Again and again, President Donald Trump has violated, evaded, or ignored the law. The Constitution says a president cannot accept payments from foreign governments, but Trump did. The Constitution says that the principal officers of executive departments—members of the Cabinet—must be confirmed by the Senate. Trump junked that rule too, relying instead on his power to appoint temporary acting officials. A century and a half of legal precedents establish that a president must generally comply with subpoenas from Congress, even if he does not like the questions. Again, Trump disregarded seemingly established law.
Courts have sometimes checked the Trump presidency, but not always. But court decisions take years to decide and longer to enforce. In July, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress and New York State prosecutors could legally subpoena Trump’s accountants and bankers for his financial records—a ruling that was followed by yet more Trump litigation seeking to challenge, or at least delay, the subpoenas. Even impeachment did not restrain Trump. His strong grip on his party—and on a sufficient minority of the American public—protected him from the Constitution’s ultimate remedy.
The Trump presidency has exposed the degree to which presidential compliance with law is voluntary. The American system relies heavily on the president’s own sense of honor and integrity, on the president’s own wish to do what is right. The Trump presidency demonstrated how inadequate are custom and tradition to restrain a president determined to do wrong.