Trump is Guilty of Obstructing . . . the Bureaucracy!

By | 2018-04-23T09:37:13+00:00 April 22nd, 2018|
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The charge that Donald Trump “colluded” with Russia to steal the 2016 election was never serious. The Democratic National Committee’s civil suit in that regard makes the unseriousness transparent. “Obstruction of justice” is the charge Democrats want to use to remove him from office. And in fact, Trump’s campaign, his election, and presidency, have done a lot of obstruction. He has thwarted longstanding bureaucratic policies and has fired bureaucrats. Whether that has obstructed justice or favored it depends on the meaning of “justice.”

The following explains the “justice” that the Democratic Party and its ruling class retinue correctly accuse Donald Trump of obstructing. Their justice, however, is contrary to the one embodied in the U.S. Constitution; never mind Plato’s classic sense of justice on which America’s founders relied. This classical notion of justice begins with guarding that which rightly belongs to each, and is founded on a political order that reflects the proper order of souls.

America’s Founders, having revolted against a legitimate government that was justly reputed to be perhaps mankind’s most liberal, had to explain to themselves, to their contemporaries, and to posterity why what they were doing was just. All them had read and revered William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. But all the procedures described therein, of which the Americans approved, had been based on the idea that the sovereign power of the permanent state flows legitimately from the existence of the kingdom, which the king embodies. The easy part was to argue that King George III had forfeited that power by abusing it, and hence the regime’s legitimacy. The more significant challenge was to show that there is no such thing as a sovereign power that exists independent of the people.

James Wilson, who had signed the Declaration of Independence, taken part in the constitutional convention of 1787, and served on the first U.S. Supreme Court,  made this argument most fully in 1790 at the dedication of America’s first law school, to an audience of the founders, from Washington on down.

The argument was twofold: First, (and contrary to Plato’s antagonist, Thrasymachus) justice is not the power of any king or of any authority. There is no natural sovereign, nor any natural sovereignty to be exercised over what is just or unjust. Second, no positive law can be considered just unless it is right by nature. That is why what is right by nature, and what is prudently to be done by government must always be a matter of decision by the people. That is why all government power in America is by and answerable to the people’s elected representatives.

That is why the Constitution vests the greatest powers in Congress, pre-eminently, in the most frequently elected part thereof, the House of Representatives. (My old American government teacher used to quip: “Let’s play Constitution. I’ll be Congress, and I’ll win!”) That is also why the Constitution vests the executive power in one person only: the elected president of the United States. What these elected representatives of the people do may or may not be prudent or right by nature. But legitimate, just power is theirs alone because they alone are accountable to the sovereign people. The Constitution provides political remedies for cases in which these officials act unjustly. The notion that officials accountable to the people may be held accountable to their subordinates is literally a revolution against the Constitution.

In fact, however, such a revolution has been brewing among us since the 1930s and accelerating ever since. Increasingly, government power in America has been exercised by agencies designed to be un-accountable to the people.

The principled argument for this way of government (the way in which such power has been exercised in Europe since the 15th century—the way of government against which America’s revolutionaries revolted) is that these administrators and judges are superior in expertise, wisdom and rectitude to legislators and presidents whom the people elect. Whether they are superior, they certainly think they are. And they are supported in this belief by the vast retinue of upscale private citizens who are socially and intellectually their peers, who staff the agencies, who cooperate in rule-making, and who are its chief beneficiaries

The justice that today’s ruling class seeks to impose is the unfettered discretion of the modern administrative state.

Donald Trump is trying to obstruct these bureaucracies. He fired James Comey, an executive official, and has every constitutional right to direct or to fire any and all others. The media, the professors, the major corporations, and their clients who are characterizing his actions as obstruction of justice speak from a frame of reference wholly peculiar to the war they are waging on America’s constitutional order—not to mention the classic understanding of justice on which it is based.

Photo credit:  Joe Raedle/Getty Images

About the Author:

Angelo Codevilla
Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).