American democracy is resilient. It has withstood attacks from enemies, both foreign and domestic, for more than two centuries.
As President Trump prepares for his first State of the Union Tuesday, he will try to turn the page from the chaos, lies, and incompetence that marked his first 12 months in office.
But we cannot afford to gloss over his historic first-year failures on matters core to the functioning of American democracy.
Starting with his descent down the Trump Tower escalators to announce his run for the White House, and continuing each day since he took the Oath of Office, President Donald J. Trump has presented unprecedented threats to the integrity of our system.
Given the tumultuous and erratic nature of the president and his administration, it is easy for Americans to become overwhelmed. Some of Trump’s wrongful actions have been high-profile, others more subtle.
But the president’s first year record must be preserved and documented. It is important to take stock of just how egregious a break Trump represents from our democratic norms and constitutional principles.
This week Common Cause and Democracy 21 are releasing a new report (PDF) in furtherance of this goal. It documents 20 examples of President Trump’s historic first-year failures on issues of government integrity, transparency, and accountability.
As we explain in the report, we are unaware of any previous president in the history of the United States who has lied so blatantly and debased so dangerously our values and our institutions of self-government.
Since taking office, the president has told more than 2,100 lies, false and misleading statements, and untruths in his first year, according to The Washington Post. He has attacked the free press as an “enemy of the American people” – a sharp break from our founders. He has regularly attacked our own law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and gone so far as to side with a major foreign adversary over the consensus views of our own intelligence agencies. He has shown an authoritarian instinct many times, including wrongfully claiming that he has an “absolute right to do what [he] want[s] to do with the Justice Department.” He has refused to divest from his businesses, presenting major conflict of interest problems, including with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. And, of course, reports indicate that he continues to react with fire and fury to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into any links between him, his campaign, and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
We are now only one-quarter through his term, and we must be prepared to challenge more efforts by President Trump to undermine our democratic norms.
It will take all of us, working together, to hold the president accountable to what he holds in contempt: the principle that no person – not even the President of the United States – is above the law. It will take continual organizing and mobilizing to push the legislative branch to do its job to provide appropriate oversight. And citizens and organizations will continue to need to challenge his unlawful actions in court.
We are optimistic that the rule of law and accelerated civic engagement will prevail and provide the checks and balances we must depend upon to retain our free and open society. But it will only happen if we are intentional, informed and ready to act whenever necessary. Passivity is not an option.
Fred Wertheimer is President of Democracy 21; Karen Hobert Flynn is President of Common Cause.