If the president thinks my support for the Constitution and the rule of law justifies that epithet, I’ll wear it as a badge of honor.
by Paul Rosenzweig
Apparently, I’m human scum. Though that is normally a characterization that would cause me grave concern, in this case I wear it as a badge of honor.
The other day, President Donald Trump tweeted: “The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum!”
That’s me. I’m a proud “Never Trumper Republican.” I’ve been a conservative Republican most of my adult life. I joined the Federalist Society in 1983, and remain a member to this day. I have worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and today I work at a center-right think tank, the R Street Institute. I served as the first deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, as a political appointee in the George W. Bush administration, where, I assure you, many activists did not view me as a raving liberal. And, perhaps most notable for our purposes today, I served as a senior counsel during the Whitewater/Lewinsky investigation of President Bill Clinton, which led to his impeachment in 1998.
Nevertheless, I have opposed Trump’s political ambitions almost from the beginning: I warned against his election in early 2016, I deregistered from the Republican Party in May 2016 when his nomination was guaranteed, and I declined a couple of opportunities to be considered for positions in his administration. In November 2018, I helped found a group called Checks and Balances that has called for conservative lawyers to defend the rule of law against presidential assault; I’ve signed a letter with more than 1,000 other former prosecutors arguing that Trump has committed criminal obstruction of justice; and I’ve publicly called for his impeachment and removal. Though I am sure that Trump does not know me from Adam, I am confident that when he speaks of Never Trumper Republicans who are human scum, he means me.
What makes me human scum? Evidently, a belief in enduring American ideals, like the rule of law and the value of a free press. A belief in a system of governance that enshrines the principle of checks and balances in our Constitution—a system in which Congress and the judiciary serve as limits on authoritarian executive overreach.
Many conservative lawyers have been too quiet for too long. Now, in the wake of recent revelations, it is all the more important for us to speak up: First, to make our concerns and objections to Trump—already felt among conservatives devoted to the rule of law—more public, and second, to make sure that crucial legal principles do not get swamped in the counterreaction to Trump.
So I gladly step forward to reaffirm important American norms. To paraphrase the mission statement of Checks and Balances: I believe in the rule of law, the power of truth, the imperative of individual rights, and the necessity of civil discourse. I believe these principles apply regardless of the party or persons in power. I believe in “a government of laws, not of men.” I believe in free speech, a free press, separation of powers, and limited government.
In support of these values, I stand against an administration—any administration—that attempts to undermine the rule of law and denigrate these American truths: A president cannot overrule constitutional precedent by executive order; a president cannot order the Department of Justice to investigate his political opponents for alleged criminal acts; a president cannot “open up” the libel laws, or govern by lies; a president cannot punish political opponents who exercise their First Amendment freedom of speech.
No president should ever call the press the “enemy of the people”; no president should use his position for self-enrichment; no president should use his executive authority to withhold military aid authorized by Congress as leverage to solicit an investigation of his political opponent; and most assuredly, no president should seek to divide the nation, lifting up those who advance racial and religious grievances at the expense of national unity.
No president who does these things can claim the mantle of conservatism or the leadership of our great nation. Quite to the contrary, this form of radical populism is the very antithesis of conservative legal thought and American values.
And so, my goal is simple: to participate in the reinvigoration of legal norms and reaffirm that executive authority is constrained by the rule of law. As James Madison put it in The Federalist Papers: “The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others.”
I seek, in my own small way, to advance this concept of checks and balances, and to frustrate the lust for power. I dissent from the ongoing assault on American norms and the rule of law under the phony guise of Trumpism.
All who wish to reclaim this view of the law should share that goal. So here I stand, athwart the degradation of American values, yelling “Stop.” If that makes me human scum, I wear that title with pride.
Paul Rosenzweig is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and a principal at Red Branch Consulting. Twenty years ago he served as a Senior Counsel in the investigation of President Clinton.