Trumped-Up Charges

Inauguration day is finally upon us, and it brings with it innumerable questions poking out of a heaping pile of uncertainty. This type of variability is somewhat typical during a presidential transition period, particularly following eight years with a single president in office. Our new president, however, is far from typical.

Depending on who you ask, Donald Trump will be in violation of the United States Constitution from the moment he recites the presidential oath of office. Others argue that he’s bound to violate the law of the land within weeks or months of his swearing in, with some of his most fervent detractors projecting he won’t serve his full term.

But the question of how exactly a Trump presidency will violate the Constitution is layered with arguments bolstered mostly by hypotheticals, from the seemingly inane (receiving a producer’s credit on NBC’s “The Apprentice”) to the dangerously implicative (banning journalists from the White House). It will end up being a wait-and-see game with Trump in the Oval Office, but his administration looks ripe for trashing. Here are a few of the most commonly floated infringements that could come to pass, measured on our custom-calibrated Trump Violation Index (TVI).

The Emoluments Clause

The Title of Nobility Clause, better known as the Emoluments Clause, was written into the Constitution to prevent foreign governments or entities from influencing elected officials with gifts or bribes. It expressly states the United States would not grant anyone a title of nobility (the founders had issues with kings, go figure) and that “no person holding any office…shall, without the consent of Congress, accept any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

TVI Rating: Low to Medium

This is another one of those “depending on who you ask” scenarios—some have argued that Trump will immediately be in direct violation of the Emoluments Clause (and thus, the Constitution), while others have interpreted the words of the clause differently, particularly that it doesn’t apply to presidents. The founders had the idea of keeping foreign influence out of American government, but likely didn’t foresee an international real estate mogul rising to its highest office, either. It isn’t terribly hard to imagine a world in which Trump (or his sons, in charge of his company’s holdings during his presidency) uses the American presidency as a vehicle for profit.

Worst Case Scenario?

Trump starts a conflict with a nation that won’t acquiesce to his business’ desires nor back down to his attempts at intimidation. Then again, it’s not like we’ve never seen a profit-based war before.

Best Case Scenario?

The Trump Organization divests most of its international holdings (won’t happen) and keeps its international dealings quiet, while not openly implicating itself or the president in potentially scandalous deals. Given the doggedness with which the organization will now be scrutinized, however, this seems almost impossible.

Drone Strikes/Targeted Assassinations

In layman’s terms, the President of the United States has the power to assassinate just about anyone, anywhere, anytime, so long as they are deemed to pose an imminent threat to the United States and if the capture of said individual is not possible. This power includes the ability to neutralize U.S. citizens, even on American soil, though this precedent has not been set yet, and would most definitely lead to a strict review of legality. U.S. citizens killed within American borders are more likely to be given the due process that was denied to Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual Yemeni-U.S citizen who was assassinated via unmanned aircraft strike in 2009 (thus setting the legal precedent).

Those arguing in favor of the legality of targeted killings of terrorists regardless of location would point to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) Against Terrorists, but U.S. military forces are not allowed to conduct operations on U.S. soil. Drone strikes may still be used and argued not be be U.S. forces, but hopefully any judge would view unmanned aircraft as a logical extension of military force. Then again, the saying goes that judges are the “B” students of law school.

As an aside, for those clamoring about this power falling into the hands of impulsive, vindictive Trump, however, don’t forget that it was President Obama who made targeted killings a regularity.

TVI Rating: Medium

Given that he’s granted the power to do so, Trump actually ordering a given drone strike or targeted killing wouldn’t be a violation in any way, shape, or form. Where the administration could run into trouble is providing the legal backup for said assassination (justification, legality within Law of War), because as we’ve seen throughout his campaign and transition, attention to detail is not exactly the Trump motto.

In fairness, it should be added that it’s not difficult to imagine many American presidents abusing this power if the technology were available to them.

Worst Case Scenario?

Trump orders an unmanned aircraft assassination of a U.S. citizen within U.S. borders, and the decision is found to be legal within his enumerated powers—a chilling thought.

Best Case Scenario?

Trump continues in the legacy of Obama, using drone strikes as a main source of advancing interest without the ever-dreaded boots on the ground. It’s no easier to write a best case scenario involving thousands of targeted assassinations (and untold innocents dying as a subsequent result) as it is to imagine a world in which the United States will decrease unmanned aircraft military operations.

Delegation of Powers

It almost goes without saying, but the president has the power to broker international deals and sign executive orders without Congressional consent. The president has roughly always held these powers, and many have flexed them before, but given the extent to which they have been expanded and utilized during the Obama administration, there are some who believe Trump might take it to the extreme. Congress holds immense power within the federal government, but over time has given more and more power to the chief executive, whose office is more powerful today than it has ever been.

TVI Rating: High

Given Trump’s penchant for revenge and impulsive vindication (here’s looking at you, Mitt), is it so hard to visualize him butting heads with sitting Congressmen? Heck, he’s been doing that since he announced his candidacy. His keen awareness of public perception aside, it’s probable the day will come when even Senate and House Republicans will stand at odds with the president, creating a rift between the executive and legislative branches the size of Trump’s ego.

Worst Case Scenario?

A proposed Trump law (take your pick) is shot down, leading the president to sign an executive order making it law (without a supermajority of 2/3 of both the House and Senate), and then seven or eight or twenty more executive orders for good measure just to show Congress who’s boss (exaggeration noted, but again, can you really look at me with a straight face and tell me you can’t picture this?). The political infighting, while tantalizing, would be brutal.

Best Case Scenario?

Trump receives a proper civics lesson early in his tenure, respects checks and balances, and takes his Congressional animus to Twitter, a medium he dominates with no competition.

First Amendment Rights

This section comes with the caveat that President Obama has used the Espionage Act liberally to attack whistleblowers and journalists. That said, neither Obama nor his administration have expressed the outward disdain and vitriol for the media that Trump and his stumpers have since he launched his campaign in 2015. It doesn’t stop with decrying organizations such as CNN as “fake news,” however—it’s also his contentious dealings with protestors at rallies, proposed ban of Muslim immigrants, his promise to open up nonexistent federal “libel laws,” and other implications of First Amendment infringement.

TVI Rating: Medium to High

The thought of President Trump flat-out altering the language of the First Amendment is ludicrous, since he himself does not possess the legal power to do so—however, it wouldn’t take changing the amendment itself to put a damper on freedom of speech, assembly, religion, petition, or press. Just about any order attempting to ban political discourse or criticism of the president would be unanimously found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but that doesn’t mean the attempt isn’t out of the question. If Trump’s past behavior is any indication, he’s none too fond of criticism or dissent—both of which are defended in various forms by the First Amendment.

Worst Case Scenario?

Trump continues with his anti-journalism rhetoric, giving journalists as little access as possible to the White House and his administration. Harmless enough on its face, this would create an even more contentious media environment as well as a new presidential administration with even less transparency than the previous one.

Best Case Scenario?

Trump remains roughly where he’s been with the press and protestors, calling the media that suits him credible and that which dresses him down as dishonest. Gone are the days of selective presidential addresses—expect Trump to leave no potshot unrequited and no censure without rebuttal.

recommendations