Category Archives: Constitution

americans name three branches of government

How Many Branches of Government?

Through apathy, our republic withers.

There’s good reason for those dramatic words: Just 26 percent of all Americans can name the three branches of government.  One-third of the country – 33 percent – cannot name a single branch of government.

The rest fall in between with 13 percent knowing two branches and 27 percent knowing one branch.  For those versed in math – and I’m guessing that’s not many Americans given that math is more difficult than simply memorizing “executive, legislative, and judicial” – 60 percent of the country cannot name more than one branch of government.

how many americans can name the three branches of government



I imagine the most-well known branch is the executive as Americans have increasingly been infatuated with the singular head of state and government, lusting for ceaseless news coverage about him (someday her!) and spending hours commenting on even the most trivial of presidential activities (eg, President Obama propping his feet on the Resolute Desk or when Obama happened to order Dijon mustard).

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt asserted executive primacy and Congress more or less acquiesced – the Senate put up a strong fight, but only because Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, sought to (gasp) promote racial equality – the (imperial) presidency has become the image of American government.

So people equate the executive with government and forget the other branches exist, especially when a divided Congress or a split between partisan control of the legislative and executive branches leads to governing through executive order.  That trend’s been evident since 2011.

can americans name the three branches of government



As many people cannot name a single branch as in 2011, but 12 percent fewer can name all three branches (and 11 percent more can only name one).  I’d guess people slide down knowledge levels, devolving from knowing three to knowing two to knowing one – and then remembering that one…maybe.

Such apathy and ignorance, of course, does not bode well.  We can’t expect voters to make informed decisions about complex issues if they don’t understand how the government works.  Associating the government with one office, and so one individual, makes Americans susceptible to authoritarian appeals because any and all autocrats would pledge to do get things done (you know, the “I alone can fix it” attitude).  They rebel against inaction and complication and turn towards simplicity and impossible promises.  And then those inevitable fail because for all the promises of immediate, unilateral action, voter ignorance doesn’t erase the other two branches.  But it does threaten their continued legitimacy and, at worst, independence.

So, Americans, do the country a favor.  Learn the branches of our government.  It’s really not that hard.

 







kid rock for senate

The Insanity of Supporting Kid Rock for Senate

Our History Demands Better than Kid Rock for Senate

Believing that the Kid Rock for Senate shadow campaign should be successful – believing that Kid Rock has a place in the Senate – shows nothing but contempt for the Founding Fathers.  Those who created the Senate envisioned a prestigious chamber dominated by political and social elites – those versed in policy, eloquent in speech, and able to create a deliberative chamber removed from the tempests of public will.  The Senate would inspire awe; the country’s finest would fill its ranks and act as true patricians debating on behalf of the states and the country, controlling foreign policy, checking the easily-swayed House of Representatives, and preventing the president from acquiring undue power.

For a while, the senators fulfilled that vision.  Foreign observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville idolized and heralded the American Senate.  Citizens, too, had the utmost admiration for the body.  Visitors often filled the galleys for speeches by renowned oratorsschoolchildren later memorized these very speeches.  Ideas and compromises flowed as great statesmen rose from their desks and embraced the dreams of the Founders.

The Senate has since fallen from its glory.  Corrupt actors have mangled the Senate’s image through demagoguery, process destruction, and using the Senate as a post-Reconstruction and Civil Rights Era tool to maintain systemic white supremacy, especially in the South.  These disgraces, though largely a thing of the past, tarnished the chamber’s image, and rightfully so.



Today’s senators have done little to restore the body to its former glory.  Senators act as puppets of their president.  Voters, too, bear a lion’s share of the blame: They fail to treat the Senate with the seriousness it deserves, which leads to the election of eggheads and process destruction (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has abused the Senate’s long-standing process during his tenure and has faced no backlash from those charged with holding him accountable).

Voters fail to understand the purpose of the Senate (and, for that matter, the presidency).  Political incursions by know-nothing hobbyists have devalued elected offices and encouraged voters to treat elections as sports and games, not serious matters with long-lasting repercussions (see: Donald Trump’s election).  Such hobbyism among those seeking prestige, power, and profit should be restrained by voters, but instead voters, not taking the Senate seriously, flirt with ludicrous candidates.

Michigan voters exemplify just that.  Kid Rock, profane and ungifted musician who knows nothing about politics, let alone public policy – a hobbyist looking for money whose political ramblings should never be taken seriously – has teased a possible Senate run and already voters have rallied behind the blowhard.  A Trafalgar Group poll found him leading a hypothetical matchup with incumbent Debbie Stabeow by 3 points (49-46).  Kid Rock has no campaign, no discernible policies, and no reason to run for office.  He’s the antithesis of our Founders’ vision for the Senate.



So why do people lust for the idea of Senator Rock?  Because in their delusions of populist supremacy – in the grips of the death of expertise – voters think perceived elites should be scorned while ignorant fools (that is, people who sound like the average voter) supported and touted as the American political ideal.  But that’s idiotic.  We have elites for a reason.  Politics is not easy – nor should it be.  Our country needs public servants committed to the Constitution, to fighting for their constituents and the country as a whole, and to serving selflessly.  We need senators that fit the elitist chamber purposefully created by the Founding Fathers.

