Donald Trump has released a list of conservative justices that he would consider appointing to the Supreme Court were he to be elected president. The list is an obvious attempt to win-over conservatives who are reluctant about his candidacy. But this list does not alleviate the concerns that many of us have about his candidacy.
First, Trump did not commit to pick anyone from the list! In fact he said he might pick someone who is not on the list. So the list means nothing. It’s no different from what he has previously said. And we are again being asked to trust the judgment of a man who changes his positions daily and who is a liar. Add to that his open support for Planned Parenthood and his total lack of interest in the Constitution, and it is not difficult to see why so many remain skeptical. How can he be trusted to appoint a solid justice?
Second, Trump’s would-be SCOTUS appointments do nothing to alleviate the larger issues with his candidacy. His character, temperament, and authoritarian tendencies suggest that he would be a menace to our Constitutional order. Robert Kagan explains in provocatively titled piece, “This is how fascism comes to America”:
The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well.
But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone…
What [GOP enablers] do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that laid down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?
This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.
Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, I think, are what caused Senator Ben Sasse to press Trump just last night:
Let’s drop the name-calling & get specific. In particular Q 5: Will you commit to rejecting exec. unilateralism? https://t.co/f2F9D0easW
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) May 19, 2016
An answer from Trump has not been forthcoming.
Earlier this month, Ross Douthat put a fine point on the issue:
But above all it is Trump’s authoritarianism that makes him unfit for the presidency — his stated admiration for Putin and the Chinese Politburo, his promise to use the power of the presidency against private enterprises, the casual threats he and his surrogates toss off against party donors, military officers, the press, the speaker of the House, and more.
All presidents are tempted by the powers of the office, and congressional abdication has only increased that temptation’s pull. President Obama’s power grabs are part of a bipartisan pattern of Caesarism, one that will likely continue apace under Hillary Clinton.
But far more than Obama or Hillary or George W. Bush, Trump is actively campaigning as a Caesarist, making his contempt for constitutional norms and political niceties a selling point. And given his mix of proud ignorance and immense self-regard, there is no reason to believe that any of this is just an act.
Trump would not be an American Mussolini; even our sclerotic institutions would resist him more effectively than that. But he could test them as no modern president has tested them before — and with them, the health of our economy, the civil peace of our society and the stability of an increasingly perilous world.
In sum: It would be possible to justify support for Trump if he merely promised a period of chaos for conservatism. But to support Trump for the presidency is to invite chaos upon the republic and the world. No policy goal, no court appointment, can justify such recklessness.