Every president of the United States takes an Oath of Office in which he swears 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.” These words are not random. They are prescribed in Article II, Section One, Clause 8 of the Constitution.
Presidents are accountable to Congress and to the People for how they discharge their duties under the Constitution. Presidents are not monarchs, but rather, citizen leaders who hold office for only a relatively brief time in history. The Founders of this country were fearful of monarchs and there was a great deal of internal political struggle at the founding between those who wanted a more “federalist” form of government (John Adams, et al.) with power concentrated in the chief executive, and those who wanted a more purely “democratic” form (Thomas Jefferson, et al.). For 230 years the United States has flourished with the system of checks and balances that the Founders crafted to ensure that no single branch of government becomes too powerful.
The Founders assumed the fundamental integrity of the people elected to govern, and they also assumed free and fair elections. The Founders could not have imagined Facebook and Twitter, nor could they have imagined a report from the Department of Justice leading with these words: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” (Mueller Report, p. 1)
In all the billions of words written since the Mueller Report became partially public on April 18, 2019, we have heard far too little about what the United States Government must do and will do to restore integrity to the electoral process. Rather than uniting in outrage against the obvious and well-documented ways that a hostile foreign nation corrupted the American elections, our political leaders have indulged a tawdry season of misplaced self-congratulation on the Trump side, and ineffective hand-wringing on the other side. Never have so many politicians of all stripes so completely abrogated their fundamental duties to protect this nation from hostile foreign interference and manipulation. The fact that President Trump apparently made fun of the Mueller Report and trivialized the Russian electoral interference in a phone conversation with Russian President Putin last Friday is appalling, yet another violation of his oath of office. Where do the president’s loyalties lie, with the United States or Russia?
Certainly, Trump is not the first U.S. president to cozy-up to the Russians. I’ve been reading a fascinating book about World War II called The Allies (Winston Groom) and the book paints an unflattering portrait of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt treating the evil Russian Dictator Josef Stalin as a benevolent ally, a strategic mistake that led to misery and death for millions in Russia and Eastern Europe after the war; but Roosevelt felt Stalin’s cooperation was essential to defeat Hitler and end World War II, and he probably was right. President John F. Kennedy tried to establish cordial relations with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev but was played badly. President Richard Nixon successfully negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) with Soviet Premier Leonid Breshnev, and Nixon also succeeded in establishing open relations with Mao Zedong and Communist China. President Ronald Reagan established a form of detente with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse.
These and other examples certainly illustrate the importance of keeping communications among leaders open, and encouraging the development of friendly relations even with nations we might otherwise watch with some wariness. In this context, Trump’s conversations with Putin are a natural part of the president’s responsibilities and have their place in historical context.
Nevertheless, the president can be neither naive nor self-protective, and yet, in failing to confront Putin over election interference, he seems to be both. He says he takes Putin at his word that there was no official Russian government interference, a statement that, if true on Trump’s part, is deeply naive for a world leader with so much at stake. The more obvious explanation, cited by various commentators, is that Trump does not want to confront the reality of Russian election interference because to do so would lend credence to those who say his election was illegitimate.
A good leader makes sure that no harm comes to the people for whom he is responsible. A great leader does not hesitate to put his own interests at risk for the sake of protecting the freedom and self-determination of his own country.
President Trump’s first and only real obligation is to “preserve, protect and defend” this nation and its people, including the right of the people to elect the leader they choose without any form of corruption, whether domestic or foreign.
Others may argue about the president’s own actions and the wisdom, or not, of impeachment or more investigations. Those are political and legal issues of some importance, but I believe they pale in comparison to the threat to American democracy posed by the ongoing threat of foreign electoral interference.
President Trump and Congress must come together in a bipartisan, unified and urgent manner to put an end to the corruption of American elections. To fail to do so is to betray our country and violate the oath of office.