Joseph Sabino Mistick: Trump’s disdain for law & order
“Cruella De Vil” and “The Queen of Mean” are just a couple of the nicknames for Kirstjen Nielsen that have been making the rounds since she was fired as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. At the end of the day, “Cruella” was not cruel enough and the “Queen” was not mean enough for Donald Trump.
Trump wanted someone who would follow orders, even illegal ones, and clamp down on the border with Mexico. And reporters covering the department say that he was frustrated with Nielsen’s refusal to ignore the law. Still, she can never escape her embrace of Trump’s policy that split refugee families and lost track of some children forever.
If nothing else, Trump has been consistent when it comes to ordering others to break the law. CNN’s Jake Tapper reported earlier in the week that Trump “told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, ‘Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.’ ”
Agents who are accustomed to taking orders asked their superiors if they should listen to the president or follow the law. They were told that if they listened to the president, they would be on their own and personally liable for their actions.
A few days later, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the House Ways and Means Committee that it was out of line for asking the IRS to turn over six years of Trump’s tax returns. And acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said that the committee will “never” get the returns. Never mind that the law provides for exactly that when requested by the committee chair.
We saw this coming. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump encouraged Russia to break the law and hack Hillary Clinton’s email accounts. At a Florida event, he said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
And, at rallies, Trump promised to pay his supporters’ legal fees if they roughed up protesters. He told an Iowa audience, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell … I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.”
While this is a different kind of presidency in so many ways, Trump’s disdain for law and order and the courts is not without precedent. Coincidentally, we saw it from Trump hero Andrew Jackson, the seventh president.
Jackson had no more respect for the courts than Trump does, and when confronted with a troublesome Supreme Court decision by Justice John Marshall, he challenged the court, saying something like, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.”
The population of the United States was less than 13 million then, and we were just getting used to the separation of powers and checks and balances, but Jackson’s arrogance and belligerence could have derailed the American experiment early on. Now, we shall see if our system is as durable and unshakeable as it was designed to be.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].