Republican officeholders and party leaders must also be ravaged for their role in promoting pathetic political hobbyism and degrading our once-valued and estimable institutions.  Worthless Vichy Republicans fell in line behind Donald Trump, a true demagogue, bigot, and obvious threat to liberal democracy and our existing democratic institutions.  That didn’t stop them.  Rick Perry, who called Trump a “cancer on conservatism,” now serves in Trump’s cabinet.



This trend continues with Kid Rock.  Texas governor and human abomination Greg Abbott loves the idea of “shaking up Washington” by electing Kid Rock.  Former New York governor and brief presidential afterthought George E. Pataki also endorsed Kid Rock for Senate.  Pataki’s support makes no sense considering he has no future in electoral politics.  In other words, he has nothing to gain by supporting Rock; without ulterior motive, it may simply be concluded that Pataki, too, has failed to study our founding.

Anyone who’s studied our history and cares about our institutions would be embarrassed to support Kid Rock for Senate.  And yet here we are, awaiting the decision of a fool, one that could see a further tragic American political development and a new low point in the Senate’s fall from grace.

do americans believe in democracy

Do Americans Believe in Democracy?

Americans aren’t enthusiastic about liberal democracy

Democracy.  The theory underpinning our Republic; the heart of the American experiment; the principle for which millions dedicate their lives.  It’s the pillar of our country’s identity and a principle we have long sought to export.  Yet despite democracy’s centrality in our political life, do the American people actually believe it?

Our Political System

America is a liberal democracy.  That means our Constitution enshrines rights unalterable by an elected majority to preserve the liberty of all inhabitants, regardless of the likes of race, gender, creed, religion, and so on.  Elections are fair and free with suffrage near universal for those of age.  Scholars such as Francis Fukuyama have heralded such a governing system as the “end of history” (that is, the final point towards which all governing systems evolve).

A liberal democracy protects citizens against tyranny of the majority or the minority.  In so avoiding authoritarianism, other minor inconveniences of a diverse state arise: Viewpoints differ among the population, meaning arguments – vicious at times – will be had; government will often be gridlocked as members of different political parties butt heads on how to best achieve common goals; policies will not be perfect as only through compromise will necessary steps ever be taken.

Americans Dislike the Perceived Costs

Americans dislike those messy drawbacks to liberal democracy, a phenomenon that leaves many susceptible or even willing to accept arguments proffered by demagogues with a decided authoritarian or otherwise illiberal bent.

In “Stealth Democracy,” John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse examined how Americans feel about the political system.  The results, a bit dated and likely worse now, should scare those who believe in liberal democracy.



A whopping 86 percent of the American people believed that “elected officials would help the country more if they would stop talking and just take action.”  In other words, elected officials – namely, the president – should act unilaterally and without concern to those who disagree with them to advance ideological aims.  That, of course, is invited (democratic) authoritarianism: Americans elect someone and then encourage that person to act as (s)he sees fit.

60 percent think “compromise is really just selling out on one’s principles.”  Governing is impossible without compromise because never at any point in time will a polity experience 100 percent agreement on any given subject, no matter how trivial.  For non-trivial matters, majority support for any given policy will never overwhelming, especially in a legislative chamber.  To pass legislation – to do anything – compromise is needed.

60 percent also believe “government would work best if it were run like a business.”  Governments must care for the people (“common welfare”).  Businesses care only for profit (as, arguably, they should).  These diametric purposes almost certainly cannot be meshed and, when tried, results are disastrous.



31 percent would forego the democratic part of liberal democracy and simply hand the government over to “nonelected, independent experts rather than politicians or the people” and simply hope that these individuals somehow decide to protect liberty and act for benevolent purposes.

Liberal Democracy and Donald Trump

Last year, the study’s authors repeated the surveys and found very similar results while also noting that those least inclined to support liberal democratic values favored and felt positively towards then-candidate Donald Trump.  In other words, illiberal, anti-democratic Americans found their favored candidate.  And that should come as no surprise for Donald Trump broke numerous democratic norms throughout his campaign and has continued to do so while in office.

It should frighten us all that a large minority of Americans have only marginal affection for liberal democracy and that they have found an illiberal politician who now extolls those beliefs from the Oval Office.

A thriving liberal democracy depends on citizens believing in its values and passing those beliefs onto children.  These democratic mores protect democracy from the flaws that befall it – especially its susceptibility to demagogues.  As those beliefs crumble and are made further mainstream by a candidate who earned 62 million votes, the continued vibrancy of our liberal Republic may be threatened.

donald trump russia sanctions

Donald Trump Hates the Constitutional Separation of Powers

He Wants Congress to be Impotent

Donald Trump has proved time and time again that he’s no fan of the separation of powers.  He sees the presidency as an authoritarian figure, one who wields all of the nation’s power and who through unilateral action can shape policy and make decisions with immediate impact.  These delusional visions have of course met with reality.  Our Constitution divides power among three branches, with the legislative first of the equal.  Trump’s found himself and his goals blocked or slowed by Congress.  And he’s no fan of that.

