Morning Read: American Horatios


Timothy Wu is a distinguished professor at Columbia Law School. Yesterday, he published a piece entitled What Really Saved the Republic from Trump? It wasn’t our constitutional system of checks and balances. Viewed from one angle, Professor Wu’s argument is trivial. Viewed from another angle, it is profound.

His thesis is that it isn’t the Madisonian structures that saved us from Trump, it’s instead the fact that people occupying (some of) our governing institutions just  did their jobs. He writes that

the president’s worst impulses were neutralized by three pillars of the unwritten constitution. The first is the customary separation between the president and federal criminal prosecution (even though the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch). The second is the traditional political neutrality of the military (even though the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces). The third is the personal integrity of state elections officials.

Curiously—given that he’s a law professor—Prof. Wu downplays the role of the judiciary in holding our constitutional republic together. There, I would disagree with him.

Here is my list of man-bites-dog takeaways from our current mess:

Numero Uno Man Bites Dog Story: The Faithfulness of the Election Officials

It’s quasi-remarkable that people like the Republican Governor of Georgia, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Secretary of State have withstood enormous pressure to maintain the integrity of the election. We can legitimately debate how many gold stars we wish to pin to their chests, but we cannot legitimately disagree with the fact that their recent performance has been admirable.

But why do I say it’s only quasi-remarkable? Because they are people who can think ahead three steps in the chess game, who can read the demographic prognostications, and who can see that, in the middle and long term, the Georgia Republican Party is in grave danger of following the Virginia Republican Party into oblivion.

Numero Due Man Bites Dog Story: The Judiciary’s Reaction to Trump’s Gaslighting

Trump knows how to do two things and two things only: tell lies and bully people into accepting his lies, if he’s unable to fool them. Judges get lied to, all the time, and they know what to do when counsel’s nose suddenly grows by three inches. Sometimes they get yelled at. They tend not to take that sort of behavior kindly.

So, again, it’s only quasi-surprising that they have rejected Dear Leader’s fantasies. Even so, it’s surprising that the rejections have been so uniform.

The Military

If the leaders of the military had shown any willingness to join in a coup, then the coup would have occurred in a New York minute, and we would now be living in a military dictatorship. But military folks know what they are supposed to do, and they don’t cower in the face of opposition. I don’t know how many stars they deserve for doing their duty, but I do know I am grateful.