EDITOR’S 2 CENTS: Trump and FDR: Precedents for a brash president

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It’s no wonder that President Trump has been rebuked and challenged by those on the left for his unprecedented mix of brash outspokenness, stubborn determination to remake America, overweening confidence in his own abilities, and willingness to counterpunch when attacked.

Let’s look at the record:

—The president has criticized the judiciary branch as overstepping its bounds when it rules against him.

—The president has challenged and berated the press, going so far as to call respected journalists liars.

—The president has been accused of exceeding his own constitutional authority.

—The president has been labeled as a nationalist and possibly a fascist.

—The president is allegedly soft on Russia.

—The president acts like a strongman and is frequently compared by his critics to Mussolini and Hitler.

—The president would like to rewrite the Constitution on his own terms.

—The president is widely criticized by members of his own party, as well as by the opposition.

—The president has surrounded himself with people who are considered to be radicals.

—For any and/or all of the foregoing reasons, the president has been threatened with impeachment.

Such a president is obviously not consistent with American history, American principles or American democracy, as the Democratic Party and the mass-media news establishment continually remind us.

But if that is true, then how do you explain this? Each of those charges was indeed leveled against the president, but not against President Trump. They were all common complaints about one of the most beloved presidents in U.S. history — Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected to four terms starting in 1932. Maybe that’s who President Trump was thinking of during the campaign when he said in March 2016 that, “I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that.’”

Listening to the media elites and politicos blathering every night about how there has never been a president like Trump before just confirms what most of us long suspected — that you don’t have to be educated to be an expert.

Take the outrage du jour — President Trump’s tweet that the federal judge in Washington state who put a temporary stay on the travel ban he had ordered was a “so-called judge.”

Could milder language ever have been used against someone who made a decision you consider dangerous? Yet the media has acted as if the president’s disappointment in Judge James Robart were both unprecedented and heinous. They point out that he is a “real judge” and say that President Trump is trying to “de-legitimize” Robart by calling him a “so-called judge.” Funny, I don’t remember any of these “constitutional scholars” on CNN or MSNBC taking umbrage when congressmen and senators tweeted out #NotMyPresident after the election of Donald Trump. Did any of them see a crisis when members of Congress announced they would not attend the inauguration of the new president? Apparently, only the president is supposed to show deference to the other branches of government!

But really, how did judges suddenly become immune from criticism? And does that make sense? Judges, after all, are appointed, not elected, and they serve a life term. If anything, perhaps they should be subjected to even more criticism than elected officials since otherwise they are not answerable to the public in any way for their decisions.

It is obvious the president knows that Robart is a real judge, so he must have meant something else by his comment than to suggest he was a “fake judge.” A judge, of course, is supposed to demonstrate good judgment. It seems pretty likely, therefore, that Trump was suggesting with his tweet that “real judge” Robart lacks “real good judgment,” especially in his apparent willingness to turn national-security decisions over to the states of Washington and Minnesota rather than the president.

There is nothing unprecedented about that viewpoint being expressed by a president or any other politician. Heck, even President Obama took a shot at the Supreme Court while the justices were sitting in the audience at the 2010 State of the Union address, blasting their recent Citizens United ruling.

Both Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson also had pretty harsh things to say about judges in their day, but this is a family newspaper, so we had better not repeat that invective!

But what about FDR?

In 1935, after the court had ruled as unconstitutional the National Recovery Administration that Roosevelt had used to dictate business and industrial policy across the nation, Roosevelt held an impromptu press conference in the Oval Office to lash out at the decision. He said the court had taken the nation back to the “horse and buggy days” and while he said he did not “resent” the decision, he did “deplore” it. Well, as one of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables,” I think I can state categorically that being a “deplorable” judge is worse than being a “so-called judge.” If he had more time to think about it, perhaps FDR would have even called the Supreme Court a “basket of deplorables.”

But that certainly wasn’t the last time Roosevelt had a run-in with the judiciary. Indeed, two years later, President Roosevelt introduced his famous “court-packing” plan. In a Fireside Chat to the nation via radio, FDR told the American public that the Supreme Court “has been acting not as a judicial body, but as a policy-making body.” In other words, the “so-called” judges have been acting like unelected legislators.

Well, hmmph! Perhaps Trump didn’t say anything so terrible after all… Sounds like he wanted the same thing from Judge Robart that President Roosevelt wanted from the judiciary: “A Supreme Court that will enforce the Constitution as written, that will refuse to amend the Constitution by the arbitrary exercise of judicial power … not … a judiciary so independent that it can deny the existence of facts which are universally recognized.”

Regardless of whether anyone agrees with Donald Trump’s policy for keeping the country safe through a travel ban from certain lawless countries, it is plain to constitutional scholars (the real ones, not the so-called ones who host TV shows) that the president is well within his constitutional and statutory purview to establish that policy. The judiciary has no business changing that policy because it disagrees with the president’s judgment (so-called or otherwise).

Roosevelt’s fight with the courts was over his desire to implement changes that he considered necessary to save the country from the economic downturn of the Depression. Trump’s fight, in his young term, has been over his desire to implement changes that he considers necessary to save the country from the brutal scourge of terrorism.

If anything, Trump is more likely to prevail than FDR because the Constitution gives the president broad powers over national security as commander-in-chief, but their fight is not really very different. Consider the following quote from President Roosevelt at his famous 1935 press conference:

“Is the United States going to decide that the federal government shall have no right under any written or implied power to enter into the solution of national economic problems, or are efforts to solve them to be restricted to the states?”

Simply substitute the words “national security problems” for the words “national economic problems,” and it becomes plain that Donald Trump’s argument with the court is neither new nor outrageous.

In future columns, I will take a look at further parallels between FDR and Donald Trump in an effort to demonstrate that the national panic over Trump’s presidency is political, not principled.

Frank Miele is the managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake.

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