Donald Trump (Shutterstock)
On May 9, President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the official who was leading a federal investigation into questionable, and possibly illegal, connections between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. The firing is eerily reminiscent of the “Saturday Night Massacre,” the evening in October 1973 when President Nixon ordered the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
Mr. Trump’s decision to fire Comey is only the latest in a long line of decisions, statements and never-ending stream of tweets that have raised the most serious questions about Mr. Trump’s fitness to serve as president of the United States, the most powerful office in the world. Only a day before Mr. Trump fired Comey, we learned that both President Obama and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates had personally warned Mr. Trump and his White House counsel of very serious concerns they had about Michael Flynn becoming national security adviser. Obama and Yates had sound reason to believe that Flynn was dangerously compromised, and possibly subject to blackmail, by the Russian government. Yet Mr. Trump hired Flynn anyway—only to fire him 18 days later.
Donald Trump the reality TV star was perhaps amusing. But President Trump is a clear and present danger to the security of the United States of America, indeed to the entire world. He is a threat to the rule of law and to all constitutional rights (except the Second Amendment) that Americans cherish.
Mr. Trump’s presidency is government by kleptocracy, run by and for the personal financial benefit of Mr. Trump and his extended family, including the Kushners. The Trump administration is rife with financial conflicts of interests. Mr. Trump arguably violates the emolument clauses of the U.S. Constitution daily. His admiration for some of the worst human rights offenders and “strong men” in the world is astonishing. What U.S. president would call and congratulate the increasingly dictatorial Turkish President Recept Tayyp Erodogan on his re-election? What U.S. president would invite to the White House someone like Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who brags about personally shooting drug dealers to death on the streets of Manila?
Mr. Trump’s abuse of the powers of his office almost makes one nostalgic for Richard Nixon. Late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert recently performed a scathing opening monologue about the president. The monologue included some very colorful language. The show was taped and a word that might have caused legal problems if uttered on a live broadcast was bleeped out for the taped broadcast. But the FCC, under a new chairman appointed by Mr. Trump, is now investigating CBS and Mr. Colbert because of the monologue. Such an investigation is no different from Nixon instructing the IRS to audit his so-called enemies. And now we have the firing of Comey.
The Trump presidency is not a “normal” presidency in any sense of the word. It is not just another example of politics as usual. Mr. Trump is dangerous and unfit for office. We must all resist the temptation or tendency toward normalization, acceptance, even tolerance of his presidency.
Do we as lawyers have an obligation to speak out against and actively oppose Mr. Trump? Yes. The preamble to the Rules of Professional Conduct states: “A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice.” It also states that “[l]awyers play a vital role in the preservation of society.” The preservation of society depends on the rule of law. Elected officials who will not abide by the rule of law threaten society. Thus, the vital role that lawyers play in the preservation of society includes opposing elected officials who repeatedly demonstrate disdain for the legal foundations of our constitutional republic.
In short, perhaps more than any other groups or profession in society, lawyers have a unique obligation to shine a harsh light on the abuse of power by elected officials, especially presidents, and to actively oppose such abuses. As lawyers, we cannot look the other way. We cannot allow ourselves to rationalize tolerating Mr. Trump as just another normal political official. He is not normal. His presidency is not politics as usual. With the exception of the Civil War, Mr. Trump is the greatest internal threat that our nation has ever faced.
A demagogue like Mr. Trump can only survive in office when a nation’s citizens, including its lawyers, are willing to “look the other way” because they don’t think the demagogue will bother them—until it is too late. We must not look the other way. We must resist Mr. Trump with every lawful means at our disposal.