At the end of The Oath and The Office, Brown University professor Corey Brettschneider’s book that breaks down the interplay between the office of the president and the Constitution, is a one-word summary of the whole thing: respect. This word encapsulates entire careers and branches of the legal profession, renders redundant centuries of political treatises and re-frames the founding documents of this country in an inclusive light suitable for the modern age.
Respect for the Constitution, and more importantly, it’s role as a living document; respect for the grave duty of any sitting president to advance and protect said Constitution; respect for the people whose rights are guaranteed, punishments promised (if rarely delivered); and respect among the polity for the promise of equal protection under the Constitution, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, any single point in the vast and dynamic constellation which comprises the ways in which we map and navigate ourselves. If we can live this secular Golden Rule, something approaching the mechanism the Founders envisioned—except not just for landed white men—could finally be brought forth.
Brettschneider’s book is written as a fireside chat between expert and executive, positioning the reader in the second person as the president and offering scenarios lifted and tweaked from the headlines to illustrate the interactions between the president and the Constitution. Truly, it’s between the president and the people. Broadly broken down into the president’s powers, the powers of the citizenry and the checks America’s people, judges and lawmakers can utilize to ensure said powers remain in balance, The Oath and The Office highlights the egalitarian power possible in a charitable, intelligent reading of the Constitution. It also reveals how far afield the current president is from those interpretations.
It is respect that prevents a sane president from declaring himself above not only law, but the high crimes which exist in politics, not courts. It is respect that drives a lawmaker to put their people before their party, constituents ahead of chyrons on cable news. It is respect, along with basic human dignity, that prevents a president from exercising executive orders which tear families asunder, penning children in cages and then allegedly injecting them with antipsychotics until they become as poleaxed lambs. It is respect for the latter, proper ideals of the Constitution—equal protection, fought for by a Civil War and implemented via impeachment—that should have snuffed the tiki torches, ripped away from the message board stoked flames the oxygen required to burn.
When at the very pinnacles of government the respect required of all parties to operate in a republic is flagrantly disregarded, it’s the job of the people and the Constitution to ensure such disrespect is punished. The Oath and The Office makes it clear that we are close to a reckoning.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, he is a contributing reporter to A Beautiful Perspective and has been seen in The Atlantic, Hazlitt, Jezebel, Chicago, Sports Illustrated, VICE Sports, Creators, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.