Mr. President, Keep Your Opinions to Yourself

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Donald Trump still has no idea what the job he was elected to entails. 

At least, that’s his defense against the latest round of accusations of obstruction of justice, in which he tweeted on Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should “stop” Robert Mueller’s investigation “right now.” His lawyers then rushed to say that Trump wasn’t acting as president and giving an order to Sessions. He was just, they said, giving his opinion.

Here’s the thing, though: He forfeited the right to spout off opinions without consequence by running for and accepting the presidency. He’s no longer a private citizen; he works for over 300 million Americans, and the position entails quite a few responsibilities. One of which is that anything he says publicly (whether it’s voiced or in print) counts as something said by the president of the United States. And everything he does counts as something done by the president. 

Those are simply the terms of the position he was hired to do. If he doesn’t like it, he should resign, and he can go back to enjoying the freedom his fortune gives him to do whatever he wants. But if we wants the job, he should accept the constraints that go along with it.

It’s not just about interfering with the workings of the justice system. It’s also about press-bashing (and see Greg Sargent’s item linked below). It’s about conspiracy-mongering. It’s about emoluments and blatant conflicts of interest. 

Some of these things may be actual crimes. Some of them may rise to the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors. Some of them are just dangerous, such as his habit of taunting leaders of foreign nations. All of them are violations — some minor, some serious — of the oath he took to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” 

The thing is, presidenting is a job. There are terms of employment, just as there are for most jobs. It is a job with quite a bit of flexibility; the rules are often extremely vague, and a lot of them are implicit in a set of norms that, individually, presidents may choose to challenge and change. But overall, there are all sorts of constraints on the man or woman in the Oval Office, just as there are for men and women holding other positions. 

Trump, of course, won’t be the first person to keep a job he’s not fit for, or to keep a job despite exhibiting contempt for it. The design of the job doesn’t really allow for someone to get booted from it except for extraordinary circumstances, of both evidence and politics, which Trump’s misbehavior may or may not reach. He may even get re-elected, because there are strong incentives for the party of the incumbent to stick with him in most circumstances, and many voters don’t particularly care about this kind of thing. 

The truth remains that even beyond the question of obstruction of justice, it’s simply an abuse of his office to ignore the constraints that are part of the job. And that’s wrong, whether or not anyone can do anything about it.

1. Lots of good stuff in the latest report from the Wesleyan Media Project about advertising in 2018 elections. 

2. Seth Masket on Democratic strategy for 2020. 

3. Amanda Terkel reports on what Democratic party actors are saying about Kirsten Gillibrand and Al Franken

4. NBC’s First Read on the August primary elections

5. Jonathan Cohn on the revival of junk health insurance.

6. Greg Sargent on Trump’s attacks on the media.

7. Dan Larison on Trump’s warmongering

9. And my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Tara Lachapelle on an excellent strategy for reducing sexual harassment in the media industry.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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