Is Our Constitution an Opiate for Norm Violations?

Opiate Cat


Karl Marx is credited with the idea that “religion is the opiate of the masses.”

America’s “civic religion” surrounding the U.S. Constitution has made us complacent as constitutional norms are flouted by President Donald Trump, Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor at Slate said at a June 9 panel discussion.

The panelists alluded to allegations that Trump has mixed business with official responsibilities and that he obstructed an investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

There’s a deep belief that the law and lawyers are a “failsafe” apparatus that will fix everything, and that we can therefore just watch cat videos, she said.

In other countries, people realize that they have to fight for their democracy instead of thinking that the emoluments clause or 25th Amendment will fix everything, she said.

The panel discussion “Norms, Conventions, and Constitutional Governance” was hosted by the American Constitution Society—a progressive organization—at its annual convention.


Taking Action

The panelists suggested actions that could be taken instead of watching cat videos.

America has a deep structure of norms, habits and histories that are well-respected by the citizenry and that should be used to check Trump, panelist Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard, said.

Trump doesn’t just do things, Kristol said. People have to carry out his orders for those things to happen, he said.

Congress can strengthen norms within executive agencies to make it harder for Trump to flout them, Kristol said.


People within those agencies should be encouraged to uphold those norms, he said.

Institutions need to speak up for themselves and one another as norms are violated, panelist Neil Siegel, a professor Duke University law school said.

That includes the courts, which are being attacked by Trump, he said.

Courts can learn from the example of Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Siegel suggested

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was trying to pack the court with extra justices in 1937, Hughes spoke up by writing a letter to the Senate rebutting the president’s justifications for doing so, Siegel said.