When discussing the potential battle of power between federal and state governments regarding the notion of reopening our COVID-19-stricken economy, President Donald Trump claimed that
Donald Trump’s blatant inaccuracy here is not up for debate. The 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution clearly states that
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
In a bizarre form of constitutional “boy who cried wolf,” the Left’s general reaction has been filled with their standard – and somewhat hyperbolic – warnings of impending authoritarianism. They were joined, quite correctly, by many members of the Right, including Senator Rand Paul and Representative Liz Cheney.
The explosive debate surrounding the President’s latest “questionable” statement includes the subject of Trump’s motivation. Is he truly a power-hungry would-be dictator who sees the coronavirus as an opportunity to consolidate his grip on our lives? Conversely, is he merely reckless with his words, as demonstrated by recent and not-so-recent history? Or, in fact, is the truth somewhere in the middle?
In reality, while these are important questions to ask of any leader when they make such outrageous statements, this is not the question we should be asking. The question which should be dominating our current discourse on this subject is which principles we are using to justify our rejection of such claims of unquestionable power.
If we were a society based upon an objective love of freedom and liberty, we would expect the same understandable condemnation of any claim of absolute power. However, it is trivial to find examples of the utter hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle which prove that principles play second fiddle to other “more important” variables.
While Democrats wring their hands with horror at Trump’s claim of “total authority” – hurling their bodies across the Constitution in order to protect the document they love and respect – one doesn’t have to look far to find examples where the Constitution has received far less adulation. Take the presumed leader of the Democratic Party, Joe Biden. He has claimed to “respect” the Constitution as he rushed to criticize Trump as “King of America.” Why, then, did he celebrate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke as the leader of his effort to “take care of the gun problem?” After all, this is the same Beto O’Rourke who based his entire campaign on the rejection of the Second Amendment. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” cried the hopeful King.
Like most accusations of political hypocrisy, this erratic celebration of fundamental American principles is not unique to the American Left. For example, the ongoing coronavirus saga has caused many Trump supporters who claim to be unwavering guardians of freedom and liberty to simultaneously justify his increasingly authoritarian policies, such as his invocation of the Defense Production Act to force American companies to do his bidding. The angry condemnation which would have been deafening during the Obama administration was strikingly lacking. The difference? The man in power.
The sporadic concern for the protection of the Constitution is at the heart of the growing political divisions tearing our country apart. When it is convenient, it is an airtight document which cannot be questioned. When such airtightness is inconvenient, it is suddenly a “living document” which exists solely to be interpreted in the most politically advantageous manner possible.
Taken to its logical extreme, this state of affairs explains why the Constitution – which makes no mention of the right to destroy human life in the pursuit of convenience – can be twisted to justify the morally unforgivable Roe vs. Wade decision. Indeed, it also explains why the importance of federalism only matters when federalism presents the optimal path towards a political goal. When it comes to abortion, for example, many of those who condemn Trump for his attack on federalism would happily enact their policies by crushing the necks of dissenting state governments beneath the ideological jackboots of the federal government.
The unfortunate fact is that we do not exist in a society which consistently rejects dictatorship and authoritarianism in favor of freedom and liberty. Instead, we linger in a state where we champion totalitarianism when it favors our personal and selfish aims. In the same way that Nazism rose to power on the back of the acceptance of rampant anti-Semitism, authoritarianism is routinely accepted if the principles which fall victim are otherwise unimportant. Totalitarianism is only to be rejected when partnered by views we oppose. If wielded by someone who shares our views, it is to be passionately embraced.
Instead of seeing the Constitution as an optional menu of political cheat codes which can be used or dismissed as needed, we must return to a system which respects and protects the fundamental principles which made America uniquely great. If we do not, the infallible words penned by our Founding Fathers will become nothing more than a collection of throwaway expressions, whose philosophical weight will have been intentionally eroded by those who spread ignorance and selfishness in their pursuit of what they value most – power.