Donald Trump says in a tweet that people who burn the American flag should lose their citizenship or go to jail. His stating this is in itself more evidence that he doesn’t understand his new job. The President of the United States take an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It seems the best of Trump’s ability will be to not defend the Constitution at all.
The Supreme Court has upheld that burning the American flag is free speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Just because something is allowed or legal, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it is a wise thing to do. Burning the flag disrespects not only those who fought and died defending the Constitution, but all who have contributed to our system’s long journey toward the beloved community. Burning the flag disrespects my great uncles who fought on the beaches of Normandy, and my father who fought in Korea. But is also disrespects all who gave their lives calling us to be our best selves, such as Jimmy Lee Jackson and James Earl Chaney. Burning the flag disrespects the veterans of the Civil Rights marches and Gay Pride Parades, and Pro Choice Demonstrations as much as it does our military veterans.
Perhaps the flag is generally given too much import and the Constitution not enough. The Pledge of Allegiance, for example, is misguided. We should not pledge allegiance to the flag, but to the Constitution. But how does one salute a set of ideas? One really can’t. So we salute the team colors, making the uniform we wear more important than the game itself. Perhaps if we pledged our allegiance to our Constitution, we would care less about what team colors we are wearing and more about how we play the game.
It’s clear Trump doesn’t want to play the game. He wants to hide behind the uniform of patriotic correctness (like political correctness but concerned with things like flag burning and USA chants). I think Trump is jealous of the Constitution. The Constitution is more important than the President. The president’ greatest loyalty, the military’s greatest loyalty, and every American citizen’s greatest loyalty is not to a person, but to our system. It’s imperfect, it certainly needs some tweaking ( can you say “electoral college” ), but it is a grand and glorious work in progress.
The threat Trump poses is to our system itself. And it is clear by now that the most important, nay, the ONLY important thing in Trump’s universe is himself. He cares not for you and me or even his supporters. He certainly doesn’t care about the Constitution, probably in no small measure because the President can not be more important than the Constitution. When and if the President becomes more important than the Constitution, then the Constitution, for all practical purposes, no longer exists. What many now fear, and I include myself, is just this – that Trump will seek to make his orders more important than the Constitution.
Should he attempt this, he becomes, in fact, an enemy of the Constitution and thus a threat against which even our armed forces may be summoned. Our armed forces take an oath to defend not the President, but the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. So what happens when that domestic enemy of the Constitution is the President? Who summons the armed forces to defend?
If the President is the Commander-in-Chief but is at the same time also a threat to the Constitution, will the fate of the Constitution and the Republic lie in the hands of the military and whether or not they stand by their oath to the Constitution? I hope we don’t have to find out, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if we get to.
Trump is a man of weak constitution who would rather have a weak Constitution. It’s the job of those with stronger constitutions to uphold, support, and defend a strong Constitution. Our task is to keep the system enshrined in the Constitution front and center while Trump, like a boardwalk huckster, tries to divert our attention to star spangled fireworks and a game of capture the flag.