Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday Week in Review, Constitutional Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He ran afoul of the Constitution.

Emoluments. Shortly before his inauguration, Trump tried to cut off ethics complaints about the conflict of interest between his presidency and his business interests, which he adamantly refused to divest from. At a news conference featuring stacks of fake financial documents, lawyers representing Trump promised that his business would make no profit from sales to foreign governments--for example, at Trump hotels. It was never explained how the Trump Organization would track sales to foreign governments.

Last Monday, the Trump Organization declared that it had somehow tabulated the profits generated from sales to foreign governments, and donated them to charity. 

The business refused to specify how much money that came to, how the numbers were arrived at, to whom the money was donated, or what Trump businesses they were generated by. Trump himself has a long history of making splashy public declarations of gifts, and then failing to follow through unless forced to. 

Accepting any amount of money from a foreign government for a President's private business, even if it is donated to charity, violates the portion of the Constitution aimed at preventing corruption in the executive branch.

Due process. Trump's actual position (if it exists) on major policy issues can swing wildly. Since taking office, he has occasionally, and probably accidentally, staked out radical positions on health care and immigration, only to be whipsawed back into line by horrified conservatives. 

The pattern repeated itself this Wednesday on the subject of gun laws. Speaking about laws that would allow police more authority to take guns away from those deemed mentally ill, Trump had this exchange with Vice-President Mike Pence:
PENCE: Allow due process so no one’s rights are trampled but the ability to go to court, obtain an order and then collect not only the firearms but any weapons in the possession—

TRUMP: Or, Mike, take the firearms first and then go to court, because that’s another system. Because a lot of times by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures, I like taking the guns early.
As the Rob Porter scandal demonstrated, Trump probably doesn't know what "due process" is. Nevertheless, it's not optional: no law or policy that permitted the arbitrary seizure of property by the government--including guns--would pass Constitutional muster.

Preserve, protect and defend. Trump's all-but-uncontrollable temper is well known; so is the fact that Vladimir Putin is the one person Trump has steadfastly refused to criticize, no matter what the provocation. Trump has adamantly refused to enforce sanctions against the Putin regime passed overwhelmingly by Congress, even after the special counsel investigating Russia's sabotage of the 2016 election indicted 13 Russians for their part in the attack. In fact, the New York Times reported today that Trump's State Department has not spent a single dollar of their $120 million dollar budget to fight further Russian attacks, and has no plans to.

That deference was put to the test this Thursday, when Putin unveiled a computer-generated video of a new line of nuclear missiles at the Russian equivalent of the State of the Union Address. The narration explained that the missiles could evade any and all American defenses, and climaxed with an image of multiple warheads showering down on... Florida.

Trump spends most Fridays through Sundays at his resort home of Mar-a-Lago, not counting longer vacations.

The aim of the Russian election sabotage was not simply to install one candidate or another, but also to demonstrate the weakness of a democracy that would allow itself to be so easily manipulated. The choice of Florida seemed calculated to humiliate Trump even further.

Trump has remained totally silent. The strongest statement his administration put out was from a  spokesperson at the State Department, who was permitted to say that it was "certainly unfortunate."

Trump's oath of office requires him to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution--and by extension, the nation itself. Article II of the Constitution invests the president with full responsibility for the military and diplomatic defense of the United States.

Why do these things matter?

  • The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution cannot be waived by the president.
  • A president who can't figure out what "due process" means or why it matters to a free country is too dumb to do the job.
  • A president who for whatever reason can't or won't respond to ongoing provocation and attacks against the United States is unfit for office.