The rapidly expanding scope of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the ultimate stress test on our country’s institutions. While doing so, the contagion continues to expose the strengths and weaknesses of those very institutions.

Among the most troublesome discoveries so far is that, although the United States has one of the best health care systems in the world, our government was not adequately prepared for the pandemic. The failure of government in this difficult chapter of our country must serve as a cautionary tale, one calling us to reconsider the architecture and structure of our very democracy.

Lost among the angst of living in uncharted times, in a halted economy that has touched the lives of every single North Carolinian, is a fundamental issue of how federal, state and local governments are supposed to function. Each section of government is uniquely charged, in times of both crisis and peace, with providing certain necessary safeguards and relief to the constituencies they serve. Embedded in the structural issue of government doing its job is an overlooked bedrock set of principles of how government in a constitutional democracy is supposed to operate.

Right now, those bedrock principles could not be more important. Our reliance on government in times of great pain and peril calls for inspired, competent and, I would submit, constitutionally grounded leaders at all levels of government — particularly in the president of the United States. Donald Trump has failed to provide that leadership.

We have heard the president exclaim his perception of total presidential power at a time when we needed reassurance in our country’s leadership, and our future. He has repeatedly ignored Congress, issued unprecedented executive orders and made unilateral decisions, shoving the 10th Amendment and the states’ rights it protects into irrelevance.

He has bullied our country’s governors, threatening manipulation of federal relief based on who does and does not support him politically. And the list goes on.

He has even suggested we drink bleach to abate the virus.

For registered Republicans like myself who have worked to build and support the Republican Party, we are increasingly dismayed by the failures of this president. This is not only because of his floundering responses to the pandemic, but his continual grasping for power, to the exclusion of our Congress, state governments, local governments, even the subject of science itself. 

Most importantly, his actions are in complete disregard of our Constitution and the founding principles of America. In governing, it is not just about making “right” decisions. It is about understanding and appreciating those core constitutional concepts like separation of powers, and the rights and roles of state governments under our Constitution.

The president must be a bellwether of moral leadership for our citizens, and arguably, the world. He also must demonstrate the capacity to make tough, sometimes unpopular decisions; decisions that impact the lives and well-being of the country. Decisions must be made to “promote the general welfare,” as the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution charges. We cannot, we must not, accept decisions made for political and personal self-aggrandizement.

George Washington, in his Farewell Address to the nation in 1796, warned his fellow citizens of the dangers that could arise. “The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.”

While our nation is ever mindful of the dangers from this pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout, our citizens must also be both mindful and watchful for the dangers George Washington warned us about 224 years ago — dangers embodied by Donald Trump. We can and must do better.

Bob Orr is a retired N.C. Supreme Court justice. He was the first Republican to win a statewide judicial race in the 20th century and won four statewide races over the course of 18 years. Orr has also taught a course on the N.C. Constitution at UNC School of Law since 2002.

(7) comments

Peyton Cook

I have respectfully disagree with Judge Orr. Even though the President is flawed just like the rest of us, he has been more successful than Hillary could have ever been. She would have been the third term of a continuation of the drive this nation further toward Socialism. In his first two years he pursued policies that pulled the nation out of the economic malaise of the previous administration. This is demonstrated by the record employment and record high employment percentage for most workers as well as higher wages. All of this time his Administration was hounded by what we know now was an unwarranted effort to unseat a duly elected, aided by the print and TV media. This effort is continuing today. We now know that the shutdown of the nation may not have been necessary. President Trump is sincere in his efforts to continue to restore and strengthen the United States and provide avenues that will give all citizens the opportunity to live fruitful lives. We are lucky to have him at the helm! I know there are naysayers, but I am proud of what he has accomplished, and I wish him continued success.

Tommy McDonell

While I disagree with you about Clinton, comments about President Trump have nothing to do with that election except he won only the electoral college not the popular vote.

I’ve heard since I moved here now Obama embarrassed America. No one has ever done a worse job for our country. At one time one might have said he improved the economy. But this was before he totally ignored his briefings about the coronavirus. As a country we will be paying this for many many decades.

Many republican columnists are now writing that Trump should leave. So since I doubt you will listen to me, do read George Will’s recent column. As for me I I’ll vote blue.

Tommy B. McDonell, Ph.D.

Kent Misegades

How sad. Bob Orr was once a respected judge and supposed authority on the constitution when he founded the ICL, the Institute for Constitutional Law. He belongs to the group of NCGOP figures still fuming that voters soundly rejected Jeb Bush in 2016, their anointed candidate. Then they switched to Marco Rubio, who was again ignored by voters. It’s no wonder that the NCGOP has little influence over elections, their own fault. “He has even suggested we drink bleach to abate the virus.“ statements line that put Orr in the status of cranks like Jim. TDS inflicts members of all parties like the GOP and Jim’s Socialists.

Jim Tomashoff

Bob, you're right, of course, but you're really going to hear it now from Kent Misgades among others. Kent clearly believes he knows far more about the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions than you could ever hope to. You've demeaned his demigod. He'll conclude that you must be part of the deep state conspiracy, aligned with China, to destroy his freedom. And sadly, he won't be alone.

Kent Misegades

Jim, hope you’re feeling better now?

Jim Tomashoff

Kent, you've asked me that exact question several times already. And as I've told you, any time I can expose you for the arrogant, self-righteous, far-right, political fanatic that you are it makes me feel better. Want to really feel better? Find that deserted island I've mentioned to you before, move there and establish "Kentlandia" where you can practice your authoritarian/fascist society as you see fit. Failing that, move to South Carolina. You've written so many complementary things about it I'm sure you'll be happier there.

Dan Roman

Kent would rather attack the messenger than try to understand the message.

Imitates the 10 karat gold plated incompetent he worships.

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