I recently had the opportunity to listen to Congressman Jamie Raskin address the Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County and provide some insight into the current political climate.
If you are one of the many Democrats who wake up each morning wondering how a Trump presidency could have happened, how a man so unfit for office could be living in the White House, whether there is any reason for hope, then hearing Raskin's presentation would have provided you with some level of comfort, maybe even inspiration.
Congressman Raskin made it clear that we are living in troubling times with the administration of one Donald J. Trump. However, the congressman also made it clear that it is the Constitution that gives us hope that our democratic ideals will ultimately win out and protect American values.
Congressman Raskin focused much of his talk on the Constitution and demonstrated his in-depth knowledge of that topic as a constitutional law professor. Clearly having someone in Congress who actually understands the Constitution is a welcome addition to that legislative body.
As disturbing as the inauguration of Donald Trump was on January 20th and it was particularly disturbing, as the congressman readily pointed out, because it very likely had the only inauguration speech which did not include any mention of our founders, of Jefferson, of Madison, of Thomas Paine, of Frederick Douglass, of the Constitution, of the Declaration of Independence.
BUT I said the congressman gave us hope and hope was given to the congressman not on the day of the inauguration but the day after the inauguration, January 21st, the day of the Women's March. This was the day that truly reflected our democracy, because, as the congressman so proudly pointed out, it is the day that the people raised their voices, the voices that are the very foundation of our democracy.
Congressman Raskin pointed to three main principles under the Constitution.
First, “We the people.” Kings may get their power from God and that power works its way down through the nobility, the clergy and may trickle down (where did I hear that term before?) to the people but only to the extent permitted by the ruling class.
In our Constitutional democracy all power flows from the people. As Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution readily establishes, no kings, no titles, no emoluments.
This, of course, is being tested today with Trump and whether his presidency will consist of undivided loyalty to his personal profits or of undivided loyalty to the people as envisioned by our founders.
Second, “Separation of church and state.” The congressman pointed to the Supreme Court case, Engel v. Vitale, from 1962 in which the court ruled that the government cannot impose religious prayer in public schools.
This led to some interesting anecdotes. One such anecdote involved his debate with Bill O'Reilly dealing with the insertion into the Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892, the words “under God” in 1954. O'Reilly kept asking if not under God then under what? The pledge was written in response to pledges of allegiance to the Confederate flag.
The Pledge of Allegiance was designed to emphasize the words “one nation indivisible.” Raskin's reply to O'Reilly's question was “under the Constitution,” the point being that in this country there is no one religion, ideology, political party, and so on.
Third, “Separation of Powers.” This, as the congressman pointed out, is designed to prevent the “collapse of all power into one.” Congress is tasked with law making, the presidency is tasked to execute and implement faithfully the laws passed, and, the judiciary, as captured in McCulloch v. Maryland, is responsible for serving as a check on the Constitutionality of the actions of the other two branches.
It is because of the Constitution and the foresight of our founding fathers that Congressman Raskin sees hope. As he mentioned, we have already seen victories with the courts overturning Trump's executive orders such as the one on the Muslim ban based on its unconstitutional application. Raskin is encouraged with the actions taken by several states regarding climate change in light of Trump's irresponsible decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord. The actions of these states reflect the true meaning of the concept of federalism.
Congressman Raskin also made it clear that he believed the press to be “the people's best friend” as it serves as the people's eyes and ears.
The congressman then opened up the discussion for some questions and made several important points. Regarding the potential for impeachment, Congressman Raskin believes that it will take congressional Republicans to feel the “albatross” around their necks before they become “patriots over partisans.”
He also mentioned his efforts to utilize the powers of the 25th amendment.
He has introduced legislation to establish a body, as called for in the 25th amendment, to assess the fitness of a president for office. In response to other questions, he mentioned the grassroots efforts in Georgia regarding the Ossoff campaign and the support he has coordinated here in Maryland. He also mentioned his belief that a single payer health care system, Medicare for all, is not out of reach.
Congressman Raskin ended with a response to a question regarding what Democrats learned from the defeat of 2016. His message was quite clear.
There is no substitute for effective grassroots organizing as evidenced by his own victory over the well-financed David Trone. He also emphasized, however, that we must do a better job of getting our message across.
It is inconceivable that we allowed Trump to portray himself as the candidate for the working class. As evidenced by his cabinet, the candidate who railed against Wall Street and Goldman Sachs filled his cabinet with Wall Street and Goldman Sachs. The Democrats own the populist message; now we have to make sure that the message gets out and not allow any candidate to usurp that message...Trump to the left of Hillary? Really now!