Like many Americans, I spent the past four years anxious, depressed, fearful, outraged, disgusted, and frustrated. I was not sure that America would come out intact on the other side of the Trump Presidency. Many are now comforting themselves that “the guardrails of democracy held.” That is the wrong message.
The reason that the guardrails held was that Trump was an impulsive, institutionally ignorant, mentally unstable buffoon who broadcast his every thought on Twitter, and whose attempts at authoritarianism were thwarted by his clumsiness and personal abrasiveness. America may not be so fortunate next time: a charming, institutionally savvy wannabe authoritarian who chooses to keep their intentions to themselves and surrounds themselves with sharp people could do far more damage.
The gift of Donald Trump is that his relentless insistence on pushing boundaries exposed weaknesses in our system that we never would have seen – bizarre scenarios and obscure areas of Constitutional law. The opportunity that we now have is that Democrats control the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. They have the power to fix as many of those problems as possible – all without having to fight off credible accusations of partisanship over weakening the Presidency or imposing rules on the legislature. They have fewer than two years to do it.
This article will shine a spotlight on some of the questions raised by the Trump Presidency, and provide links at the end so that the reader can easily contact their legislators and the President with their own ideas for solutions.
- How do we ensure foreign citizens or governments do not funnel campaign money to American political candidates (through NGOs like the NRA or Planned Parenthood, for example) – donations whose use can later be used to blackmail those politicians?
- Should there be additional requirements to be President beyond age and citizenship?
- How do we ensure that candidates for federal office are not compromised by foreign governments? Should they be required by law to disclose the last 5-10 years of their tax returns during their campaign? Should they undergo some kind of security clearance? How could a security clearance be misused by those conducting it?
- Should elected federal officials be required to undergo an annual mental health evaluation? How could that be misused by those conducting the evaluation?
- What safeguards does democracy have if the Legislative Branch refuses to hold a President accountable due to partisanship, blackmail, threats of violence, fear of primary challenges, or some other factor?
- How can we better clarify the rules around impeachment? Can a President be impeached after their term has ended for acts committed while President? Must the House complete the impeachment hearing before the President leaves office? Must the Senate complete the impeachment trial before the President leaves office? Is there a statute of limitations on impeaching a President for impeachable offenses done while in office? What is the purpose of impeachment? Should there be a requirement that both sides in an impeachment trial can call witnesses without majority approval by the Senate?
- If a President ignores a subpoena from the House or Senate, should there be consequences?
- Can a sitting President hold campaign events at the White House?
- If a President does something, is it legal by definition? Can an appointed Special Counsel or the Department of Justice charge a sitting President with a crime, or does the President’s office make the President immune?
- When a President uses the power of the United States to influence a foreign leader, what is the difference between that being a legitimate political act and being extortion?
- The President controls the Executive Branch, which includes the Department of Justice. Should a President be able to investigate their political opponents? If yes, should there be limits on this? How would this impact 2016 FBI investigations into connections between Russia and the Trump Campaign? How would it have impacted a desire by Trump in 2020 to investigate Joe Biden?
- Should any part of the U.S. military ever be used to subdue American citizens? If yes, what limits should be in place? What authorizations should be required? Who can call an end to it?
- How should domestic terrorists be handled in the U.S.? Should they potentially be subject to electronic surveillance? Who determines the groups that are considered domestic terrorists? How can that definition be kept (relatively) immune to the winds of partisanship?
- A President is sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” What does that mean? Is there a concrete way to identify when a President fails to fulfill their oath?
- The 25th Amendment allows for the Vice President to replace the President if the President is unable to do his/her job. Either the President can declare themselves unfit, or the President’s Cabinet can join with the Vice President in declaring the President unfit. Both of these safety valves arguably failed America during Trump’s term. Should there be a third option? What should that be? If the third option requires action by the Legislative Branch, could it be misused in a partisan way? If the third option requires a vote of the people, what would be required (signatures, etc) to trigger that vote?
- The First Amendment has limits, such as falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Should there be limits on political speech that incites violence? If yes, how do we determine that the speech caused the violence? Are elected federal officials exempted from such an exception?
- Should there be First Amendment limits on the press presenting information that is false and inflammatory? How would that impact breaking news stories about, for example, actual corruption that has not been proven? What if there has actually been widespread election fraud that has not been fully proven?
- One thing that makes hacking of our elections difficult for foreign adversaries is its decentralized nature: states and even counties all have their own way of doing things. Should there be minimum standards that all federal elections should be required to meet, such as an anonymized printed record of the votes, anonymized printed receipts for voters, etc? What kind of regulations or procedures should be a part of voting by mail to ensure that mail-in votes cannot easily be decried as fraudulent?
- Can the will of the voters be changed after they have voted? Can a political party’s electors contradict the voters that they are supposed to represent? Can a state legislature overturn its state’s results in a Presidential election? Can a Vice President nullify a state’s choice for President?
- Is the electoral college still serving America’s needs, or is it obsolete and in need of being replaced by the popular vote or some other formula?
- Should elected federal officials be required to put their financial investments in a blind trust wholly controlled by someone else?
- Should it be illegal for elected federal officials to operate a business while in office? What about their immediate family members? How does that impact a desire for people other than millionaires to run for office?
- How do we add more clarity to the Emoluments Clause to prevent a President from profiting personally from their elected role?
- Should U.S. Senators and Representatives individually be given a 24/7 security detail?
These are a few of the questions that I believe need to be officially addressed in the wake of Donald Trump’s Presidency. If you think of any others, please write them in the comments. Below are links to find out who your Representative and Senators are, and how to contact them and the President with your ideas.
Find your U.S. Representative. You have one.
Find your U.S. Senator. You have two.
How do I contact the White House?
– rob rünt