I was in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, and toured Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home on Sunday. It is impossible to consider Jefferson’s legacy, and to read his Declaration of Independence—which, for all its powerful and lofty prose, is still primarily an acute airing of grievances against the tyrannical British Crown—without arriving at the conclusion that Donald Trump is, quite literally, the would-be quasi-fascistic demagogue against whose nefarious rise the nascent Republic was explicitly premised.
Plenty has already been written about how Trump poses an existential threat to the present two-party system, how his nomination would arguably destroy the Republican Party apparatus, and perhaps how it would irrevocably harm everything the conservative movement has stood for since Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley, Jr. Not enough attention has been paid to Trump’s threat to the American constitutional project itself.
Donald Trump never talks about disagreeing with Barack Obama’s unilateral lawlessness in terms of presidential humility; rather, he only disparages some of Obama’s actions on policy grounds. He apparently thinks that judges sign bills, thus rendering his pathetic knowledge of governance sub-Schoolhouse Rock! level. He lambasts the landmark pro-First Amendment decision of Citizens United v. F.E.C., and talks about the need to “open up” our libel laws. He never, ever talks about the moral imperatives of constitutionally limited government—about the notion, once advanced by old Republican Senators Elihu Root of New York and Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, that the Declaration’s Lockean-based natural rights proclamations and the Constitution’s structural safeguards against political actors’ raw ambitions are inextricable “to the end that individual liberty might be preserved.”
Donald Trump does not care about any of this. He is a delusional narcissist and a demagogue in the truest sense: one who appeals to our basest fears, in a time of great national fatigue, in a transparent ploy to destroy existing civic institutions and agglomerate power all for himself. It is virtually impossible to imagine a President Trump purporting to respect the other two federal branches in our Montesquieuvian/Madisonian design: the Congress and the Judiciary.
In Federalist No. 48, James Madison cited his good friend Jefferson for the following proposition:
An ELECTIVE DESPOTISM was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.
Donald Trump is anathema to the American project. I have previously cited Justice Scalia’s death as a reason to still vote for Trump in a general election, thus echoing an argument radio host Hugh Hewitt would soon also make. While I do not wish to formally disavow that and thus join the #NeverTrump movement (UPDATE: I am now #NeverTrump), I am increasingly of the thought that, even if (a big “if,” to be clear) a President Trump makes sound judicial nominations, it very well might still not be worth the incredible stress his dangerous presidency would cause for our national ethos.
Regardless, this man is a faux-conservative anti-constitutional menace, and he must be stopped. If you are voting today on Super Tuesday, vote accordingly.