You Want Checks and Balances? Stop Ignoring the Constitution When You're in Power

Once the trust in checks and balances is eroded, it's difficult to regain.


"Trump has an authoritarian impulse," political scientist and Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer tweeted after the president fired FBI Director James Comey. "But incompetence is a better explanation of his administration's challenges to date."

It's difficult to believe that President Donald Trump is both a clueless idiot, unable to spell or read or earn a single cent on his own merit; and a nefarious mastermind, capable of bamboozling the entire nation so he can hand over the White House to Russia. The truth is the plausible explanation for the timing of the Comey firing—and the many other political missteps of this administration—is remarkably undramatic. Trump just isn't very good at being president.

The Comey firing was reflexively framed as the next Watergate because there is a predetermined conclusion regarding Russian collusion. We're still litigating Trump's victory. All coverage flows from this inevitable finale; it clouds all perspectives and creates a hysterical environment that leaves no space for anything but rigid positions.

"I remain a Trump skeptic in more ways than not," Commentary's Noah Rothman tweeted, "but I'm more concerned we now regard withheld judgment not as prudence but as collaboration." C'mon, Noah, make a snap judgement or you are embracing Putin.

The Atlantic's David Frum called the firing "a coup against the FBI." CNN's Jeffery Toobin, a reliable defender of executive abuse over the past eight years, claimed it was "a grotesque abuse of power by the president of the United States" and "the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies." The rule of law, the very fabric of American life, was under attack, says almost everyone on the left. Now, more than ever, we have to save our institutions.

Never mind that the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president. The firing of Comey is not a constitutional crisis until there is evidence that it is. Democrats have spent months impugning Comey's integrity, after all, and most Republicans weren't exactly fans either.

I've defended Comey's integrity on numerous occasions, although I don't believe he was particularly good at his job. Firing him was a mistake. The optics are appalling. Trump's stated reasons for firing him are completely absurd. Still, it's difficult to believe that Comey was dismissed because he was on the cusp of some great Kremlingate discovery. In fact, if Comey were about to break the case wide open, he would have more freedom to divulge that information now.

Moreover, the Russian investigation doesn't end with Comey. With Comey gone, it will likely end with someone far more competent. The melodramatists wishcasting the next Watergate on cable news know this well. (If Trump names a lackey and the Senate lets him, then we have a crisis.) It is far more likely, as one Wall Street Journal article points out, that the president was looking for a pretext to fire the FBI director for wholly Trumpian reasons. They are not good. They are not Nixonian.

But I'm open to believing the worst-case scenario. So if the Senate wants to pressure the president or launch an independent investigation, I'm all for it. Separation of powers is a vital component of healthy governance. The problem, though, is that Democrats only embrace these checks and balances when they're convenient.

I know, I know—whataboutism! But it's something more serious than a "gotcha." It's a cycle of partisanship that has truly corroded our institutions.

Fact is, we've had (at least) two norms-busting presidents with authoritarian impulses in a row. Both believe in ruling with a pen and a personality, and disregarding process whenever it suits their political purposes. One was a thoughtful-sounding charismatic force and a talented fibber, a virtuoso at erecting strawmen and offering false choices. He pushed his party farther to the left than it has ever been.

The other is a clumsy and transparent fibber, an incompetent novice pushing his party into whatever ideologically untethered position is catching his fancy at the moment. Only one of these men, however, was given a free pass by most people in the institutional media because his progressive ideological outlook pleases their sensibilities.

You don't trust Donald Trump to name an FBI director, even though it's within his purview to do so? Well, I don't trust Barack Obama to enter into faux treaties with a bunch of nations without Senate approval, or to unilaterally legalize millions of people without Congress. I understand that you find those unilateral decisions morally comforting, but if process and norms matter, they should always matter.

While there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around, Democrats' newfound adoration of checks and balances simply isn't credible. And once that trust has been eroded, it's difficult to regain. Most Americans aren't impressed by procedure. So why would they surrender power when they're certain you will abuse it again four years from now?

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  1. Actually, Harsanyi, the problem right now is that, with the exception of a handful of senators, the Republicans only take checks and balances seriously when it’s convenient too. And guess who’s in power right now? I know you and your geriatric-friendly shit-rag The Federalist see it as your sworn duty to be the constipation to the MSM’s diarrhea, but maybe recognize a universal problem as universal instead of selectively punching down at the powerless.

    1. Geriatic-friendly? Stop othering the elderly, you shitlord.

      The universal problem is people declaring themselves martyrs and acting like the rules don’t apply to them.

      Y’know, like that “punching down” progressive stack bullshit which makes heroes out of “powerless” terrorists.

      Take that shit back to tumblr, retard. Nobody here is buying it.

