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Trump's Core Values Make Him 'Superman'

Trump's Core Values Make Him 'Superman'

(Dirk Ercken/Dreamstime)

Friday, 06 July 2018 12:20 PM Current | Bio | Archive

What made Superman the greatest superhero was not just his extraordinary super-powers, but also that he stood for three things, "truth, justice and the American way."

These are still the core of our nation’s ideology, but it’s been a while since those three have been mentioned together in public discourse. It’s still worth exploring their importance, and how they constantly figure in our national politics — and law.

Nothing, of course, could be more fundamental than truth, and this is why the question of fake news emerges as a topic of contention for both the left and right in this country.

President Trump rails at the mischaracterization of everything happening in his administration by the mainstream media. He rails in particular against the constant refrain that he is a racist, a misogynist — and a Vladimir Putin puppet.

None of these things are even remotely true, but it has always been difficult to prove a negative. The president’s ire and that of his backers is understandable.

Fortunately, just as Superman was capable of flashes of wit, Donald Trump is capable of turning the fake news charge to his advantage. For example, he did this with his recent offer to pay $1 million to charity if one of his possible 2020 rivals, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., agrees to take a DNA test to settle once and for all whether she possesses any Native American heritage.

The meaning of "justice" has always been elusive.

Some in this country believe that it requires shifting resources from the wealthy to the disadvantaged. It has certainly had that connotation for Democrats for generations, from the time of FDR's New Deal to the years of the Obama administration.

A more common understanding of justice, however, in our history, has been following the rule of law. For us this has meant protecting the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property (as the British philosopher John Locke limned them, and as slightly modified by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence). This is a much more conservative vision of justice, of course, and it is one embraced by the current administration.

A vision rejected by the last.

Such a perspective on justice, paradoxically, is symbolized by the fact that Lady Justice, our icon for the rule of law, wears a blindfold, because our laws are to be administered without favor to any particular person or group.

The Democrats vision of identity politics which elevates favorable treatment for particular ethnic groups, genders, or races, is clearly inconsistent with this. Thus, it's no surprise that the Trump administration has rejected it.

This explains the current brouhaha over the clear prejudice among some of the leading officials in the Justice Department, the FBI, and the CIA who clearly favored the election of Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Trump, and who, we are now learning, did everything in their power to help her and undermine him.

This cannot be tolerated in a nation fundamentally dedicated to popular sovereignty and equality before the law. It explains why Peter Strzok, the man at the center of the FBI’s Clinton Investigation, the FBI’s Russia investigation, and, for a time, the Mueller Special Counsel investigation, has been subpoenaed to give public testimony; a demand that he apparently may refuse.

And what of the American way?

Part of the genius of this nation is that we can simultaneously tolerate conflicting values. We are for the rule of law, but we are also for popular sovereignty. We are for economic progress, but we are also for limited government. Maintaining a balance between these is not an easy task, but apart from our Civil War we’ve managed.

Indeed, this balancing act is probably not something we’ve been able to do on our own, and hence the faith from the beginning of our republic that providence played a role in the founding and unfolding of this nation.

Many aphorisms of the Founders reflected this belief, but my favorite, which I have repeated in this setting several times, comes from Samuel Chase, who expressed it in a grand jury charge in Baltimore in 1803. He was, in effect, giving a lecture in his courtroom on the essentials of America. Chase declared that "there can be no order without law, no law without morality, and no morality without religion."

As late as 1954, when Congress inserted into our pledge of allegiance that we were "one nation, under God," this was commonly understood. Whether the American way still includes morality and religion will soon be put to the test in the coming battle over filling Justice Kennedy’s vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, especially if the president (as I suspect he might) nominates Amy Coney Barrett.

Judge Barrett is an intensely religious woman, whose faith has been profoundly important in her family and career. As she has explained, however, her religious faith is not in the least inconsistent with her belief in the rule of law. The president, with her nomination, could help illuminate what he meant by his campaign to "Make America Great Again," and, indeed could bring our politics and our law back closer to our tradition.

The president is no superhero, but it does not go too far to say that truth, justice, and the American way are heroic aspirations.

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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The president is no superhero, but it does not go too far to say that truth, justice, and the American way are heroic aspirations.
barrett, chase, doj, fbi, law, samuel
Friday, 06 July 2018 12:20 PM
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