I have little doubt that, some day, entire books will be devoted to the many remarkably obtuse things said by Donald Trump – it will be like Bartlett’s, but for Trumpisms. Some of it, of course, is just demagogic appeals to the masses. But some of it is honestly, shockingly uninformed stuff. It is impossible to enumerate, and then respond, to all of it. But on occasion, the stuff is worth noting.
For those who missed it, please read the transcript of Trump’s now-infamous meeting with the WaPo editorial board, located here. His breathtaking lack of knowledge is at once devastating and, sadly, unsurprising. Then there was Trump’s town hall session with Anderson Cooper last night on CNN. Please see Jonathan Adler’s piece at VC on Trump’s answers to the role of the federal government. (Sigh)
And today, we get more. Politico has this piece in which Trump says, during an interview this morning on ABC, that he would pick Supreme Court Justices who would “look very seriously” at Hillary Clinton’s emails. The theme goes on, but you get the idea. It seems almost hard to believe that Trump has no idea what the Supreme Court does or how it works, even in the most elementary sense. But that, I fear, is precisely the case. What on Earth is he even talking about in this interview? The whole thing is utterly incoherent.
Supreme Court Justices do not just “look at” every criminal case, nor do they get to choose to just “look at” any particular criminal case. With very few exceptions (which would not apply to the Hillary Clinton email situation), the Court only reviews cases, including criminal cases, on appeal. The Court does not initiate criminal prosecutions, it does not investigate crimes, it does not try criminal cases, and it does not serve as fact-finder in criminal prosecutions. But when Trump says that Clinton may “get away with that,” and relates this comment to picking Supreme Court Justices, it appears as though he is suggesting that Supreme Court Justices might somehow be able to prevent her from “getting away with it,” such as by investigating her or demanding that she be charged with and convicted of a crime.
Folks, if he wasn’t saying these things in public and in front of millions of people, it would be easy to think that I was just making this up. But remember: this is the same guy who, during the presidential debate in Houston, referred to federal judges “signing bills.” (see this fun piece at The Weekly Standard here).
Many Americans do not understand how the Supreme Court functions or its role in American government. That is understandable, and in many ways excusable, though I wish our citizens were better educated about the Court and the federal judiciary in general. But when you are your Party’s leading candidate for President, and there is an open seat on the Supreme Court that you may have to fill, this is the kind of thing of which you absolutely must have some basic understanding. Trump clearly does not.
This isn’t a smarty-pants critique. It’s not meant to come off as condescending or superior. We all say or do dumb things from time to time, and some of us have those moments all too often. But this man is running for President. Surely, even in our collective frustration with politicians, we can demand that our President have some basic understanding of American government. Surely that is not too much to ask. Surely we can say that the person who wishes to share the chair of Washington, Madison, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Eisenhower, and Reagan ought to at least know about – and possess some appreciation for – American federalism, the basic functions of the federal courts, and the grants of and limits on federal political power. Yet I have said before that Trump appears to know nothing about, and to care nothing about, basic American government and, especially, the constitutional separation of powers. It has become ridiculous. Still, I can’t decide which is worse: that he is this weak, or that people who support him don’t mind it. (Sigh)