There Shall be No Divine Right of Trump in the House of Nancy

Much discussion about Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors is in reference to the U.S. Constitution. This, of course, makes sense, given that it is this foundational document that outlines the structure and rules of our government. The grounds and the procedures for his removal from office are to be found within the Constitution. I think aside the brazen coolness of Nancy Pelosi tearing Trump’s State of the Union address while standing on the dais, however, better reflects the principles seen in the Declaration of Independence.

In some ways, her simple protest likely resonated so profoundly with many because it serves as a metaphorical challenge to Republican disregard for the Constitution through their propping up of a man who claimed that Article 2 allows him to do whatever he wants. Of course, this is patently false and reflective of Trump’s upside-down tall-tale telling. What Article 2 actually says about the limits of Presidential authority is found in Section 4, where it states:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

How that would suggest to any thinking person that the President can do whatever he wants is beyond me.

Regardless of Trump’s lie, the issue at hand for the Senators in their vote yesterday was not  to determine if Trump had committed the acts he was accused of: withholding foreign aid and military spending to a US ally in exchange for the creation of rumours about a political opponent of Trump’s. Trump has admitted on live television that he did it. The purported point of contention was whether or not what he did met the threshold as outlined in Section 4. In other words, did his behavior constitute “treason, bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The Senators might simply have looked to the Oxford English Dictionary for a definition of Bribery, to answer this question:

1. The action or an act of taking something dishonestly; theft, robbery. Obsolete.
2. The taking of something by abuse of power or trust; extortion. Obsolete.
3. The demanding of a sum of money or other inducement by a powerful person, esp. a judge or other official, in return for a certain action or a favourable judgement; an instance of this. Obsolete.
 4. The giving, offering, or promising of a sum of money, gift, or other inducement (see bribe n. 2a) to someone in order to influence his or her behaviour, esp. to persuade him or her to act in one’s favour; the taking or acceptance of such a sum of money or other inducement.

Any of these definitions surely describe Trump’s behavior as bribery which is laid out in black and parchment yellow as cause for both impeachment and conviction. And yet, all but one of the Republicans voted to acquit. hmmmm…..

Though many countries throughout the world locate authority for their state within individuals (such as Kings or Sultans) or in God, the framers placed the Constitution itself as the ultimate authority through a unanimous vote at the Constitutional Convention of September 17, 1787, as stated in Article VI:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State

Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In other words, our elected officials are bound to uphold the principles of this document above all else; above any allegiance to church, organization, or individual. The implications of yesterday’s Senate vote are thus that, save for Mitt Romney, the Republican Senators have failed to uphold their Oath and, in so doing, have made Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party the Supreme authority of the land.

It should therefore be unsurprising at the Republican outrage lodged against Nancy Pelosi for tearing up Trump’s State of the Union Address. The outrage, such as that expressed by Sarah Huckabee Sanders via tweet, makes clear that to those who deem Donald Trump as Supreme Ruler, to tear into this President is to tear down the United States.

Despite their twittering cries of foul, this kind of blind allegiance to a government official is exactly what the framers were seeking to stop through the waging of a revolutionary war against the King of England whom they saw as an illegitimate authority.

Pelosi’s act was, thus, not a denigration of the principles of the U.S. but rather a reflection of them. Though, I’m loving the memes of her tearing up the speech next to the Sound of Music’s patriarch Georg von Trapp tearing up a Nazi flag, I actually would suggest a better analogy would be to the more American statements against tyranny as seen in the Declaration of Independence.

Before I explain further, let me make clear that the framers of the U.S. were racist and that racism was, and continues to be, a key motor for U.S. global supremacy. The United States could not be what it is today, were it not for the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of Black people. As I noted in my Sociology of the United States class this morning, why else do you think the North so badly wanted the South to remain in the union? On pure principle alone? For the ability to vacation in Florida without needing a passport?  In the words of, I don’t know who: bitch, please. Until the Industrial Revolution, the American economy relied on slavery for economic growth.  So, let’s not kid ourselves and glorify the framers without recognizing them as a bunch of self-interested, wealthy, white dudes who saw “Indians” and Africans as a threat to their future prosperity and pursuits of happiness. (And, in the words of Abigail Adams, don’t forget the ladies, who propped up this system of white supremacy in ways both large and small, including, their use of Black slaves as forced wet nurses among other injustices).

Despite these ugly realities, the framers nonetheless laid the foundation for how the United States operates today, more or less. The U.S. Constitution has been amended at various times, as a result of numerous brutal struggles (not on white-peoples good will alone), to reject particular injustices are seen as incongruous with the larger vision of American Society. For example, we see the ending of legalized slavery, the counting of Black peoples 5/5ths of a person instead of the original 3/5ths, or the implementation of other laws to ensure the protection of the rights and liberties of all citizens regardless of race, creed, sex, and so on. This is not to say that the U.S. isn’t still racist, but rather to suggest that the founding documents can be seen as living documents that have bent to the shifting morals, values, and economic interests of the day. This also means that today, the founding principles of liberty and justice for all are, at least in principle, supposed to apply to everyone (though in reality they often don’t).  

Whether those of the Republican right wing who claimed the “Tea Party” mantle did so because of or in spite of this history of self-serving racism, they are misguided to suggest that the rebels in the Boston Harbor in 1773 were simply anti-statist populists who cared only about lower taxes. Rather, were part of a larger movement of people whose belief in a direct and unmediated connection to God meant that “man” was capable of self-rule and did not need a single authority (or authoritarian) to tell them what they should and should not do (this is also why there is a long history of anti-Catholicism, anti-Mormonism, or anti-any group that has a powerful religious leader, rather than the individualism found among the Protestant faiths). In other words, the Boston Tea Partiers and the authors of the Declaration of Independence were rebelling against a man who claimed that he had the legal authority to do whatever he wanted. While the King of England may or may not have been grabbing women by the pussy, and he likely didn’t need to dig up dirt on political opponents since he had none, the parallels to what Trump is trying to do are uncanny.

The goal of the framers, problematic as they were, was “a more perfect union” in which men, like themselves, could be left alone to do as they wished, and no authority could come along and boss them around (again, they were fine with bossing around women, Black men, and indigenous peoples, in case you skimmed above). In other words, the notion that any American leader is untouchable is fundamentally un-American.

As such, we can see that Pelosi’s shredding of Trump’s words can be traced to a historical legacy of American patriots’ rejecting despotic rule; though I hope her act results in the overthrow of our current despot rather than in the overthrow of the state itself. As a woman who regularly invokes the framers in her public statements, I have no doubt that her magnificent act sprang from her sense of duty to heed the call of our founding fathers. And there is no better evidence for this point, than their words themselves, in the Declaration of Independence, which I leave you with here (Trigger warning: the middle is exceedingly racist against Indigenous peoples):

Action of Second Continental Congress, July 4, 1776
The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyrants only.

He has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People.

He has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries. He has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance.

He has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the consent of our Legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. He has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.

He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.

Nor have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them from Time to Time of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our Connections and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace, Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. —And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Signed by ORDER and in BEHALF of the CONGRESS,

John Hancock, President


Charles Thomson, Secretary

Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
John Hancock

Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross

Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
Matthew Thornton
William Whipple

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery

Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott

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