Recently I heard a woman defend her support of our new president by declaring in an interview that jobs “trump everything.” It reminded me that long before President Donald Trump entered politics, I often used the word trump, with a lower case “t,” to mean override, as in “love trumps all,” or “my love for French fries trumps my New Year’s resolution to eat healthy foods.”
It’s a usage that comes from Bridge – the card game.
I was only nine when my parents taught me how to play it. You need a foursome for bridge, and my mother, father, and eighteen-year-old sister loved the game, so they taught me just enough to be dealt in. The rules are fairly complicated, but the short version is that you win by “taking tricks,” meaning that the face value of your card is higher than any of the others laid down on the table.
During a bidding war, one of the four suits - clubs, diamonds, hearts, or spades - becomes an extra powerful “trump suit,” so it can win a trick over any other suit. That’s why, when we say something “trumps” something else, we’re really saying that it’s acquired an ability to prevail that it wouldn’t actually have, in any other card game.
Of course, whatever your politics these days, the word “trump” has outgrown its origins in a simple game of cards. And it’s taken on new meaning in a much more serious contest.
For example, we’ve just been reminded by a federal judge’s restraining order on the administration’s ban on immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries, that in the US it’s possible for one branch of government to trump another, at least temporarily.
At the same time, the president, whose name, of course, just happens to be Trump, now holds winning cards he didn’t have before November. And while factions may argue about whether he’s governing by the rule—of-law, he’s already working hard to trump policies from the Obama years, like the Affordable Care Act, refugee resettlement, and environmental regulations. But with the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, it would appear that there are also winners and losers within the administration.
As to whether the power of the presidency can trump the system of checks and balances as spelled out in the Constitution - that’s a story to be continued.