Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He talked about emoluments.

Trump scored a victory in the courts yesterday, with a Fourth Circuit panel dismissing one of the lawsuits against him over his apparent violations of the domestic emoluments clause. In that case (and others like it), the plaintiffs have argued that Trump's DC hotel—in which he is both tenant and his own government landlord—violates the Constitution's prohibition against presidents being paid money by the government other than their salary.

Gloating about it on Twitter, Trump made a telling claim: "I don't make money, but lose a fortune for the honor of serving and doing a great job as your President (including accepting Zero salary!)"

In order to make sense of this claim, it's important to keep in mind that Trump freely admits that he lies about money. He's lied about being richer than he is for vanity purposes, and he's lied about being poorer than he is to avoid taxes. (The second kind of lie is a crime.)

There are three claims here: that Trump isn't making monetizing the presidency, that Trump is losing money as president, and that he's not taking a salary.

It's true that Trump is donating his $500,000 salary to government agencies, often popular ones like the National Park Service that he's tried to cut funding for.

It's a lie that Trump isn't using the presidency to make money. In fact, there are so many different ways Trump has leveraged his office to force money into his own pocket that it's difficult even for long articles to summarize them all. Simply by choosing to spend a weekend at his luxury resort hotels, obliging staff and the Secret Service to charge the government for their rooms, Trump can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself. (He's spent 30% of the nights he's been president at one of his own properties.) Foreign governments have openly declared that they buy Trump hotel rooms—and in some cases, like the government of Saudi Arabia, rooms they don't even need—to curry favor with Trump. 

But Trump is probably telling the truth when he says he's losing a fortune, at least in the short term. Having run real estate, casinos, an airline, and and consumer goods businesses into the ground, Trump only really found a reliable way to make money late in life: as a brand. And his unprecedented unpopularity has hurt the value of that brand, and bookings at the properties he still owns.

So what?

  • It's bad if foreign governments can buy access and goodwill from the president.
  • It's kind of sad to expect people to feel sorry for you that you get to be President of the United States.