The most damning Trump criticism has nothing to do with his political positions.
By Tad DeLegal
A few months ago, I took a humorous swipe at President Donald Trump. Afterward, I received an email from an active member of the Bar, suggesting that The JBA shouldn’t be involved in politics.
I agree that the association shouldn’t be involved in political disputes, since our members have differing views, and the JBA president isn’t elected to be a political leader.
I have come to believe, however, that criticizing Trump isn’t political.
Rather, it’s far more essential to our system of government and law.
The most damning Trump criticism has nothing to do with his political positions. Indeed, much of the most insightful criticism of him has come from some of the most conservative voices.
George Will, who has been a leader of conservative thought for 40 years, has stated that Trump’s is an “untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.”
While Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have lately been criticized for speaking out against Trump, they actually have two of the most conservative voting records in the U.S. Senate. Corker warned, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that Trump was moving toward “World War III,” and added that the president was treating the office “like a reality show.”
The usually nonpartisan USA Today recently opined that Trump’s un-presidential behavior makes him unfit to clean the toilets in his predecessor’s presidential library.
So, what does this have to do with our profession? In reality, a lot.
Our profession is based on institutional respect, and specifically, respect for the court system.
During the election campaign, both the ABA and ABOTA presidents issued open letters condemning candidate Trump’s allegation of bias on the part of the federal judge of Mexican heritage handling Trump’s fraud trial.
As president, Trump has continued to criticize judges and the judicial system after suffering legal setbacks, further undermining the American legal system.
He has now targeted the FBI, in the face of the agency’s investigation into a foreign government’s alleged interference with our country’s system of laws.
Our profession involves the presentation of competing versions of events to judges and juries, with an expectation that a just result will prevail. In that process, we rely on the concept of objectively verifiable facts and the goal of reducing or removing bias from the decision-making process.
To date, the Trump presidency has rejected those concepts. Instead, Donald Trump has encouraged the belief that no institution (including the courts) can be immune from political and personal bias, and therefore that no institution is worthy of respect or deference.
A truly frightening objective fact is the absolute number of lies that this president has told since his inauguration. While all political figures (and all people) tell some number of untruths, consciously or unconsciously, Trump told 103 outright lies in 10 months, compared with 18 told by former President Barack Obama in eight years. If you doubt the statistic, go to The New York Times website, where the specific statements are listed, and judge for yourself.
We are a nation of laws, and not of men (or people). Our democracy and our legal system only works when we are willing to debate ideas and policies, rather than personalities.
The obligation goes both ways. Liberals who dislike Trump must be able to work with him to promote policies consistent with the country’s needs; those who voted for Trump (whatever their motivation) should be willing to reject bad policies or bad behavior.
The history of the last 100 years of world politics shows the dangers of cults of personality. Roughly 30 percent of our population is apparently willing to support a man even if (as he conceded) he was to go out to the street and randomly murder someone. Such an unwavering and unquestioning loyalty is un-American and contrary to the precepts of our profession.
I realize that writing a column such as this one is not the norm, but unfortunately, we live in far-from-normal times.
As we move into 2018, let’s hope that conduct emanating from the White House is less like a TV reality show, and more reflective of the weight and import of the presidency. If, however, Trump’s behavior doesn’t change, we as lawyers should not be hesitant to challenge it in our communities and, wherever appropriate, in our courts.