Garrett Epps, writing for The Atlantic, warns that the advent of Trumpism comes mainly from an erosion of our collective understanding of and belief in the reasons our Constitution was written in the first place:
Trumpism is the symptom, not the cause, of the malaise. I think we have for some time been living in the post-Constitution era. America’s fundamental law remains and will remain important as a source of litigation. But the nation seems to have turned away from a search of values in the Constitution, regarding it instead as a set of annoying rules.
But even if America is spared President Trump, will the pathologies of the last year simply dissipate in a burst of national good feeling? Hardly. Trump was not a meteorite who has unexpectedly plunged to earth out of the uncharted depths of space; he is the predictable product of a sick system.
The corrosive attack on constitutional values has come, and continues to come, from the right. It first broke into the open in 1998, when a repudiated House majority tried to remove President Bill Clinton for minor offenses. It deepened in 2000, when the Supreme Court, by an exercise of lawless power, installed the President of their choice. It accelerated when the inadequate young president they installed responded to crisis with systematic lawlessness––detention without trial, a secret warrantless eavesdropping program, and institutionalized torture.
Whatever is taught in school, the Constitution never was (in James Russell Lowell’s phrase), “a machine that would go of itself;” what has made it work is a daily societal decision that we wish to live in a constitutional democracy. In 1942, Judge Learned Hand warned that “a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone, no court can save; that a society where that spirit flourishes, no court need save.”
And as if on cue, yesterday the Man Himself made another broadside against the 6th and 5th amendments (without, one assumes, knowing that he did):
In a speech on Monday, Donald Trump expressed his displeasure that Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in the recent New York City bombings, will receive the full legal protections afforded to him by the federal Constitution. Trump specifically zeroed in on the fact that Rahami, a naturalized U.S. citizen, will presumably be provided a lawyer, as the Constitution requires. “He will be represented by an outstanding lawyer,” Trump complained with palpable chagrin. “His case will go through the various court systems for years and in the end, people will forget and his punishment will not be what it once would have been. What a sad situation. We must have speedy but fair trials and we must deliver a just and very harsh punishment to these people.”
Slate's Mark Stern goes on to remind readers that John Adams and James Madison made the 6th Amendment right to counsel a bedrock of American jurisprudence for some pretty good reasons. But neither Trump nor his supporters really care about those reasons, because in their limited imaginations, they can't see how taking away those rights for some people will almost certainly result in taking away those rights for them as well.