Unfit for the Presidency

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” – Oath of office of the President of the United States

Donald Trump’s fitness for office has been a much discussed topic during this campaign season. Democrats, not surprisingly, dismisses him as entirely unfit to be President. A bit more surprising, at least on the surface, is the sizable contingent of non-D’s, conservatives and libertarians alike, who make equally strong pronouncements about Trump’s lack of fitness for the office. To be honest, I count myself among those who do. Notably, however, there has been an almost complete lack of any discussion about his opponent’s fitness for office. Why is that?

It seems that simply because HRC is a standard politician, acting well within the bounds of behavior and ideology that are standard for her party, and she has maintained a long-standing presence and a good deal of experience on the American political scene, that she is deemed to be suitable to hold the office, even by those who think she is entirely wrong from a policy perspective. She is wrong, they say, but wrong within the normal bounds of American politics. I think that notion is worth challenging. Specifically, I’d like to propose that, as a progressive, HRC is ideologically unfit to be the president.

Now, by ideologically unfit to be president, I do not mean simply that her policy preferences make her unfit. I do not think that she is unfit because she is pro-abortion, or because she favors raising the national minimum wage, or any of the other policy stances on which I hold an opposing view. What I mean is that her progressive ideology prevents her from honestly taking the oath of office. If she were to profess that as president she will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, she would be professing a lie. Simply put, progressivism as an ideology is not compatible with the US Constitution.

This really shouldn’t be a matter of too much controversy. In a campaign speech in 1912 proclaiming the virtues of progressivism, the original American progressive, Woodrow Wilson, laid out the basic conflict between progressive ideology and our founding document. Using the strained metaphor of government as a “living thing”, he asserted that government cannot be constrained by fixed rules, as a machine is constrained by Newtonian laws of physics. It is ever changing and must “evolve” according to its environment, just as organic life evolves. (Wilson was apparently under the strange impression that the evolution of living things takes place outside of the laws of Newtonian physics.).

Wilson’s progressivism was particularly opposed to the constitutional notion of the separation of powers as a means of protecting citizens from abuses of power. He disparaged the idea, fundamental to the Constitution, of “checks and balances”.

The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live.

Instead, Wilson argued, the various power centers of government must be centers of “quick cooperation” in pursuit of “their amicable community of purpose”, responding to “the commands of instinct or intelligence”. The source of this “purpose” and the “commands of instinct and intelligence” guiding government power was not identified, but the implication was clear. The various branches of government ought not be checking the power of the others, but rather should be acting in concert to achieve government directed “progress”. To the extent that there are to be any “checks and balances”, they are checks against the lack of “quick cooperation” in implementing progressive policy.

Wilson did not hide the fact that this represented a unique approach to the constitution and to government, saying:

All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when “development,” “evolution,” is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.

Thus was born the radical notion of a “living” constitution, which changes not by the process explicitly laid out in the Constitution itself, but rather by an assumed-to-be natural process of simple re-interpretation, required by the presumed needs of the day as determined by the government itself. Or, in other words, a completely unconstitutional approach to the Constitution, one in which the only limit to the power of the federal government is the willingness of those in power to claim that circumstances require that power to be exercised. And one that has gained traction in undermining the Constitution ever since.

This disdain for the restraints that the constitution places on the federal government, and hence on the ability of the federal government to effect progressive goals, as well as disdain for the constitutional method by which the Constitution can explicitly “evolve”, has grounded progressive politics since Wilson. It was the basis for FDR’s radical New Deal legislation and his subsequent strong-arming of SCOTUS into allowing it. It is the basis on which progressives have come to appoint judges to the federal courts, making a litmus test out of a willingness to adopt the “living constitution” theory of interpretation, changing the Constitution not by popular acclimation but instead simply by judges declaring that it says what they want it to say. It is the basis for much of Obama’s executive actions as president, the perfect example of which is his immigration policy on amnesty and deportations, which he explicitly acknowledged in 2011 that he did not have the constitutional authority to implement, but he later went and did it anyway.

This is the legacy of progressivism that HRC has inherited and the ideology which she seeks to further as the president. And it is inherently in conflict with the Constitution. To be clear, this is not an argument that progressive ideology is deficient (although I think it is). This is not an argument that progressive goals pursued at the federal level would be to the detriment of the nation (although I think, on the whole, they have been and would be). It is simply an argument that progressivism, whether good or bad for the nation, is not compatible with the Constitution as it actually exists. Which means any progressive who would take the office of the Presidency must, of necessity, lie when taking that oath.

I think that anyone who cannot sincerely and honestly promise to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States as president, or worse anyone whose ideological goals requires them to actually subvert or ignore the Constitution, is quite simply not fit to hold the office. Hillary Clinton is just such a person.*

*So, BTW, is Donald Trump, which is exactly what makes this election so painful for anyone who actually cares about American constitutional government.

2 Responses

  1. I’d say that your criteria basically argues that all Presidents from FDR to the current one are unfit to hold office.

    While that may be true, Trump is still an outlier even among them.


    • jnc:

      I’d say that your criteria basically argues that all Presidents from FDR to the current one are unfit to hold office.

      I don’t think so. While it may be true that all presidents since FDR have engaged in some constitutionally questionable, if not outright unconstitutional, behavior, I don’t think it is true that all presidents since FDR have been ideologically predisposed to ignore the constitution.

      While that may be true, Trump is still an outlier even among them.

      If Trump is an outlier with regard to his indifference to, if not contempt for, the Constitution, it is only in what drives it, ie personal gain rather than ideology. But to me that doesn’t make much difference. In fact in some ways ideologically driven disdain for the constitution is even worse.


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