Are you unsettled yet?
We are one month in to Donald Trump’s presidency. The darkening cloud of Russia hangs over the administration. The president is attacking intelligence agencies on social media. The head of the military’s Special Operations Command declared that our government is in “unbelievable turmoil.”
And that’s just the past week.
These are troublesome days, which is what Democrats and Republicans alike feared in a Trump presidency. Some are predicting even worse – a slide toward authoritarianism under a leader who lashes out at restraints on his power and declares that “I alone” can fix the country’s ills.
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So today, we offer a reminder of something else that’s happened over the past 30 days:
Our country’s frame is holding firm.
Our checks and balances are largely checking and balancing the president’s worst tendencies.
America is doing the job it’s supposed to do.
That includes the courts, which uniformly rose up and rejected the president’s executive order limiting immigration and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. The courts’ rulings, which were both broad and pointed, came in the face of unprecedented bullying from Trump. Judges, including Republican appointees, did not buckle.
Neither has the press, which has embraced its traditional watchdog role despite the drumbeat of Trump Twitter attacks. From details about turmoil in the White House to reports that led to the resignation last week of national security adviser Michael Flynn, the media has done its job of holding power accountable.
(And for those who think the media only embraces that role with Republicans: The New York Times reporter who helped unearth the Flynn story – Michael S. Schmidt – also broke the Hillary Clinton email server story two years ago.)
Another important, but underappreciated, check on the president: the Washington bureaucracy. Our government includes officials and workers who transcend administrations and wield surprising power. Those officials, particularly in defense and intelligence communities, have provided a bulwark against Trump’s hyper-aggressiveness with leaks not only about troubling ties to Russia, but about the possible reemergence of waterboarding and overseas “black site” prisons.
Which leaves us with the last and most critical check – Congress. We understand that Republicans see Trump as a conduit for their conservative agenda, but we wish that GOP members of Congress – including Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina – weren’t so reluctant to raise an eyebrow at the president.
Still, some have stood up to question the president on his immigration order, black sites and Russia, including last week’s first steps at investigating the latter. A North Carolinian, U.S. Rep. Walter Jones was the first Republican to call last week for an independent commission investigation of Trump and Russia.
Every new president experiences at least some political gravity, as lofty campaign ambitions meet the reality of the job. But this president, more than any other, is willing to test that gravity. It’s partly why people elected him, but unchecked, his recklessness can be a threat to our democracy.
One month in, that check is happening. America is doing its job. So far.