At various points in his presidency, Trump has sought to rebalance governing power by exerting his authority over members of Congress.  This stems from his campaign rhetoric, a central of theme of which held that he alone could fix the nation’s problems.  Those words had no room for Congress to act; in fact, Trump seemed to entirely forget the institution, figuring that, if elected, he would be the one true sovereign.  Now, as the executive, he’s tried to subvert a coequal branch by continually threatening lawmakers who dare oppose his agenda or stand up to him.

Most recently, after signing into law sanctions against Russia stemming from the country’s interference in our election – a fact which Trump continues to deny – Trump continued his frightening assault on the separation of powers, writing “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected.  As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”

First of all, Trump greatly overstates his deal making ability.  His riches, contrary to what he says, stem from inheritance.  In fact, Trump is multiple billions of dollars poorer than he would be had he passively invested his inheritance rather than trying to play businessman.  Trump’s declared bankruptcy numerous times and nearly ran a casino into the ground (his father bailed him out by illegally infusing the casino with $3,000,000 in chips to circumvent lending regulations).  Not to mention other failed ventures, such as Trump Steak, Trump Airlines, Trump Magazine, Trump Water, and Trump Vodka.  Or the times he’s been sued for stiffing contractors.  No, Trump is not a great dealmaker.



Trump’s continued fabrication about his deal making prowess, however, is not the worrying part of his statement.  The second sentence, in which he touts his unilateral ability to make better deals than all of Congress, fundamentally attacks the separation of powers and seeks to delegitimize Congress, its ability, and its lawmaking authority.

The Founding Fathers gave Congress, especially the Senate, broad authority over legislative affairs, including foreign policy (there’s a reason the president must seek senatorial ratification for treaties).  Congress has an explicit prerogative to regulate foreign commerce, a central component of foreign policy.  Yet Trump’s words undermine the separation of powers by implying that he alone should be charged with foreign affairs and Congress should either cede to him all authority in that front or simply rubber-stamp all of his decisions.  The words reek of contempt for Congress.  He yearns for unilateral authority unchecked and unquestioned by another governing branch.  In other words, he wants – and feels entitled to – a fundamental overhaul of the separation of powers simply because of his self-assumed greatness.

Trump’s statement also seeks to delegitimize Congress by implying the body is incompetent when it comes to foreign affairs – and its incompetence means America is worse off than had Congress simply sat back and allowed Trump to work his magic.  This implication serves only to undermine any actions taken by Congress by leading people to immediately doubt any congressional creation, especially when it comes to foreign relations.  Why should I trust Congress when the president himself has said the body is ineffectual when it comes to making deals?  Why not just let Trump make deals and pass legislation?  Why bother with Congress at all?



Lastly, Congress worked in a bipartisan and nearly unanimous fashion to craft these Russian sanctions, yet Trump nonetheless attacked the reason, ability, and effect of Congress’s work.  Rarely do all members of Congress come together for something as important as the Russia sanctions – if the president claims that 99 percent of Congress can’t work together to do something as well as he could alone, how bad must be the laws passed by a bare majority?  It implies that the bipartisan work of Congress cannot ever match the abilities of the president himself, a rather dictatorial sentiment.  Trump’s saying that Congress, working in near unanimity to fulfill its explicit constitution duties, should not be making laws because the deals struck are subpar, especially when compared to what he could do.  And that’s dangerous because it no longer assumes Congress should proactively perform its fundamental duties; rather, Congress should wait for the president to act and only follow the whims of the enlightened, dear leader.

This rhetoric should not be tolerated by any lawmaker who loves the Constitution.  Attacks on Congress’s legitimacy and authority to carry out its constitution prerogatives should never be made by the president and never accepted by members of Congress.  Representatives and senators should band together to unanimously pass a joint resolution stating the legislative branch’s authority to pass laws pertaining to foreign relations and issue a stern warning to the president: Undermine Congress at your own peril; your support is fleeting, the Constitution is forever.

donald trump free press

Donald Trump and The Free Press

Donald Trump: An American in Name Only, Part 1

President Donald Trump holds very few patriotic or American beliefs – unless ignorance and obtuseness now define the American character.  His principles don’t originate from natural rights or a devotion to liberty.  They stem from a malicious character hooded in hate, versed in vengeance, and shrouded in stupidity.

For a man whose oath of office calls for him to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Trump deviates from the words and rights enshrined by our founding document at every twist and turn of his volatile presidency, a continuation of his assaults on the Constitution and democratic norms that so defined his campaign (and, embarrassingly, appeal).

Of all constitutional protections, Donald J. Trump has most assailed a First Amendment right integral to the creation of our country and its preservation: The free press.  We cannot understate the vital importance the free press plays in maintaining a healthy Republic.  Voters unversed in issues and unaware of candidate beliefs and character cannot be expected to make informed decisions.  Transparency, a fundamental democratic tenet, withers without a hounding press that demands information from officials, elected and otherwise, and holds administrations to account.

