Do Trump's Vulgar Insults Target The Constitution?
|Dr. Alan Keyes|
by Dr. Alan Keyes: The big winner of the GOP's New Hampshire primary gleefully pushes the envelope of vulgar public discourse, deliberately using the F-word (and I don't mean "family") in a public speech, then lying about it in an interview. On another occasion, shortly thereafter, he amplifies the gender-defaming sexual vulgarity of a woman in his audience to garner sustained applause as he attacks Sen. Ted Cruz.
Donald Trump insists, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that he upholds the Constitution. Yet by debasing our public discourse at the highest level (the election for president is the most visible contest in our politics), he disregards the ultimate goal of the Constitution, which is "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." Who is so obtuse as to claim that the freedom to elect officials who fling vulgar public insults at their opponents is one of those blessings? Only people who don't care whether our political differences escalate toward violent conflict.
In every generation before now, people who did have that concern understood that the best way to encourage the restraint required to endure venomous insults is to practice restraint when it comes to using them. In fact, this is still the basis for what we try to teach our young children, wherever parents and teachers have the moral courage to enforce that instruction, whether at home, or in the corridors, classrooms, and lunch rooms of our schools.
Donald Trump is a man who apparently has enough self-discipline to be totally abstinent when it comes to alcohol. So it's hard to believe that his rhetorical descent into the verbal gutter is the result of some uncontrollable impulse. He does it on purpose, with malice aforethought. But this impels us to ask what purpose is served by the deliberate vulgarization of our politics at the highest level? What good can come of it?
As his campaign relies heavily on exploiting angry and resentful passions, it is to his advantage to strike angry, combative poses. They are likely to attract the enthusiastic interest of people who feel those passions intensely themselves (nowadays, for good reason). Anger and resentment often lead people to explode in vulgar insult, even when doing so is against their usual habits. So Trump serves his own ambition when he plays the guttersnipe. But aside from trampling on the decent sensitivities of people trying to raise or teach our children, what harm does it do?
Damaging the self-discipline of our posterity ought to be harm enough. But the purblind self-abasement of some of our fellow citizens appears to be so far advanced that they have no inkling of the further great harm the particulars of Trump's obscenely insulting attack on Ted Cruz suggest.
The woman who shouted the vulgar insult was responding to Trump's criticism of Cruz's allegedly evasive response to a question about whether he (Cruz) would approve the U.S. government's use of torture. Trump expressed the view that a simple yes or no should suffice. He appears to believe that the willingness to inflict torture is some proof of "manliness." In both respects, he shows his utter disregard for the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, which says, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
In terms of the Eighth Amendment, torture is an obscenity – i.e., something that should not be seen on the stage of our government's activities. It is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. But if people convicted of a crime cannot be tortured, surely the same applies to people not yet convicted, or in many case even accused, of a crime. Every use of torture is, therefore, on the face of it, an explicit violation of the Constitution. So Donald Trump apparently believes that a blanket judgment can be made generally approving such violations.
But in reality, any such general affirmation treats the Constitution's authority as defunct. There may be extreme circumstances that require the use of torture in hopes of preventing fatally destructive consequences – but no blanket judgment can be made about such cases, only judgments that take account of actual circumstances. It is not only right but necessary, therefore, to refuse to give a general response when asked about approving torture. If Donald Trump doesn't understand this, trusting him with the office of President of the United States greatly endangers our rights, including liberty.
This danger is greatest in times of war, for such times are inordinately risky for liberty. By its very nature, war calls for dictatorship in respect of the actual conduct of the war. But, especially given our military technologies, a prolonged or perpetual state of war can be construed to bring the whole nation onto the field of battle. This is especially true of the terrorist threat. Does this mean that liberty and the Constitution intended to safeguard it have simply been overtaken by events?
In his smack at Ted Cruz on the issue of torture, Donald Trump makes it clear that he thinks the answer is "yes": The era of constitutional self-government, respectful of God-endowed right and the rights derived from it, is over. The era of pragmatic, anti-constitutional dictatorship has begun, an era in which the wielders of government power and their cronies will just get things done, by any means necessary.
What has this to do with the vulgarization of our public discourse? In the first place, the use of offensive language distracts from the real danger, which is the routine disregard of constitutional safeguards for liberty. This is something Trump has clearly promised he will do, abusing executive orders just like Barack Obama. In the second place, it encourages our nation's descent into a culture of casual violence, fueled by personal insult and revenge. This already prevails in many of our urban neighborhoods. Combine the threat of terrorism from abroad with the rising culture of vindictive violence at home, and the resulting maelstrom offers the perfect opportunity to toss constitutional niceties on the ash heap of history.
People wicked enough to look forward to that maelstrom may welcome Trump's leadership and example. It is their license to "bring it on." But people of goodwill, still committed to securing the blessings of the God-endowed unalienable right of liberty, will see Mr. Trump for what he is – the elitist faction's slyly promoted figurehead, on assignment to extend the tyranny Barack Obama has already far advanced until it is past the point of no return
Alan Keyes served as Asst Secretary of State for International Organizations and as Ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social Council under President Ronald Reagan. He ran for president in 1996, 2000 and 2008, and was a Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate for Maryland in 1988 and 1992, and for Illinois in 2004 against Democrat Barack Obama. He also writes for Renew America where he first shared this article and blogs at LoyaltoLiberty.com.
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