I love Donald Trump’s presidency!
Trump’s actions and tweets and comments have served to highlight the role of separation of powers and checks and balances put in place in the Constitution back in 1787. Trump’s presidency has been real-time education in government for the American public.
Constitutional issues are constantly in the forefront of the news coming out of Washington. As a high school Civics and Government instructor at Green River College in Auburn, Trump’s actions are a great way to teach the powers of the president, and show the subsequent individual, media, judicial, state, and Congressional reactions that are part of the checks and balances embedded in the Constitution.
I bet almost none of you who are reading this column know what emoluments are, and how they are now part of a constitutional lawsuit against President Trump.
Emoluments are found in section Article II, section 1, part 7 of the Constitution: “…he [the President] shall not receive with that Period [regarding financial compensation during his time as President] any other emoluments [pay] from the United States or any of them.”
Farley’s Free Legal Dictionary defines emoluments as, “salary, wages and benefits paid for employment or an office held.” In other words, a president should not receive income other than his government pay.
Wealthy previous presidents abided by this law by putting their assets in a blind trust in which they had no control. In President’s Trump case, he gave control of his wealth to his children. The problem with this is that he would very likely be aware of any increase in his corporate profits in his hotels, golf courses, and other assets as a result of his presidential decisions. The courts will decide who is right on this issue.
Seeing the checks and balances set up by the Constitution is a weekly if not daily occurrence. Early in his term, President Trump signed a number of executive orders about whom to allow into the United States.
An executive order is the method the President has to carry out the laws passed by Congress. He has wide latitude about how to carry out those provisions.
Several states attorneys general have filed suit against his immigration orders, and while the Supreme Court has granted him some measure of discretion on this issue, President Trump has still been limited in whom he can keep from entering the country. This is a case where both the state governments and the courts have checked his power.
Donald Trump has wanted to pass a repeal and replacement for Obamacare, but all he can do because of the separation of powers is to wheedle, cajole, and browbeat members of Congress to do what he wants.
Both the Senate and the House have set up committees to investigate his presidential campaign’s connections and conversations with the Russians. Investigations are one of the powers Congress has to limit the power of the executive branch.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian connection has just convened a grand jury and issued subpoenas to those from Trump’s election who met with a Russian lawyer in the Trump Tower in last year’s presidential campaign.
A grand jury investigation uses citizens to hear testimony. According to a Reuters article by Karen Freifeld and John Walcott in the August 3, 2017 “Yahoo News”, “A grand jury is a group of ordinary citizens who, working behind closed doors, considers evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing that a prosecutor is investigating and decides whether charges should be brought.” Grand juries can be found in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
Congress has also passed a law limiting the President’s ability to remove sanctions from Russia, Iran, or North Korea. While President Trump has not liked these limitations, he knows both houses of Congress passed them with more than enough votes to override his veto. He signed the bill into law because of this knowledge.
One of the powers President Trump also enjoys is the power to pardon and reprieve people who have either broken the law, or have been accused of unlawful activities. He has tweeted the suggestion that he will pardon his children, and possibly even himself if necessary. Those tweets have set off a tornado of talk about whether any president can pardon himself. This has never been done in the 230-year history of the Constitution.
The media has revealed many leaks about the chaos and the infighting in his administration. They act as an extra-government watchdog on the actions of the President guaranteed by the First Amendment. There is not much he or his staff can do but criticize them, which is like throwing raw meat to dogs. The more he complains, the more they yap, growl, and bite his heels.
All of these checks and balances were created in the summer of 1787. The mechanisms of our government structure are getting a lot more lubrication as the Trump presidency lumbers on. From a Civics and Government instructor’s perspective, our president is a wonderful nearly-daily lesson in government, stirring up the masses to read more newspapers, and to find ways to participate directly by getting elected.
As George W. Bush once stated, “Bring it on!”