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”



Trump’s disdain for the press knows no bounds.  He frequently dismisses valued news organizations as “fake news” simply because they publish articles critical of him and his presidency.  However, for all of his verbal attacks, and angry early-morning or late-night tweet tirades, Trump cannot point to specific instances of actual “fake news.”  The president, on whom the burden of proof falls, fails the first step of constructing a persuasive argument – supporting his assertion.

Most recently, Trump’s pointed to a retracted CNN article as evidence that network spews nonsense designed solely to degrade him.  But that obviously misses the mark.  CNN retracted its story and issued a humbling apology which the story’s subject accepted.

Three employees then resigned, a clear sign of journalistic integrity and accountability that demonstrates CNN commitment to providing its readers and viewers with the truth.  Its admission of error actually boosts its credibility: Rather than wrongly standing by its story and acting defiant in the face of evidence, it took actions to resolve a wrong and correct the record.  That’s integrity and the exact opposite of how a “fake news” network would react when confronted with its mistake.

Trump doesn’t realize that (or he does, but his frustrations with critical coverage still provoke him into fits of uncontrollable rage in which he lashes out with little regard for the deleterious effects he has on public discourse and the institutions that make democracy possible).

Instead, he retreats into the dens of Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, or Breitbart.  The former recently denigrated himself into the pits of hell by peddling the nonsensical and wholly debunked conspiracy relating to DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder, alleging – without proof and in the face of official police statements and findings – that the Clintons had him murdered.  Fox, for its part, has done little to ensure its viewers and online readers understand that Hannity’s delusions, as with all delusions, fly in the face of all evidence.



Alex Jones, on whose show Donald Trump has spoken and who Trump called shortly after winning the presidency, lambasts 9/11 as an “inside job,” believes the government carried out the Sandy Hook shooting, and fervently promotes every other lunatic conspiracy imaginable.  His outlet has no integrity, no accountability, and no regard for the truth.  If anything should be classified as “fake news,” it’s InfoWars.  That doesn’t stop Trump from enjoying its content.

And, lastly, Breitbart News markets itself to white nationalists in an effort to corner the news market for avowed racists.  Its content either fabricates information or distorts in such a sensational way that context fades to oblivion and instead bestial and tribal mental processes control the brain and bring bigotry to its forefront.  Breitbart operates with racial motive and cares little for nuance or truth, especially truth that in any way undermines its nationalistic and borderline segregationist outlook.  Trump frequently tweets and praises the outlet.

Clearly, Trump doesn’t actually take issue with fake news (though he does enjoy hanging fake Time magazine covers in his golf resorts).  He takes issue with critical coverage.  Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Breitbart all wax poetic about the president and so Donald Trump ignores their journalistic malpractices and endorses their products.  But the likes of CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post bother with the press’s actual purpose – guarding our liberty to ensure our Republic (to paraphrase Jefferson).



We must treat his actions seriously.  Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric – rhetoric echoed by his staff, favorable media outlets, and, most shamefully, some members of Congress – causes millions to, at best, doubt the press and, at worst, fall into the same derisions while simply ignoring information needed to understand the country and world.  This Trumpian assault hurts the country by undermining its bedrock.  It promotes ignorance and willing stupidity.  It’s an effort to subvert democracy to the statements of a deranged demagogue.

 

america decline

The Decline of a Nation

 

Demagoguery destroys nations.

America.  Conceived under tyranny and borne by patriots fighting for freedom and liberty.

Its ideals – our ideals – ring through our founding documents.  Our Declaration of Independence boldly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Constitution recognizes fundamental and natural liberties destined to remain ever untouched by the corruption of mischievous faction.  These rights, to be heralded above all, constrained government and set forth the vision of our nation: A state dedicated to the equal liberty of all its residents.

declaration of independence

To be sure, our nation has not always lived up to its ideals.  The tree of liberty has been occasionally watered with the blood of citizens fighting for righteousness and always with an eye towards expanding liberty, both within and outside our country.

But now our country finds itself in unchartered territory.  For once, the denigrating forces of demagoguery have consumed enough voters to find itself in the Oval Office.  This presents dual problems for the country.

First, Donald Trump’s gross incompetence and actions motivated solely by animus, whether at racial or religious minorities or those who dare criticize him, threaten the global order and the continued democratic traditions here at home.  His political career started by alleging incorrectly that the country’s first black president was born in Kenya, not the United States.

While campaigning for president, he called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country; claimed that challenger Ted Cruz’s further had been involved in the JFK assassination plot (another lie); called for Hillary Clinton to be jailed; and continuously railed (incorrectly, again) that outside forces would collude to steal the election from him.

national enquirer cruz oswold
Trump pushed this obviously false story in hopes of hurting Ted Cruz’s presidential bid.



Now, as president, he’s wrongly furthered the notion that 3 to 5 million ballots had been cast illegally.  He called Russian interference into the 2016 election a “witch-hunt” and “hoax.”  His tweets and virulent diatribes against the media as well as other foundations of our democracy threaten long-standing democratic mores and encourage millions of voters to live in willing ignorance.

