Unchecked and unbalanced in D.C.

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By: Ryan Kirby, Columnist 

President Donald Trump has been attacking American institutions since he became a prominent advocate of the birther movement. As a candidate, Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel for his Hispanic heritage; claiming that his race made him unable to rule fairly on the Trump University case. He also began his attacks on the press by threatening to open up libel laws.

As president, Trump has attacked independent watchdog organizations, the press and the courts. These institutions are fundamental to checking presidential power. The investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia has provided a major threat to the current administration. Trump sought to control the investigation into his own actions by forcing James Comey, then director of the FBI, to pledge loyalty to him. When Comey refused, he was fired shortly after. As a result, the Department of Justice created an independent investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s attacks did not end with the firing of Comey. Trump has criticized the investigation as a “witch hunt” and attacked the members of the investigation as politically motivated.

Attacking the press has become almost a daily occurrence. The press are a vital part of American democracy because they serve to check government officials in every branch. The term “fake news” has become a common label for news that the president disagrees with. Anti-press rhetoric coming the Trump administration and the president himself has only increased as time has gone by.  He has called journalists “liars,” “sick people,” and “the enemy of the American people” just to name a few.

The judicial system has also fallen into Trump’s crosshairs. On day seven of his presidency, Trump issued his first version of the travel ban. When U.S. District Court Judge James Robart temporarily blocked the travel ban, Trump took to Twitter to express his frustration by calling Judge Robart a “so-called judge.” When subsequent rulings were made about revised travel bans, Trump continued his assault by making claims that some of the judges were stopping him for strictly political reasons.

So why does all of this matter? Under normal circumstances, any one of those actions would not be acceptable by members of either party. It is the responsibility of the legislative and judicial branch to check a president when they begin to attack American institutions. Republicans in Congress have shown no indication that they will adequately defend the institutions vital to American democracy. There are only a handful of Republicans who are willing to speak against the president, and even then they offer a weak condemnation.

The Founding Fathers created a system of checks and balances designed to stop an incompetent president, but what they did not account for was the incredibly high level partisanship. Trump is potentially the perfect storm for a constitutional crisis. Republicans control every branch of the federal government and they show no signs of curbing Trump’s behavior. If Republicans continue to sit idly by while this president attacks fundamental American institutions, faith in them will continue to fade. There used to be a time where members would challenge a sitting president of their own party in order to preserve checks and balances, but it appears the Republican Party is choosing party over country.

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