Finding Sanctuary in Greatness

On Tuesday, a United States District Court Judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction against another of President Trump’s recent executive orders. This time, the court struck down portions of a Jan. 25 Trump order that would deny federal funding to those municipalities considered “sanctuary cities.”

At least four states and scores of counties and cities across the country have declared themselves sanctuaries for enacting policies that shelter illegal immigrants from deportation and other targeted anti-immigration actions.

According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, at least 35 cities have joined the movement to adopt pro-immigrant policies. Most of them are major metropolitan areas like New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles. However, smaller municipalities such as Springfield, Ore., Milwaukee, Wis., Ithaca, N.Y., and East Haven, Conn., are included in the growing list of sanctuary cities.

Responding to news of the latest blow to President Trump’s bigoted agenda, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared, “There is only one federal government.” Sen. McCain and others who rely on the “one federal government” justification are only fractionally correct in their half-hearted defense.

The Constitution does provide for a federal government among all the states of the Union. However, to advance that theory idly and argue that the Constitution dictates only one government fails to embrace the more complex understanding and reality of federal government.

The federal system is frustratingly simple and composite alike. We can all recall the elementary school lesson about checks and balances. The three branches of government that deliver the checks — executive, legislative, and judicial —may be construed as one unified entity under the umbrella of the “federal government.” However, there has rarely been an era in American history when the three acted as one and to expect them to do so now would defeat the very purpose of the three branches.

The triumvirate of the federal system rarely functions in harmonic unison. More often, instead of working as a single federal government, an argument may be advanced that the three branches are, each in themselves, an individual government. Each branch owes allegiance to the same Constitution, but not the same constituency — in effect giving each a separate functional directive.

Throughout the course of American history, both the people and leaders have learned that unity among the three branches is difficult and rare. For our one federal government to function successfully, it is a given, a planned silent endorsement of the founding fathers even, that our nation be governed by three bodies — by three distinct forms of government.

It is a grave disappointment then, when members of one of those governments rely on the triteness of the “one government” answer in awkward defense. Sen. McCain, especially, who is a long-standing member of the legislative body, an educated man, and a generally fair-minded and well-spoken one-time candidate for president, should exercise a more historical and comprehensive assessment of his disappointment in Tuesday’s court ruling.

Thought not well expressed, Sen. McCain’s anguish over the injunction is appropriate and fair. In a system of checks and balances, disappointment among the three governments and their supporters (four if you wish to consider both the House or Representatives and Senate individually) is understandable and necessary. Disappointment though, however frequent, is an accurate barometer that, not one, but three governments are continuing to function properly — over two-centuries after their inception.

President Trump is learning a fundamental and elementary lesson in American governance. He is learning that the country is not governed by one man, one executive order, or one government. Instead, America is a country that has multiple governments — three at least — that somehow keep the country in a state of stable equilibrium and its people, if not happy, content. That, Mr. President, is what makes America great…before, now, and again.



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