Secondly, and intimately related to the dangers Donald Trump himself poses, his core supporters fervently embrace and believe all that Trump says – and only what Trump says.  That endangers democracy as the only person who can reach and influence millions of Americans is Donald Trump, a man whose lies as president already near 1,000.

trump fake news
Not one Trump supporter can actually explain why CNN is “fake news.”

These supporters have, by and large, foregone the values that make America great.  They care little about the Constitution or the democratic norms that have long brought success to our grand experiment.  Fundamental freedoms and liberties mean little so long as their abrogation benefits Donald Trump.  Charlie Sykes best described the phenomena when he decried conservatism’s morphing into an ideology that abandoned principles to instead annoy liberals.



Trump supporters lust for, or seeming desire, authoritarianism led by Trump (who many proclaim to be the “God Emperor”).  Demagoguery’s potent appeal leave many inebriated from the violent, ignorant, and condescending rhetoric from a man whose cult of personality attracts the constitutionally and ideologically ignorant.  And to them, Trump can do no wrong and his actions need not be motivated by the pursuit of constitutionalism or constitutional rights.

Bizarre propaganda.
Bizarre propaganda.

Now, their fervent belief that press critical of Trump is at best “fake news” and at worst, as adviser Kellyanne Conway put it, “unpatriotic.”  That precludes them from learning about policy, truly judging Donald Trump’s character, and challenging their fanaticism.  Instead, they turn to the likes of Fox News, which has portrayed itself as a de facto state media outlet, often ignoring information or revelations that would hurt Trump while attacking liberals or Democrats in a (succeeding) effort to further tribalize political divisions.

This leaves the country with increased polarization driven not so much by ideology but by different sets of facts and different truths, as irrational and impossible as that may be.  It’s possible these voters cannot be reached by any outlet with integrity.  Would that extend to Democratic politicians or activists?  Probably.  Divisions, then, may be insurmountable.



Such a phenomenon, of course, is neither new nor confined to Trump supporters.  Factions motivated by demagoguery have arisen throughout American history.  Democracy has long been known to suffer from a demagoguery problem, but America has largely remained safe from such forces due to a fervent belief in natural rights and our Constitution – democratic mores, in the worlds of Alexis de Tocqueville.  But as mentioned above, those democratic mores seem to be disappearing, perhaps as collective memories of the horrors perpetuated by illiberal and autocratic regimes fades.

The far-left also suffers from such a problem.  Democratic socialists and their even more radicalized comrades similarly distort history and facts to abandon constitutional rights and advocate instead for a revolution – democratic or otherwise – to change the regime.  They, however, number far fewer than those on the Trumpian right and so, for now, pose less a threat to our democracy’s success.

Socialism, of course, has never worked.
Socialism, of course, has never worked.



And so we see ourselves in the midst of our nation’s decline.  Liberties, rights, and democratic behavior becomes increasingly unimportant to large swaths of the population interested only in promoting their tribe (in this case, Donald Trump).  We’ve been here before and we’ve already emerged a stronger nation.  But it’s always taken a national emergency or collective, bipartisan action, the likes of which seems unlikely in this highly polarized time.

The best remedy may be a return to fundamental American values.  We must promote natural rights and use our history as a common building block to unify the nation and return political discourse to how we can best collectively protect and further these liberties to all Americans.

impeach trump

8 Reasons to Impeach Trump

Congress should immediately impeach Trump

Here are all of Donald Trump’s constitutional violations and other high crimes and misdemeanors – in other words, here are the reasons Congress should immediately impeach Trump.

1. Foreign Emoluments Clause

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8: “[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Any market transaction – regardless of “fair” price – from which an employee or stakeholder benefits financially constitutes an emolument, as our Founders understood and used the word.

Corporations owned by foreign governments fall under the Foreign Emoluments Clause, as do foreign government agencies and diplomats spending foreign government money.  Even if they do not pay above the fair market rate for their leases or rooms, the definition of “emolument” covers the transaction and, as the money originates from a foreign government and Trump, as a financial stakeholder in the Trump Organization, ultimately receives part of it.

Donald Trump’s refusal to divest himself from his sprawling, global businesses that frequently interact with (agents of) foreign governments means he has violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause since his first day in office.  A few examples include:

  1. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a massive financial entity largely controlled by the Chinese government, rents space in Trump Tower New York.
  2. Abu Dhabi’s government tourism agency rents from a Trump-owned building.
  3. The Trump Hotel DC has drawn international visitors as well as diplomats and other foreign agents who book rooms at the president’s hotel in hopes of currying his favor.

Congress should immediately impeach Trump for violating a clause so serious that in 1810, a constitutional amendment stripping the citizenship from anyone receiving a foreign emolument fell one state short of ratification.  That state chose not to ratify the amendment because legislators found it redundant given the existing Foreign Emoluments Clause.  The potential for the president to be corrupted by foreign actors – or in any way be subject to a conflict of interest that causes the president to act without regard for the country’s best interest – greatly worried our Founders (see Federalist No. 22).  We should not take this impeachable offense lightly.



