Of Proper Distinctions and Constitutional Crises

Correct word usage is vital for effective thinking. The following video illustrates the point:

What happened yesterday?

You might wish to refresh yourself by checking out

Jennifer Rubin, With census order, Trump would seek to defy the courts

Leah Litman and Joshua Metz, On the census, the Trump administration’s lies are finally its downfall

Jennifer Rubin, Thankfully, Trump got skunked on the census

Jonathan Swan, Trump’s cave on Census stuns allies

You say it’s important to make proper distinctions; is there something specific you have in mind?

Yes, there is. I am thinking mainly of the distinction between a constitutional crisis and something that is not a constitutional crisis.

What is that distinction?

Let me give some examples:

When the president refuses to obey an injunction, and orders his subordinates to disobey as well: a constitutional crisis.

When the president thinks he can issue an “executive order” that will trump a a court injunction: a constitutional crisis.

When the government suffers an embarrassing loss in the Supreme Court and then asks the Court to, pretty please with sugar on top, reconsider its decision: almost surely won’t work, but it’s OK to ask, and it’s NOT a constitutional crisis.

When the government asks a court to lift an injunction, and offers a bogus rationale for its request: will probably cause severe embarrassment, but you can always ask, and it’s NOT a constitutional crisis.

When the government loses a case because it offered a bogus, trumped up reason for what it did—and then tries to solve the problem by saying, “You didn’t like like last bogus argument? Well, here’s another bogus argument, and let’s see whether you like that one any better”: a bone-headed thing to do, but, again, you can always ask, and it’s NOT a constitutional crisis.

Did we just avert a real constitutional crisis?

Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s perennially hard to tell whether Trump is an actual crazy person, or whether he just plays one on TV—and enjoys staying at Holiday Inn Express.

not a real genius

Certainly, there was a lot of talk in the last few days to the effect that Trump was going to sign an “executive order” and claim that the order made an existing court injunction null and void.

Didn’t happen.

If Trump were an actual evil genius, and if he were bound and determined to overthrow the Republic, then, would it have been a good idea for him to precipitate a constitutional crisis over the citizenship question?

Yes, it would have been, in my opinion. Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham would probably have gone into hiding. Sean Hannity would have barked in full-throated support. The camel’s nose would have been well and truly under the tent. Trump and his enablers would have taken a really nifty step toward the authoritarian minority rule they seem to want.

But wouldn’t a constitutional crisis have posed a big risk for Trump?

Yes, it would. I find it significant that not even the 19 Freedom Caucusers who sent their silly letter yesterdayovertly supported having Trump just ignore court orders.

Also, if he had threatened overt defiance of the courts, one, he would have been impeached, fer sure, and two, the outcome of a Senate impeachment trial would be in some doubt.

So what happened yesterday shows Trump to be a bullshitting, lying coward, not a courageous yet devious authoritarian?

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

Who talked Trump out of a constitutional crisis?

Attorney General Bill Barr, probably.

Does that go to show that, underneath it all, Bill Barr is a nice guy?

No, it doesn’t. When the story is finally written, I suspect that Barr was facing the mass resignation of pretty much all the lawyers in the Justice Department.

What does this entire episode portend for the attitude of the Fab Federalist Five Supreme Court justices toward Donald J. Trump and all his horseshit, going forward?

First of all, four of the Fab Federalist Five sacrificed the remaining shreds of their reputation on the altar of white supremacy. And then they lost, bigly.

Some of the Fab Federalist Five are prepared to commit professional hara-kiri to advance institutional plutocracy. But I have come to doubt that they will be equally eager to commit seppuku is support of the personal interests of the Trumpster.


Jonathan Swan’s report to wingnut despondency is as welcome as the flowers that bloom in the spring and, I hope, gives us some sense about how willing rightwing judges will be, in the future, to twist themselves into pretzels to protect Trump:

Sources say Leonard Leo and other Federalist Society stalwarts were shocked and floored by how weak the decision was. “What was the dance … all about if this was going to be the end result?” a conservative leader asked.

“A total waste of everyone’s time. … It’s certainly going to give people pause the next time one has to decide how far to stick one’s neck out.”

One GOP strategist called it a “punch in the gut.”