For whatever reason, there's a fair amount of Republicans out there these days who fancy themselves as "constitutional conservatives." One could surmise that it means they're a bit old-school in their approach to what is right and wrong in the United States, and what is allowed and what is not. They’re similar to a fundamentalist Christian believing every word of the Bible is literally true, only they let the hallowed words contained in the U.S. Constitution determine their opinions on how government should be run in this country.
But they're strangely quiet, along with basically every other Republican holding office in this country, when it comes to perhaps President Donald Trump's most egregious, in-your-face, thumbing-his-nose-at-the-rules offense: His continued blatant disregard for the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution, both of the international and domestic variety, that prohibits an office holder from profiting in any way while holding the elected office.
And if no other Republicans care, it's obvious Trump doesn't care. It's not like he's profiting as president in the shadows; it's right out in the open and his administration is even getting cocky about it. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at an event in Virginia last week at a Trump hotel attended by national and international leaders, even joked about it while speaking at the podium in the big ballroom. Pompeo noted what a beautiful facility it was, and deadpanned that the person who owned it might make something of himself one day. Trump doesn't try to hide the obvious malfeasance, either; in fact, he flaunts it. He recently openly lobbied for a future G-7 summit to be held at one of his best known golf course resorts, at Doral.
It’s not like it’s impossible or even difficult to not utilize his properties for government office while he’s in the White House. He owns properties worldwide, but there are plenty of other options. But even if he insists on having international leaders stay at his facilities, Trump is required by the clause to ask Congress first. He has not.
Vice President Mike Pence takes a trip to Ireland and stays at a Trump hotel and resort more than 150 miles away from where he was to be working, when he could have easily stayed in any number of hotels far closer. Trump is profiting off the U.S. Military using his airports and other properties. That was all hush-hush until some investigative journalists did some digging.
Avoiding conflicts of interest, when you're holding an elected office and possess the desire to be elected again, is a must. It's a must that you avoid even the potential appearance from the point of view of your constituents of a conflict of interest, that your objectivity has been compromised. Crookston School Board member Dave Davidson, for example, is quick to mention each year when the board approves the substitute teacher list and sub teacher pay rates that he, a retired teacher, is now a substitute teacher. Is it a big deal? No, not even close. But Davidson does the right and proper thing by mentioning it, and offering to abstain from voting.
Ward 2 Crookston City Council member Steve Erickson, a business owner, asked at a recent code of conduct and ethics training session about the need to abstain from voting on a resolution, even routine bills and disbursements, if a bill is being paid to his business. Is it a big deal? Once again, no. But Erickson is right to pose the question.
This is crimson red Republican country, so nothing written about Trump in this space will be taken to heart. It's like screaming until you're blue in the face at a brick wall and expecting a reaction. People can argue about Trump's behavior all they want, but his repeat violations of the emoluments clause are clear-cut. It’s why he’s being sued. It’s why a House subcommittee will soon take testimony.
Emoluments. Most never heard the word until Trump was elected. It’s a strange word. It sounds more like something you apply to a skin rash or burn. “Oh, honey, you were in the sun too long,” your wife might say. “I’ll get the emolument.”
Trump’s fans will argue that the emolument’s clause is meaningless, or that it’s harassment to apply it to Trump when other elected office-holders clearly profit as well when they’re not supposed to be. They like to mention President George Washington happily accepting gifts and profiting when he was president.
It’s an inconsistent argument: The emoluments clause is ancient and irrelevant and drafted in a faded, largely forgotten time that no longer is realistic to apply to today’s world, but the Second Amendment, drafted in a time of muskets, is still good to go today, verbatim.