2. Domestic Emoluments Clause

Article 2, Section 2, Clause 7: “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased [sic] nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

In other words, the president’s compensation for his duties may not exceed the predefined presidential salary.  The president cannot receive any other emoluments from the government, thus preventing government officials at the federal and state level from tapping department or local coffers to buy favor with the president, causing the president to be biased in favor of certain states (much in the same way the Foreign Emoluments Clause seeks to prevent the president from being biased towards foreign interests).

Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), Linda McMahon (who heads the Small Business Administration), and Gary Cohn (economic adviser) all call the Trump DC hotel home during the work week.  They are paid by the government; they use that pay to live in the Trump Hotel; Donald Trump has a financial stake in the Trump Hotel and profits from each dollar spent in the hotel.  Therefore, Trump receives an emolument from the United States above and beyond his presidential salary (and also unfairly increases the demand for his hotel because patrons may stay there – and be tempted to pay more – in hopes of spotting Trump or a cabinet secretary).  Impeach Trump for this constitutional infringement.

3. Obstruction of Justice

Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey because he “faced great pressure because of Russia,” which he figured had been “taken off” by dismissing the actor leading the Trump-Russia investigation (to boot: He gave this reasoning to Russia officials).



Comey’s firing occurred not long after Trump begged Comey to stop investigating Michael T. Flynn, former National Security Adviser.  “Let this go,” pleaded Trump, “he is a good guy.”  Furthermore, Trump had reportedly grown ever-more incensed that Comey refused to support Trump’s obviously false allegation that President Barack Obama wiretapped him.  Trump repeatedly asked for Comey’s sworn allegiance, which Comey – having sworn his loyalty to the Constitution, not a fallible politician – refused to give.  This, too, angered Trump and, combined with Comey’s devout interest in the Trump-Russia investigation (rather than identifying administration leakers), led Trump to fire the director.

Clearly, doing so represents obstruction of justice: Infuriated that Comey would not back down from the Trump-Russia investigation, drop the FBI’s investigation into Flynn, or swear loyalty to the president, Trump attempted to kill the probe by removing its head.  This obstruction well aligns with earlier administration actions:

  • The Trump administration selectively leaked classified information to Devin Nunes, who originally headed the House investigation into Russia’s 2016 influence, which Nunes then leaked to the press and public, hoping to stall the investigation. Nunes had to recuse himself.
  • Trump and his aides tried to block former acting Attorney General Sally Yates (whom Trump fired) from testifying before Congress. Yates, as would be revealed, cautioned Trump that Russians had compromised Flynn; Trump ignored those warnings and kept Flynn in the White House.  Naturally, Trump didn’t want such damaging information to be revealed, so he tried to block Yates from sharing her story with Congress and the American people.

Impeach Trump for doing his best to hinder investigations into his campaign and preventing those involved with the investigations from delivering correct information or testifying before Congress.



4. Witness Intimidation 

Worried that recently-fired James Comey would contradict publicly made statements, Donald Trump threatened to release White House tapes of conversations between the two actors (we still do not know whether these tapes exist).  Doing so constitutes witness intimidation as Comey, whose memos had recently leaked to media outlets, would almost certainly be called to testify before the House and Senate (indeed, not long thereafter, he was).  This threat, likely empty, represented an attempt to silence a potential witness in order to obstruct justice, preserve a narrative, and not be contradicted by someone more credible than himself.

This follows Trump’s attempts to silence Sally Yates and, before her testimony, more tweeted threats that amount to intimidation and witness discrediting.  It should hardly be a surprise, then, that Donald Trump – against direction from the White House Counsel – reached out to Michael Flynn, witness and subject in an FBI investigation, urging him to “stay strong.”  Such a message perhaps intimidates Flynn to silence; regardless of its result, Trump tampered with a potential witness to reassert his own interests.  Congress need not tolerate such behavior – the legislative branch should impeach Trump for his attempts to silence, intimidate, or otherwise tamper with (potential) witnesses.



5. Abuse of Power

 The actions described above constitute an egregious abuse of power: While the president of course has authority to fire the FBI Director, doing so in the midst of an FBI investigation into the president’s campaign and top aides politicizes the agency and shows that Trump believes he is above the law – or at least that he should be.  Impeach Trump for abusing the powers of the president.

6. Violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments

Trump’s initial travel ban executive order, since struck down by court and abandoned by the administration, would have given refugee preference to Christians (necessarily at the expense of Muslims).  Preferring Christians to Muslims violates the First Amendment – “the clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another” (Larson v. Valente).  The same case holds that the government “may not aide or oppose any religion,” constitutional law clearly at odds with Trump’s original desire to give Christian refugees precedence vis a vis Muslims and spells out, in six simple words, why Trump’s campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the country would never stand constitutional scrutiny.  Even though courts blocked the original travel ban, Trump still signed an unconstitutional order that ran against the First Amendment. That’s grounds for impeachment.

