The Media Have Not Learned the Most Important Lesson of 2016: The Constitution Matters

US President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in as President on January 20, 2017 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

The past year has been a very good one for journalism — not because of the quality of the writing, reporting, or analysis, but simply because of the sheer intensity of news.

Whatever one thinks Donald Trump is the best or the worst president, he certainly is the most interesting and entertaining.

But amidst the rush of events, the mainstream media have missed the biggest story of 2017, which is also partly the story of why 2016 happened the way it did.

That story is the restoration of the U.S. Constitution.

The media are dimly aware of the Constitution: they complain constantly that the president’s criticism of the media threatens the freedom of the press under the First Amendment, for example. But they are still oblivious to the other part of the First Amendment — the part that deals with religious freedom, which is still under attack from the leftist judges which which President Barack Obama stacked the courts.

In general, the mainstream media show no interest in the Constitution beyond their own narrow interests — and they ignore even those interests when a beloved Democrat like Obama is in power. (Obama was far worse to the press than Trump, and they almost never complained.)

Journalists under-reported Obama’s many constitutional violations, and therefore missed the degree to which 2016 was a constitutional reckoning by an electorate that had had enough.

There are plenty of examples — far beyond Obama’s unconstitutional usurpation of the power to declare the Senate in recess, for which he received a 9-0 smackdown from the Supreme Court. There was the individual mandate in Obamacare, which Chief Justice John Roberts essentially had to rewrite as a tax to find it constitutional. There was the contraceptive mandate, which violates religious freedom by forcing church institutions to fund abortifacients.

There was also the Iran deal, in which Obama flouted the Constitution’s Treaty Clause by refusing to let the Senate ratify the agreement (and, indeed, Senate Democrats filibustered even a weaker version of that oversight power). In addition, Obama enacted DACA and DAPA to grant amnesty to illegal aliens: both usurped Congress’s legislative powers under the Constitution, and the latter was rejected by the courts because it ran afoul of administrative law.

Obama refused to strike deals with Congress. Instead, he simply used — or, rather abused — the power of executive agencies to do what he wanted in stark defiance of the separation of powers. He used the Environmental Protection Agency to launch the Clean Power Plan — which even left-wing Harvard Law professor Larry Tribe said violated the Constitution — and the “Waters of the United States” rule, both of which have since been rescinded by Trump.

The media, who now puff themselves up with self-righteous slogans like “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” barely noted Obama’s constant attacks on the Constitution — deeds for which any Republican president probably would have been impeached. The public saw Hillary Clinton promising to continue Obama’s pattern of defiance — even promising to change the First Amendment to dispense with the Citizens United ruling — and chose accordingly.

Not only did the media miss that story, but when Trump took office and began implementing his agenda, the media falsely declared unconstitutional policies that were completely kosher. The best example is Trump’s executive order on immigration, restricting travel from several terror-prone countries. The media fell in lockstep with the left and presumed the order was unconstitutional, cheering Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to enforce it.

Earlier this month, when the Supreme Court struck down the latest challenge to Trump’s executive orders by a 7-2 margin, the media largely ignored the story. And while hyperventilating about the threat Trump supposedly presents  to the First Amendment, the media have overlooked the fact that Trump has, unlike the constitutional law lecturer who preceded him in the post, actually deferred to the courts rather than doing whatever he wanted to do anyway.

In one respect, the media have been forced to endure a rude lesson in American civics: namely, in Trump’s reversal of several of Obama’s executive orders. That which Obama did solely by virtue of his “pen and phone” — the threat that he constantly waved at congressional Republicans — has largely been undone by exactly the same means. Many in the media seem to regard that as something extraordinary, but at least they have been compelled to report it.

But the media continue to overlook the fact that Trump has achieved something much broader: he has brought our system back into balance — and not just by appointing conservative jurists to the bench. Far from governing as a unilateralist executive, he has often given Congress back its power — in deciding the future of DACA, for example.

If the media were to understand and to report that, they could help set an important precedent. But they are failing.

The 2016 election happened, in part, because enough Americans were tired of the constant, divisive, and destructive effort to “fundamentally transform” the country — as Obama once put it — by attacking the Constitution.

As the left enjoys a revival of its political fortunes, there is every danger that Democrats will go right back to their old habits if they are given the opportunity. And the media, those supposed guardians of our freedom, will have let them do it.

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.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.