      1. “othering the elderly”

        These euphemisms…

        I know no-one’s buying it. I’ve wasted years posting here, and I won’t make that mistake again.

    2. …with the exception of a handful of senators, the Republicans only take checks and balances seriously when it’s convenient too.

      Nothing written here implies otherwise. But by all means, continue to engage in Tu Quoque arguments. It makes it easier to identify the morons when they peddle obvious logical fallacies.

      1. So what was the focus of his string of complaints, caveats, and media crying? You can recognize that both parties are shit while realizing that it means a lot more in the current case than the other. Rather than bitching, he could have used this as an illustration, but Harsanyi doesn’t write to convince, he writes to back pat. Was there any doubt that he’d have a “But Democrats…” column this week?

        Reason should yank Harsanyi from the Friday line up and let Riggs rant for ten paragraphs.

      2. I know it’s probably not pronounced this way, but I always read it sounding like “two cock” in my head.

        Which is fitting, because it’s like a couple of guys having a sword fight with their dicks over who’s more gay.

        1. “FINISH HIM!”

          “DanO. wins!”

  2. “While there is plenty of hypocrisy to go around, Democrats’ newfound adoration of checks and balances simply isn’t credible. And once that trust has been eroded, it’s difficult to regain. Most Americans aren’t impressed by procedure. So why would they surrender power when they’re certain you will abuse it again four years from now?”

    This is a horrendous paragraph. I’m still not exactly sure what you’re trying to say.

    1. The Democrats are playing the usual major party game. They only talk about checks and balances when they are out of power. The filibuster is a protection against tyranny when they are the minority but thwarts the will of the people when they are the majority. Every accusation must be investigated if is against their opponents but is a witch hunt if against them. It doesn’t matter who threw the first stone. People now view such calls with cynicism and don’t believe a party that says they will restore respect for the law if you only give them power.

      1. Exactly.

        The paper-thin excuses for ignoring checks and balances were the only “transparent” thing about the Obama administration: We could see straight through them. The prog media was too busy sucking up to him to care.

        But now that the shoe is on the other foot, they expect me to care. I do not.

      2. Yes politics is full of hypocrisy.

  3. “Trump just isn’t very good at being president.” Is exactly what happened. What I don’t understand is how his handlers and everybody around him hasn’t been able to keep him in line. Without Trump giving one-on-one interviews every week and tweeting, this would be a shockingly normal presidency.

    1. At the very least he tells you what on his mind more directly than any recent president. It’s not always right or proper, but I kind of like having a window to my presidents soul.

      And I don’t get the tweeting hate. I own my own company and investigate ways to market it. It’s nearly universal that the first thing any marketing firm asks or addresses is what kind of social media outreach you have. It’s the cheapest and easiest form of mass communication. Clearly this is the same thought process urging trump to use it, if it’s the first line of marketing products, then whys it seem so strange to so many our politicians now use it to market ideas?

      1. Well, at least he doesn’t Instagram his lunch.

        1. Too bad… I was wondering if the Taco Bowls were as tasty looking in DC as they were in NY.

          1. “There was a burrito pact, a burrito treaty… a burreaty, if you will.”


      2. social media is social media. Business is business. Build a proper website. I find it wicked annoying to have to go to some facebook page to find out about a local business. Almost inevitably, I don’t want their latest updates, I want to know the basics, which are far better presented on a rather static web page.

        Go ahead, call me a dinosaur. I am. But I know what I like and want, as opposed to the mass of idiots (many of who voted for Trump, with an equal number voting for Hillary) who know only what they are told they should want or think.

        1. If a business only has a Facecrack site, they won’t get my business.

      3. The media hates that Trump does not have to go through them to have the “news” filtered.

        After people realize this, Trump’s use of twitter makes perfect sense. Additionally, Trump tweeted like this during the campaign and he was elected, so why would Trump change the way he does things for lefties who didn’t vote for him anyway.

        Someday, certain Reason staff and the lefties will realize that does not play by their rules nor probably care about having a second term.

      4. I agree actually. Yeah, Trump’s tweets boil down to his snap judgments and nuttiness but I actually appreciate that. It’s a refreshing change from triple-scrubbed press released reported without question by the media. Trump doesn’t appear to give a flying fuck about any of that and just says whatever comes to mind off the cuff.

        The only disappointing part is that it reveals how bizarre Trump’s mind is, but wouldn’t we rather know that up front than need to decipher what’s actually being said through paragraphs that have been carefully crafted to remove all meaning? Isn’t it a good thing that the President says exactly what he’s thinking directly to the American people, even if we don’t particularly like what we hear?

    2. What I don’t understand is how his handlers and everybody around him hasn’t been able to keep him in line.

      In all likelihood he’s surrounded himself with yes men, enablers, and hangers-on as opposed to actual handlers.

