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People must act to put checks, balances on Trump
Friday, 02 June 2017 10:37
Special to the Daily Planet

President Trump is not writing a fantasy novel, tweet by tweet.  What he writes is what he thinks.  And some of it is constitutionally scary.  

One thing is clear: he doesn’t like to be told what he can do and can’t do.  And our Constitution does a lot of that.

Us old folks learned about the Constitution in a high school class called Citizenship.  Mine was taught by A.L. Williams, the baseball coach.  He kept a stack of blackboard erasers on his desk that he whizzed at sleeping students with a catcher’s snap throw.  

He taught Citizenship from the perspective of a WWII veteran who had fought for American freedoms. “Boys,” he would say – girls still had their own high school – “America is the greatest country in the world.”  He loved the Constitution.

What we learned in Citizenship has stayed with us. We see our Constitution as flawless. Its system of checks and balances is fail-safe. We assume if one branch of government is abusing power, they will be checked, and balance will be restored. 

We learned wrong. 

Long before our Founding Fathers and their Constitution, philosophers had written about what came to be called “checks and balances” – the balance between the monarchy, the nobility and the people’s Parliament.

These guys were wildly optimistic. As John Trenchard wrote in 1698: “A Government is a mere piece of Clockwork; and having such Springs and Wheels, must act after such a manner….This whole Mystery is only to make the Interest of the Governors and Governed the same.”

They even argued that it doesn’t matter whether the ruler is good or bad. What matters is the political system they operate in. If government is properly designed, it will hum along like a clock, and abuse of power can’t happen. 

Our Founding Fathers bought their philosophy – and borrowed their optimism.  They said similar things when selling the Constitution in 1787.

And their confidence was warranted – as long as the Fathers (and one son) had power in the White House, the first six presidents.

Andrew Jackson was number seven.  Jackson didn’t respect the system of government established by the Fathers. 

When he wanted “Indian removal” to the West, Congress obediently passed such a law – because they feared Jackson’s great popularity with the people. When the Supreme Court ruled that a Georgia law to remove Indians was illegal, Jackson said, “John Marshall made his decision; now let him enforce it.”  And he proceeded with removal, eventually using the nation’s military.

Jackson was never checked, and balance favored the executive branch.  Congress passed Jackson’s economic plan that led to a seven-year depression.

Our system of checks and balances, you see, is not like a clock. It’s manually operated.  People must take action.

In the churning weeks before Richard Nixon resigned, those around him worried they would come to work and find tanks encircling the White House to keep Nixon in power.  Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger gave an order to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ignore any command from Nixon.

A key element in the Nixon drama should not be overlooked: Nixon believed in the Constitution. He turned over tapes when the Supreme Court ordered him to. He didn’t destroy them or defy the Court. He didn’t try to call out the military. He admitted to his chief of staff and press secretary, “I screwed up, didn’t I?”

Trump has tendencies like Jackson, but this is not the1830s. Congressional Republicans will likely remain timid out of fear of his fanatically loyal voting bloc, unless things really go terrible for the President. Checks will appear, from places not inscribed in the Constitution, like Schlesinger did with Nixon. 

And then there’s the media.  Ah yes, there’s the media.

Trump will try, try again to monkey with the Constitution to gain his ends.  And our country will pin-ball from crisis to crisis.

My question is: What will Trump do as his frustrations build? Will he quit? Or will he look around at his millions of loyalists and say, “Hmm?”

Lee Ballard lives in Mars Hill.  For more of his work, readers may visit his blog at



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