At 8:46 a.m. on Thursday, President Trump issued his wildly irresponsible tweet suggesting the November election be delayed — yet another reminder that Trump is contributing to the breakdown of America’s democratic institutions just when it needs them the most.
Then, only two hours later, we got a reminder of where Trump might have gotten the idea that our democratic institutions don’t deserve respect: from his wildly irresponsible predecessor.
During his eulogy at the funeral of the civil-rights hero John Lewis, Obama called for a degree of norm-shattering in service of the partisan interests of the Democrats that will, quite simply, tear this country asunder.
The 44th president took an odd turn into policy, insisting that changes be made so that “every American citizen has equal representation in our government, including the American citizens who live in Washington, DC, and in Puerto Rico.” Obama was effectively calling for the grant of statehood to these two US territories.
Now, he knows that statehood can only be granted by a vote of both houses of Congress, after which the law must be signed by the president. And under the rules that currently govern the Senate, this would never happen. (Put aside for a moment that the 23rd Amendment likely renders any effort to grant DC statehood unconstitutional.)
Why? As a practical political matter, DC is a Democratic stronghold, and it’s almost certain Puerto Rico would be, too, if it became a state. In other words, what Obama is championing here would lead to the immediate addition of four Democratic senators — effectively securing his party’s control of the upper chamber for a very long time.
He made a practical political proposal — during a eulogy! — to help achieve his goal.
“If all this takes eliminating the filibuster,” he declared, “in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do.”
The filibuster is the Senate procedure that requires a supermajority of senators, 60 out of 100, to agree that a piece of legislation should be considered by the full body.
Obama was conceding that the only way to get these new senators who will vote Democratic would be to kill the filibuster, and that it should be done — assuming, as many now do, that there may be a Democratic wave in November that will sweep Joe Biden into the White House and Democrats into the majority in the Senate.
The filibuster exists in the Senate for all sorts of reasons, but what it means in practice is that legislation can only make it to the president’s desk if there is some measure of bipartisan support for it.
And if there is anything — anything! — that should require at least token bipartisan support, it is the expansion of the size and scope of the United States of America.
Remember: The last grants of statehood came 61 years ago, when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union. It was known that Alaska leaned Democrat and Hawaii leaned Republican — so when the Democrats succeeded in advancing statehood and gaining two new senators from Alaskan statehood, it became a foregone conclusion Republicans would also get Hawaii and its two Senate seats a few months later.
Now the former president of the United States, looking at a country divided as it rarely has been before, is openly advocating a power play by his party to force through the most dramatic change to the American landscape since 1959.
It’s of a piece with the utter disrespect Obama showed to the democratic norms he and others now properly accuse Trump of ignoring.
When his party was shellacked in 2010 and lost control of the House of Representatives, it took Obama only a few months to decide that the will of the people in dividing power was an annoyance he couldn’t stomach.
“We can’t wait,” he announced. “I will not allow gridlock, or inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way.” He proudly began arrogating legislative power to the White House through a series of executive orders — many of them overturned by the courts.
The most dramatic came in 2014, when he granted temporary legal status to the illegal aliens with minor children who had been born in America. Over the previous few years, he had said on 22 separate occasions that he didn’t have that power.
Then he just seized it.
Trump’s tweet was horrific. Obama’s conduct, first as president and now as ex-president, shows he is Trump’s enabler.
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