It is refreshing to hear liberals and Obama administration apparatchiks like James Clapper suddenly discover the Constitution’s checks and balances.
Clapper told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that “our institutions are under assault” by President Donald Trump, worrying about the “system of checks and balances.” On Monday, Fox News’ Brit Hume described Clapper’s newfound concern as “shoe-on-the-other-foot disease,” typical of both parties in Washington.
But that diagnosis is far too charitable to Clapper. The fact is that the left is continuing to erode the Constitution’s checks and balances, while President Trump is actually protecting them.
Look at what Democrats are doing at the state and local levels, where they are defying the Constitution by protecting so-called “sanctuary cities,” which flout the law and are nothing less than a reprisal of the segregationist South’s attempts to resist federal civil rights law.
When President Barack Obama was in office, defying the Constitution’s checks and balances was not only routine, but celebrated. He declared the Senate in recess when it was not, just so he could put his labor cronies into place. He rewrote legislation at will — even Obamacare, his “signature” policy — to suit his political schedule. He refused to place the Iran deal before the Senate. And when Congress rejected his policies, he simply ruled by executive fiat, as in his “executive amnesty” and his regulations on fossil fuels.
As for the judiciary, Obama warned the Supreme Court not to overrule him, ignored the courts when they ruled against him in the Gulf oil drilling cases, and misled a federal court that challenged his immigration policy.
And the left applauded. You could count the number of liberal pundits who objected to Obama’s rampant violations of the Constitution on one hand, and still have several fingers left.
The worst that can be said of President Trump is that he referred, rudely, to a “so-called” judge. There were plenty of conservatives who criticized him for that, which settled any doubt as to whether “shoe-on-the-other-foot” disease is a bipartisan affliction.
In practice, Trump has showed due deference to the courts. He could have, as Obama did, simply ignored the courts’ restraints on his executive order suspending travel from several terror-prone countries. Instead, he went through the judicial process of appeal, and rewrote the order more narrowly.
If there is any threat to the separation of powers under the Trump administration, it comes from the judiciary, which has begun to wade into questions of national security, where courts have very little competence. They have also begun to evaluate the constitutionality of laws and executive orders by referring to isolated statements on the campaign trail — a dangerous precedent.
Trump is pushing back — and defending the separation of powers in doing so.
Clapper’s concerns are misguided for another reason. Whatever one thinks of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, it is a matter entirely within the executive branch, and has nothing to do with constitutional checks and balances.
Every time a Republican administration takes office, it seems, the left objects to the White House asserting its power within the executive branch. The critics ignore the underlying problem, which is that most federal government departments are dominated by Democrats. The Trump administration, like its predecessors, is grappling with that reality. That is not an “assault on our institutions” — if anything, it is the cure to partisan rot.
Leave it to Clapper — a man who distinguished himself during the Obama years by lying to a congressional oversight committee about the executive’s surveillance powers — to accuse Trump of assaulting the constitution.
The past eight years proved that the left does not care about the Constitution’s checks and balances. In fact, many on the left would prefer to do away with them entirely — as long as they are guaranteed power.
Their complaints are nothing more than self-righteousness preening, and a tactic to rally the so-called “resistance” — a movement whose very name rejects the idea of constitutional opposition and conjures quasi-romantic notions of sabotage, or worse.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.