- - Wednesday, August 12, 2020

One of the key aspects of the Trump presidency has been his success at maintaining the vibrant and dynamic role of the office of the president. In “Defender in Chief,” John Yoo counters the narrative that President Trump challenges our constitutional order. On the contrary, Mr. Yoo explains, Mr. Trump has been quite remarkable in promoting and protecting the presidency as an integral part of our federal system.

Alexander Hamilton explains in Federalist No. 70, “Taking it for granted, therefore, that all men of sense will agree in the necessity of an energetic Executive, it will only remain to inquire, what are the ingredients which constitute this energy? … The ingredients which constitute energy in the Executive are, first, unity; …” Mr. Trump embodies this concept.

From its inception our Constitution contemplated that the head of the federal government have the agility and flexibility to accomplish his agenda — one which had been presented to the public in the national election. Mr. Trump’s effective use of his office to focus like a laser on his policy goals has been truly amazing to watch.

In “Defender in Chief,” Mr. Yoo carefully explains the seriousness of the Trump administration in pursuing its objectives lawfully and also simultaneously reveals how so many of his critics colored outside constitutional lines.

In nine chapters, Mr. Yoo reminds us of the myriad methods of this dichotomy that psychologists might otherwise call projection. Remember the left’s attacks on the Electoral College? Mr. Yoo also reminds us of the odious court-packing schemes of FDR, repackaged by progressives Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris, now Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate.

Mr. Yoo walks us through the run-up to Mr. Trump’s “travel ban” case before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a big win for Mr. Trump, the court explicitly rejected the “second-guessing” of the president’s exercise of his discretion to carry out congressionally-established immigration regulations by lower courts and his critics who’d predicted a near-unanimous slap down.

Even when the policy issue doesn’t necessitate a visit to federal courts, Mr. Trump’s critics twist themselves into pretzels figuring out how to oppose him. Take the Paris Agreement or the Iran Nuclear deal. In both cases, President Obama failed to follow the U.S. Constitution’s predicates to submit the agreements to the Senate as treaties. Yet, when Mr. Trump withdrew from both he was criticized for “undermining America’s standing in the world.”

What Mr. Trump actually revealed was the genius of our founders in ensuring that consequential international policy not merely shift to and fro when one chief executive is replaced by another. They did so by creating a high burden for the adoption of major international agreements — they set them up as treaties to be ratified or rejected by the Senate. 

The framers never would have imagined a situation where our leaders sublimate the Constitution’s demands for those of the world and yet receive acclaim. It was Mr. Obama — lauded by the world — who failed the Constitution, not Mr. Trump. But as Mr. Yoo demonstrates, the left frequently pushes its policy goals without regard to principle or more importantly the Constitution.  

Seeing to it that the office of the presidency retains its prerogatives is a basic responsibility of any president. In many instances Mr. Obama left the presidency less consequential than when he first occupied it. He chose to make recess appointments in a manner that ultimately resulted in the presidency having less appointment discretion when the Supreme Court struck down the action. His vaunted effort to transform the environment and bypass Congress — the so-called Clean Power Plan — was stopped in its tracks by the Supreme Court and then reversed when his term ended. The consequence is that even nationwide environmental actions promulgated by the president are now harder to enact.

Outlined in Article II of the Constitution, the president must “take care that our nation’s laws are faithfully executed.” Is this a low bar? Maybe not. While Mr. Trump’s actions have never been unanimously overturned even once during his term, Mr. Obama lost unanimously before the Supreme Court over 40 times.

In contrast to Mr. Obama’s “I have a pen” posture, “Defender in Chief” demonstrates the way Mr. Trump’s instinctive reliance on the American people, its big and small corporations alike, and on state and local governments to rise up and meet the challenge of self-government signals the president’s genuine understanding of America’s greatness.

John Yoo’s latest book reveals that Mr. Trump is a bold and vigorous force in Washington, and even more an agent of support for his office just as our founders planned. While the left continually challenges his position as president and his person as a threat to our constitutional order, the reality Mr. Yoo reveals is quite different.

In “Defender in Chief,” Mr. Yoo gives the reader a robust defense of Trump’s commitment to the American experiment. That our president has an unalloyed love of our country is clear. Now we see with numerous examples that Mr. Trump has been able to accomplish his policy goals while staying within the lines of Article II because he’s the defender in chief.

• Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and author of the newly released “How Trump is Making Black America Great Again.”

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By John Yoo

All Points Books, $29.99, 320 pages     

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