In the cacophony of objections to the stunning election of New York Businessman Donald J. Trump to the office of President of the United States, none is more preposterous and laughable than the scurrying of left wing intellectuals to advance constitutional objections to the real course of human events.
It goes something like this: Donald Trump’s business assets and interests are world wide. He has hotels and golf courses all over the planet. He has done business in many, many foreign countries, paid money and made money in many languages. In short, Trump has what our nation’s Founders feared: “foreign entanglements.” Putting a legalistic, scholarly patina on it, Harvard Professor Lawrence Tribe and his cohorts call attention to the “Emoluments Clause” of the federal constitution.
Aha! You never heard of that, did you? Sounds ominous. Especially, when you dub in the motives that drove the founders to include the “Emoluments Clause” in the Constitution. They were concerned about the established nations of Europe, especially England and France, co-opting our new national government by simply buying off our nation’s leaders.
In colonial times, it was not unusual for European kings to grant charters to
people who wanted to settle in America. People were paid money to explore and settle in the new world. Christopher Columbus got money from the Queen of Spain. King Charles II gave William Penn the huge parcel of land that became Pennsylvania.
So this is what George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and the rest of them wrote as the last paragraph of Article I, Section 9 of our founding document:
No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.
No one has yet supposed that Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, is likely to dub Donald Trump a Knight of the Realm, or designate him and his progeny as Princes or Dukes of the British Empire.
No, the theory is much more nitty gritty. They argue that Trump will be making money overseas, taking, they argue “emoluments” from foreign powers, which the Constitution forbids.
So if the Prince of Wales decides to play a round of golf at Trump International Golf Links in Scotland, and he pays a greens fee for the privilege, Professor Tribe and his devotees will holler “Emolument, emolument!”
I say that is nonsense. Black’s law Dictionary defines an emolument as:
The profit arising from office or employment: that which is received as compensation for services, or which is annexed to the possession of office as salary, fees, or gain arising from the possession of an office.
In short, our Constitution forbids federal officeholders from being on the payroll of a foreign government. But wait, you say, it also forbids the President to accept “any present” from a foreign leader or government without Congressional approval.
Indeed it does, and Congress has addressed the matter. The Congress has consented generally, in the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, to the acceptance of gifts from foreign countries which are of minimal value and offered as a courtesy or where refusal to accept the gift would adversely affect our foreign relations. The inventorying of such gifts is required by law. Bush 41 received over 40,000 gifts and President Clinton accepted more than 92,000 while in office.
Such gifts are not the personal property of the President or his family. They belong to the United States.
What is of more importance in the debate over Trump’s foreign connections is this fundamental question: Is there reason to believe he will be influenced by personal economic interests in carrying out his Presidential duties?
I submit that it is most unlikely. After all, Mr. Trump is a very wealthy man. He proposes to serve as President without pay. By what rationale can it be said that he is going to be swayed from his sworn duty by the profit motive?