquiescing to whatever he spouts on Twitter or whatever message his benighted spokespersons Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway deliver.

The overarching themes have been: don’t trust the press that doesn’t support me; expect me to attack you with whatever power I have if you question me or my policies; I’m the president so I don’t have to produce facts to support what I say; accept the dribbles of information I am willing to validate but don’t expect full disclosure—you don’t really want it even if you say you do; defer to me when I say something is “illegal” whether or not it is; and trust me to make the decisions because I know things that you don’t know.

These are the demands of a man who expects loyalty without challenge simply because he won, and who intends to shut down that second vital part of the relationship with you. He will succeed in neutering your remaining power over him if you blindly accept whatever he says at face value.

According to Trump, he needs to tweet at you, because he doesn’t want his message filtered by the press, or anyone else. That is to say, he does not want someone fact-checking, challenging, or shining a harsh light on him or his motives. Those of you who are inclined to accept what he is telling you as the gospel truth need to understand that you are giving away what he can’t take if you don’t let him: the power to question. Once you give it away, he won’t give it back, and it will be difficult to recapture, because that is how power works. Trump will run with the unilateral authority he believes is his god-given right. Never, ever forget the Framers’ warning: never trust anyone with power.

The good news is that most of you are not swallowing his demand to trust him more than the media. Only 16 percent approve of his Twitter habit, and as he rolls out his trust-me offensive, his overall approval rating continues to drop. There is reason to hope, therefore, that just because Trump demands blind obedience does not mean you—even those of you who voted for him—will fall in line. To the contrary, you are increasingly wielding the power the Framers gave you to look askance at your leaders and to demand they serve the common good and not just themselves. That is the attitude that unites us—regardless of party or politics.

It shouldn’t matter, therefore, what the man in the White House tells us to believe. He should have to produce facts, good policies, and even better results for every American. Our job is not to trust but to test him at each step along the way.

  • Joe Paulson

    Obama and the Democrats had strong opposition & with a lot less cause.

    Evergreen message!

  • KD

    Thankfully, albeit too late to have prevented it in the first place, the press is shining that harsh beam on this man who would be king. Thankfully, the gloves are (almost) off at least with some of the press in finally flat out calling this man a liar as is obviously the case by any measure of the word. Perhaps if the press had used the term during the elections – AND backed it up simply by running the endless sources of contrary accounts on tape spouted by this man on virtually every important topic, we would not now find ourselves in this extremely dangerous situation. It is too late to assume that Trump will somehow “become presidential” as the American people were promised over and over every time he said or did something that was clearly not. It is too late for Trump too change the way he values the importance and sanctity of truth, as a lifetime of well documented evidence to tbe contrary shows. It is too late to keep him away from the most powerful position in the entire world. But it is not too late for the press to turn up the spot lights and for all Americans to believe what is the obvious truth when it is glaringly in front of them. Thankfully, although far and few between, their are a few bold Republicans who are willing to stand up with the Democrats in calling Trump out on at least the Russian connection. Otherwise, we would have to helplessly sit by while this existential threat to the very core of our democracy would be swept under the rug as Trump and many Republicans are trying to do. At least until the midterms and another chance to restore an essential and now particularly necessary balance of power into place. Unfortunately, much of the harm will have been done unless more Republicans stand up against him and those who use him merely as a vehicle to promote their own agendas, despite their own distaste of him as a person. But as many Americans will learn, when Trump said during his campaign to African American voters, “What have you got to lose?”, by the end of his hopefully single term, the answer this time will more obviously be “plenty”.

    • Robert Gornowich

      How sad that your diatribe comes years too late to save us from the disater that was Obama. Where was your penchant for truth these past eight years? Where was your desire for an open and unbiased press? Obama lied and lied and lied, yet you mention nary a word of this? ‘It’s in the past’ is no doubt your argument, since Obama and his lies are undeniable. Oh well.. better late than never.

      • KD

        Presumably over the last week or so since your false-equivalent argument about the comparative truthfulness of Obama to Trump, you have at least considered the possibility that the drip drip of information regarding the direct connection between Trump’s election and his presidency will soon become buckets which will then become a flood which will hopefully one day wash the country of at least some of the stain Trump has put on our democratic values and reputation in the world. But then again, I suspect you and other Trumpits could be drowning in information and evidence that could only lead to one logical conclusion to most people and your alliance to all things Trump would simply lead you to hold your breath until your head explodes. 38% approval rating and sinking rapidly with the growing flood gives some hope to the majority of Americans and to the rest of the world (except Russia), that not everyone is so happily oblivious. Now that Nunes has pulled off his already weakly transparent mask to show his true role in the House investigation, perhaps a truly independent investigation will get underway so that we can shine a focused beam on the truth, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead. I would venture to guess that you will be one of the holdouts desperately clinging onto the flotsam when the flood comes.

        Can you honestly say you would not be leading the impeachment charge had even a few drips of this same information come out at any stage of Obama’s presidency? Most Republican’s, including Romney, were foaming at the mouth in outrage when Obama was caught merely saying to Russian President Medvedev to wait until after the election and he would be in a better position to negotiate with them. He was called a traitor, a communist, and other even less flattering words as calls for his impeachment rang out throughout the Republican party. Yet with Trump, who has publicly done everything short of wearing an “I Love Putin” hat, that doesn’t even raise an eyebrow with you?

  • Jeb Barrett

    Anyone who says “trust me” or “believe me” as often as the deplorable one needs to be ignored, because it is a sure sign that he is lying! Marci lays it out there for all to start questioning the entire WH.

  • Jessica45

    I don’t trust the word Trump said. Every day I ask myself, “How did he get into the White House?”