“An executive order or law displays unconstitutional animus and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause when it has the ‘purpose and effect of disapproval of a class recognized and protected by state law,’ as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor” (Corey Brettschneider, Politico Magazine).  The intent of Trump’s travel ban couldn’t be clearer: Prohibit as many Muslims as possible from entering the country.  Such an interpretation, of course, finds support throughout Trump’s campaign and even from top Trump supports.  Rudy Giuliani stated in an interview that prior to signing the first travel ban, Trump called him in hopes of advice on how to make the campaign’s Muslim ban legal.  The resultant ban, then, emerged as an attempt to make legal a blanket religious ban, one obviously motivated by animus.  That, according to the principles laid out in Windsor, violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.



7. Unfaithfully Executing Laws

Realizing that a blanket Muslim ban would surely be struck down by the courts, Trump unveiled the two immigration executive orders that trade a religious ban for a country-specific one.  However, in doing so and in hoping to executive such an order, Trump violated the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), which forbids discrimination on the basis of national origin.  He knowingly signed an executive order that broke a legitimately enacted law; enforcing the executive order necessarily mean failing to enforce the 1965 INA – the two cannot coexist.  In hoping to do so, Trump violated Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, which holds that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”  Impeach Trump for neglecting to do the president’s most import duty.

8. Inciting Violence

Three protesters have sued Donald Trump for inciting violence at one of his riots.  Recently, a federal judge ruled it “plausible” that Trump “incited a riot.”  At the rally, Trump screamed to his crowd: “Get ‘em out of here!” in reference to peaceful protesters.  Such charged rhetoric led to violence in other rallies, too, often driven by Trump’s own words (see: Mashable).  Trump glorified campaign violence, going so far as to encourage, in a likely form of stochastic terrorism, for “Second Amendment people” to stop Hillary Clinton from taking their firearms (which she obviously had no intent to do).

As CNN reports, “Judge Hale reiterated that Bamberger began pushing the protesters on Trump’s order and that as Trump’s supporters began shoving protesters, the would-be president said, “Don’t hurt ’em.”



“Presumably,” the judge wrote in dismissing Trump’s free speech defense (incitement is not speech), “if Trump had intended for protesters to be escorted out by security personnel, Trump would have instructed the intervening audience members to stop what they were doing, rather than offering guidance on how to go about it.”

In fact, the two attendees who attacked the protesters “blame Trump for their behavior at the rally, saying he encouraged the violence by telling the crowd to “get ’em out of here,” referring to protesters. At earlier rallies Trump had promised to pay his supporters’ legal fees if they got in trouble,” a clear indication that Trump appreciated and supported efforts to violently put down protests (why else would he be willing to foot the legal bills?).

Trump’s a threat to protesters and others seeking to exercise their right to free speech. Impeach Trump for encouraging violence and the suppression of dissent.

donald trump violates the domestic emoluments clause

Donald Trump Violates the Domestic Emoluments Clause

Donald Trump’s violating a second emoluments clause

By now, we should all be familiar with the Foreign Emoluments Clause (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8), which prevents an officer of the United States from receiving money (an emolument), in any form, from an individual, corporation, or other agent funded by a foreign government.  The clause prevents conflicts of interest that could pit the U.S. officer’s financial interest against the interests of the country he claims to represent.  Donald Trump, whose D.C. hotel has attracted thousands of dollars from foreign governments, whose New York City tower houses the Bank of China (a state corporation), and whose buildings across the world receive rent from foreign government agencies, has undoubtedly violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause.  This is impeachment worthy.  But that’s not all.  Donald Trump violates the Domestic Emoluments Clause, too.

The lesser-known Domestic Emoluments Clause (Article 2, Section 2, Clause 7), states that “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased [sic] nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.”

In other words, the president’s compensation for his duties will not exceed the predefined presidential salary.  He cannot receive any other emoluments from the government, thus preventing government officials at the federal and state level from tapping department or local coffers to buy favor with the president.  This precludes the president from accepting, even indirectly, money that originates from the government treasury.  It would pose problems, then, if a member of the Trump administration with salary paid by the government lived in a Trump hotel and, therefore, paid Trump — who retains a financial stake in the Trump Organization — an emolument originating from the United States.



How Donald Trump Violates the Domestic Emoluments Clause

Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), Linda McMahon (who heads the Small Business Administration), and Gary Cohn (economic adviser) all call the Trump DC hotel home during the work week.  They are paid by the government; they use that pay to live in the Trump Hotel; Donald Trump has a financial stake in the Trump Hotel and profits from each dollar spent in the hotel.  Therefore, Trump receives an emolument from the United States above and beyond his presidential salary.

Spokespeople for those individuals contend that since they pay a “fair market rate,” there are no constitutional problems.  As Donald Trump likes to say: “Wrong!”  Emoluments exist regardless of a transaction’s purported fair market value.  The very definition of the word — its definition as understood by the Constitution’s framers — encompassed all financial transaction between two parties.




