“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” James Madison, June 6, 1788
James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” understood that when people are not vigilant, they can lose more freedoms by slow encroachments than by outright attacks. When our rights are slowly dismantled, we may not even notice. As we prepare for a new year and a new president, we must keep this in mind.
Many of President-Elect Donald Trump’s followers claim to honor the U.S. Constitution. So, here’s a little quiz. Without looking, name three of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. There are five, but knowing just three will demonstrate some knowledge of the Constitution. From Trump’s own words, it’s pretty clear he has little if any of this knowledge.
First, it’s doubtful that he has read Article II. In fact, he thought there were 12 articles; there are seven. Article II delineates the duties and responsibilities of the president and the Executive branch of government. If Trump read Article II, he would understand there are limits on executive power. He is not king, even if he wants to be. Maybe someone will explain this to him.
Trump is ignorant about the amendments to the Constitution, except for the Second. He has already promised to violate Amendments 1, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, and 24. He wants a registry of citizens based on religion, he wants to suppress the media, he wants to restrict speech, he wants to punish those who assemble lawfully and who protest against injustice.
Here’s one example: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” (Donald Trump, Nov. 29, 2016). As objectionable as it may be, flag burning is lawful free speech. Trump doesn’t care.
Trump wants surveillance of certain groups based on religion, not probable cause. He wants to deny fair trials to those he dislikes, such as when he said Beau Bergdahl shouldn’t get a trial but should be dropped out of a plane. He thinks torture should be reinstated because people “deserve it,” even those never convicted of anything. He advocates killing families of suspected terrorists.
He wants to deny civil rights to large groups of people, based on any criteria he chooses. He wants to deny citizenship to people born in the U.S. He favors voting rights restrictions that will cause financial hardships for people, because he believes the myth of “voter fraud.” He says these things over and over; for some reason, the same people who claim to love the Constitution are perfectly all right with these perversions. The Constitution is the law even when we dislike a particular provision. Trump doesn’t care.
Trump knows even less about the Bible than about the Constitution. He has broken at least seven of the Ten Commandments, bragging while he did. Here’s a short summary.
First: “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture.” July 2015. Trump is basically saying he doesn’t need to follow what God says; Trump will decide that for himself.
Second: Trump puts his name on everything he can get his hands on. If that’s not self-worship, I don’t know what is.
Sixth: Trump wants the military to kill the families, including children, of suspected terrorists, with no trial. That’s murder.
Seventh: Trump has bragged about his many affairs. His affair with Marla Maples was widely publicized.
Eighth: Trump has cheated his employees and vendors for decades, calling it smart business.
Ninth: Fact-check organizations said Trump lied over 75 percent of the time when he spoke publicly. He often contradicts himself in the space of a single paragraph.
Tenth: “I’m very greedy. I’m a greedy person... I love money, right?” Jan 9, 2016. Trump wants more of everything, no matter who gets hurt.
Republicans falsely claim President Obama violated the Constitution. On Jan. 20, Trump will take an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” He’s already planning to break that oath. If he starts chipping away at our freedoms, will his followers hold him accountable? If they do, good for them. If not, we’ll know they never really cared about the Constitution in the first place. Whatever Trump does, we must remain on guard against these “gradual and silent encroachments,” or we could lose everything.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.