  4. Harsanyi is the best. That is all.

    1. Stossel ain’t shabby.

      1. ENB or GTFO.

        1. Only when she gives good Alt-Text.

  5. It’s difficult to believe that President Donald Trump is both a clueless idiot, unable to spell or read or earn a single cent on his own merit; and a nefarious mastermind, capable of bamboozling the entire nation

    Why not? Boosh was.

    1. Yeah, they were saying this about W for 8 years. Nobody said that about Obama because he is not a mastermind of any sort.

    2. No, he really wasn’t. The press just made him look that way, while giving Barry a pass when he did the exact same things, and even some uniquely stupid things on his own. How long would CNN have run with “57 states” if it had come from W? Yet they didn’t even blink when it was Obama.

      1. Report to maintenance. Your sarcasm detector needs recalibration.

      2. Have you ever seen Obama talk without reading it? He is horrible

  6. Most Americans aren’t impressed by procedure Most Americans apparently never had a real American history class with very substantial focus on the Revolution and founding of the Republic, nor have they had a civics / Am. government class about how the system is supposed to work.

    1. I don’t think people care too much about how the system is supposed to work when it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

      1. The problem is, for at least 3 generations, many of them have been told that it’s working just fine: yeah FDR, LBJ, W, Obumah rah rah rah presidentgodemperor take care of us because it’s a democracy, right???

        1. There are people who are happy that it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to when their guy is in charge. These people get pissed when their guy isn’t in charge.
          There are people who are pissed that it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to regardless of who’s in charge. These people get some hope when a guy in charge says he’s going to fix things, but regularly have their hopes crushed.
          There are people who can’t be bothered to care that it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to because they’re just trying to live their lives. These people ignore politics to the best of their ability and do what they can to adapt their lives to any new adverse conditions.

  7. Checks and balances are an impediment to “getting things done” when your guy is in power. We need deference, not checks. The branches are supposed to respect one another and let them to The Work of The People.

    When the other team is in power then it’s the most important thing in the world!

    Principals, not principles.

    1. Or what Rat on a train said.

  8. Trump just isn’t very good at being president.

    Which is odd, considering he’s very smart, perhaps the smartest man in history if you don’t count Isaac Newton who I understand is becoming better known with his recent good work.

  9. Prisoner’s Dilemma


    Someone could break that cycle. There were even people, pre-08, arguing that Obama was just the sort of ‘post partisan’ to do so.

    Yes, I know, shocking to think how people could have been so naive, even then.

    But I wouldn’t count on Trump being the one to break the cycle. Because he clearly recognizes that his supporters did not elect him to do so.

  10. So. If Drumpf is to overstep his authority and disregard Congress, it is Obama’s fault. And that of the Democrats of the first two years of his tenure.

    Sheesh, Republicans pretending to be libertarians are falling over each other trying to be Drump’s cock holster

    1. Who is Drumpf?
      Who is Drump?

      1. Drumpf is some guy we Republicans watch on Faux News.

        1. Does he have a catchy slogan like “Drumpf lies, Freedom dies”?

    2. Yes, it is partly Obama’s fault. Precedent is a meaningful issue in our political system. Once Democrats embrace the argument that Obama can bypass Congress with his pen and his phone, on what principle do they say that Trump can’t?

      1. Yes, it is partly Obama’s fault.

        It’s partly Obama’s fault that Drumpf is overstepping Congressional checks and balances? Guess you win the cock holster sweepstakes.

        1. So why didn’t you say anything when Obama authorized the execution of an American citizen without due Process? Or when he didn’t get congressional approve for military action in Libya?

          Or was your mouth otherwise occupied?

          1. Because he is a compete progressive fool. I don’t know why he is here unless just to argue.

  11. You should also vote to ensure divided govt which means voting for democrats in the midterms.

    1. Unless 2020 is an easy win for the Dems. That could mean things like single payer

      1. There is precedent. The 2006 divided government vote led to the 2008 total government vote which brought us Obamacare. Perhaps we should scrap the voting thing and enforce divided government while alternating who controls what every couple years.

  12. Please let me know what it means to “be good as President.”

    With specifics, please. Take your time. When you do figure it out in the next, oh, I dunno, next million years, then let me know where we can find him.

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  14. The author completely loses his credibility by lumping Obama in with Trump. Obama signed a lot of executive orders, but that is because Congress is dysfunctional and does not want to do its job; that does not make him Trumpian.

    As for Trump, or any POTUS that gets out of line, it is an absolute no-brainer for there to be a Congressional-authorized investigation; that is the singular officer that cannot be trusted to be impartial about his own culpability!

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