Monday, October 21, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to imagine away the Constitution.

In a Cabinet meeting today, Trump gave a rambling speech that was emotional and untruthful even by his standards. In the process, he gave some insight into his views on the Constitution. In the middle of a lengthy tear about not being allowed to award himself a lavish no-bid contract to host the G7 summit, Trump said this:
George Washington, they say, had two desks: He had a presidential desk and a business desk.  I don’t think you people, with this phony emoluments clause 
And, by the way, I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2 [billion] to $5 billion to be President — and that’s okay — between what I lose and what I could have made.  I would have made a fortune if I just ran my business.  I was doing it really well.  I have a great business.
In the real world, there are two emoluments clauses in the Constitution: a domestic clause that prevents Trump (or any public official) from using his office for personal profit, and foreign clause that prevents Trump from taking anything of value (like hotel fees) from foreign countries without permission from Congress.

Trump's claim about his supposed losses in the presidency is ridiculous, not least because there's no clear evidence that Trump had anything like that kind of money to lose. Trump's net worth is probably positive, and possibly quite high, but he has gone to such lengths to conceal or lie about the details about where his money comes from that there's no way of knowing for sure. (It is known that he owes hundreds of millions of dollars to various foreign banks.)

What tax documents have slipped through Trump's wall of secrecy have either showed him conspiring with his family to cheat on the taxes on the hundreds of millions of dollars his father gave him, or giving different numbers to tax officials than he gave to loan officers, or writing off $916 million dollars in other people's investment losses on properties that he ran into the ground.

There's not much to say for Trump's claim that he was "doing it really well" as a businessman, which he repeated over and over again during the meeting. He's declared bankruptcy six times, and even with a generous estimate of his wealth, has not earned more he would have simply by investing his lavish inheritance.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • Presidents don't get to ignore the parts of the Constitution they don't like.
  • The Constitution tells presidents what they can do, not the other way around.