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Trump openly invites emoluments challenge

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump, real estate tycoon, apparently has now decided to resume his lifelong pursuit of acquisitions as part of his part-time job as American president.

On top of his absurd musings about buying Greenland from Denmark, he has now suggested, in effect, renting out his Doral, Fla., golf and resort property to host the next the next Group of Seven international summit conference. He did so in a full-scale salesman’s pitch masqueraded as a news conference in Biarritz before heading home to the White House.

At Doral, he said, “we have a series of magnificent buildings, we call them bungalows, they each hold from 50 to 70 very luxurious rooms with luxurious views,” along with “incredible conference rooms, incredible restaurants,” as well as “hundreds of acres” for parking, not to mention ballrooms that are “among the biggest in Florida, and the best.”

What was best, none of these marvelous benefits would put a dime in Trump’s pocket, he told the scribbling enemies of the people. “I’m not going to make any money,” he said of hosting the 2020 G-7, as if holding the costly conference at one of his high-priced venues would either be on Uncle Sam’s nickel or the proprietor would pick up the tab. (Not bloody likely, as they say in Piccadilly.)

Once again, this president was thumbing his nose at Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which specifies the occupant of the office shall “receive for his services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased 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 from any foreign power.”

From the very start of Trump’s presidency, he has dismissed this Emoluments Clause, notably in treating the office as a family plaything, holding onto his interests in his Trump Organization business affairs.

His sons Donald Jr. and Eric have functioned as his principal stand-ins behind a facade of independence, even has his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner have served as senior presidential advisers without formal portfolio.

Kushner particularly and conspicuously has functioned as a foreign policy expert and de facto ambassador abroad, with no apparent qualifications by schooling or experience. Marrying the boss’s daughter has always been a young climber’s route to success, but not often in the field of high public service.

In an administration that has made a mockery of tradition and respect for precedence and common decency in government, Trump quickly abandoned all established norms in his than three years in the highest office.

Some previous presidents have ill-served these norms in personal appearance and earthy language or moral turpitude, from Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson to Teddy Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

But until Donald Trump seized the Oval Office with a combination of personal corruption, crassness, crudity and governing incompetence, no chief executive had so consistently violated the norms of presidential commitment to common decency and respectability.

He has bluntly and openly disdained the notion that an American president should enter the highest office free of all personal business interests that might interfere with the performance of his official duties and commitment to the general good.

Trump still yearns to apply the lessons he learned and advertised in “The Art of the Deal” in the cut-throat world of real estate. Others of us who cherish the U.S. Constitution and value good government wish him well in returning to the private sector. And the sooner the better.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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