Sundin column: Our unpresidential president
As I See It
We are two years into the Trump presidency, and they have been an unprecedented experience.
He has ignored or violated demands made on previous presidents: disclosing income tax returns, refraining from nepotism and emolument, and divesting himself from management of his assets (potentially impeachable offenses).
Putting his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter Ivanka on the federal payroll shows disregard for the ban against nepotism. Claiming that turning over the management of his assets to his son-in-law constitutes divestment is a joke. Emolument is reaping financial reward from being the president. Trump is certainly gaining financially from the patronizing support of his Trump Towers by foreign interests hoping to gain favors from him.
Many of our past presidents have taken inappropriate actions. Donald Trump has adopted nearly all of them and has added some of his own.
The most threatening to our democracy is the growing expansion of presidential authority, which has been increasing since the presidency of George Washington. A number of presidents have expanded presidential power far beyond what the framers of the Constitution intended.
The most egregious is Andrew Jackson’s rejection of the Supreme Court decision in the Cherokee Indian relocation case. The Cherokees had adopted the European way of life and economy in their Southern Appalachian homeland, owning farms and engaging in agriculture. They had created a written syllabary for their language, had a high level of literacy and published a newspaper.
North Carolina passed legislation to displace the Cherokees to satisfy its white citizens who wanted to appropriate the Cherokee’s lands, especially when gold was discovered on them. The Cherokees claimed the legislation was illegal and took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor. Then President Jackson said [Chief Justice] “Marshall has made his decision — now let him enforce it,” and rounded up 16,000 Cherokee men, women and children and put them on a forced winter march to west of the Mississippi River, on which a quarter of them died.
President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly expanded presidential power under the pressure of the Civil War. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, under pressure from the Great Depression and World War II, greatly expanded the powers of the president. He even attempted to alter the Supreme Court, which had ruled against much of his legislation, by proposing that justices older than 70 be retired so he could replace them with younger justices who would be more inclined to rule in his favor.
Our Constitution gives only the Senate the power to declare war, which presidents since FDR have ignored: Presidents Harry Truman (Korea), Lyndon Johnson (Vietnam), Bill Clinton (Bosnia), George H.W. Bush (Iraq 1) and George W. Bush (Afghanistan and Iraq 2).
Several presidents have restricted freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, starting as early as 1798 with Federalist John Adams’ Alien and Sedition Acts designed to silence political opposition, especially in the press.
Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Maryland, which had not seceded but had a large pro-slavery population.
Woodrow Wilson had Congress pass the Espionage Act of 1917 to prevent insubordination in the military and suppress “speech supporting U.S. enemies in wartime,” and the Sedition Act of 1918 prohibiting speech and expression of opinion containing “disloyal, profane, scurrilous and abusive language about the U.S., its flag, or armed forces” – with penalties of five to 20 years in prison.
Corruption, buying favored treatment from government officials or members of Congress, is very likely endemic, but reached new levels during the presidencies of Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding (who was also notorious for his extramarital affairs).
There was notable disagreement between the President and his Cabinet during the administration of John Adams. In 1868, disagreement also led to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Democrat Lincoln had chosen for vice-president to help reunite the country. He was resented by the Republican Cabinet because he had vetoed numerous vindictive bills they had promoted. (He was acquitted in the Senate by one vote.)
Our current president is emotionally, intellectually and morally unfit for the office. He is an inveterate liar with thousands of lies since his inauguration. Can anything he says be believable? He is erratic and shifting, creating chaos and disorder, and issues impulsive and dangerous orders. His advisers have confiscated draft letters to prevent his signing them, to avoid disastrous consequences. He also disregards advice from experts — my mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.
What will the next two years bring?
Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. “As I See It” appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Contact him at email@example.com.