This constitutional violation is yet another example of a bourgeoning kleptocratic administration.  Trump, by failing to divest from his business interests, stands to profit immensely from his position as president.  He’s pocketed money from foreign governments and from individuals lusting to stay in his hotels and properties to, in any way, support their idol.  And now he’s profiting from taxpayer dollars given to him by members of his cabinet.

That Donald Trump violates the Domestic Emoluments Clause is yet another reason to urge impeachment.  Donald J. Trump has disgraced the letter and spirit of the Constitution and must be immediately removed from office.  Call your representatives and senators and urge them to begin the impeachment process.





donald trump emoluments clause

Donald Trump and the Foreign Emoluments Clause

Trump and the Emoluments Clause 

President Donald Trump almost certainly violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution, from the moment he took the Oath of Office.  It has already become a rallying cry for those who want to see Trump impeached – their arguments are sound and strong.  But many might be asking: What is the Emoluments Clause and how does it apply to Donald Trump?  Here’s a quick primer.

What is the Foreign Emoluments Clause?

The Foreign Emoluments Clause states that “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”  That means no federal officeholder can accept a present, emolument, office, or title from an agent of a foreign government (without Congress’s consent).  Most of those are easy to understand: A present is obvious, as is an office or title – a senator, for instance, cannot also be the Interior Minister for France; similarly, s/he cannot be knighted by Queen of England – but an emolument is rather ambiguous.

So what is an emolument?

 An emolument, per the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.”  Money received from one’s official position or financial stake in a company is thus an emolument.  Note that this definition is quite broad – it covers fair market value transactions, not just gifts or bestowments greater than the fair price for a good or service.  Any profit from a position is an emolument.



How does this apply to Donald Trump?

Donald Trump’s sprawling, global businesses frequently interact with agents of foreign governments.  Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a massive financial entity largely controlled by the Chinese government, rents space in Trump Tower New York.  The Trump Organization also leases space to Abu Dhabi’s government tourism agency.  Trump’s most recent project, Trump Hotel DC, has already drawn international visitors as diplomats and other foreign agents book rooms at the president’s hotel in hopes of currying his favor.  All of these examples violate the Emoluments Clause.  Corporations owned by foreign governments fall under the Emoluments Clause, as do foreign government agencies and diplomats spending foreign government money.  Even if they do not pay above the fair market rate for their leases or rooms, the definition of “emolument” covers the transaction and, as the money originates from a foreign government and Trump, as a financial stakeholder in the Trump Organization, ultimately receives part of it.  That stands in direct contradiction to the letter and spirit of the Emoluments Clause.

Wait, I thought Trump resolved his conflicts of interest before taking office?

No.  He announced his resignation from the boards of many of the Trump Organization’s companies.  That, however, does nothing to alleviate Foreign Emoluments Clause concerns.  So long as he continues to have a financial stake in the businesses – and he still does – and thus can benefit from foreign deals, he will violate the Constitution.  Furthermore, while Trump said he would donate any profits (how will define “profit”?)  from his DC hotel to the US Treasury, that mitigates no Emoluments Clause concerns because he will still receive money that originated from foreign governments.  The Clause offers no exception for charitable emolument uses.



Does the Emoluments Clause even pertain to the President?

 Almost certainly.  In Article 2, which pertains to the executive branch, the presidency is referred to as an office (which aligns with Emoluments Clause wording of “office…under [the United States].”

Okay, but does the Emoluments Clause actually matter?

Yes, very much so.  The Emoluments Clause arose from fear of corruption or manipulation of US politics by foreign actors.  Payments of any form endow one to the giver.  Consider, too, Donald Trump’s swooning over any who complement him – now add money to the mix and imagine his reaction.  In a Republic of any age, the potentially deleterious influence of foreign actors (or situations in which a president might be motivated to place himself above the country) must be avoided by following the guidelines the Founders laid.

And to those Founders, foreign emoluments presented a major concern.  In 1810, just a couple decades after the Constitution’s signing, Congress approved an amendment to the Constitution that would have stripped the citizenship from anyone who received, without Congress’s consent, a foreign emolument.  The amendment fell one state short of ratification, largely because some found it redundant due to the Constitution’s existing Emoluments Clause.  Clearly, the Founders did not take such issues lightly.  We shouldn’t, either.



So what recourse do we have?

 As citizens, very little.  We don’t have standing to sue Trump for the Foreign Emoluments Clause violation.  DC hotels that compete with Trump’s might have standing, but it would be tenuous at best.  Congress could pass a waiver, though doing so would be quite dangerous: We should not allow the president to receive emoluments that could cause him to ignore the country’s best interests.  Trump could fully divest from his business or place it in a truly blind trust, but he has shown no interest in doing either.

Therefore, the best recourse is to urge impeachment.   Trump continues to violate an integral part of the Constitution and his doing so risks innumerable conflicts of interest that, at worst, would pit the interests of the Head of State and Government against those of the nation he leads.  Voters, and Congress, should take this infringement seriously and act accordingly to remedy this flagrant constitutional wrong.