A Nation of Laws—sometimes, for some

On September 5, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of DACA, he said, “As the Attorney General, it is my duty to ensure that the laws of the United States are enforced and that the Constitutional order is upheld.”

No, it’s true, really, he said that. And I think in his heart he means it, but only as those laws extend to people of color, to immigrants, to the poor, and to any other marginalized groups whose ethnicity, race, or sexual identity keeps them out of the mainstream. Rich white people have been given a pass, and I know that’s true because Donald Trump is rich white people, he’s breaking the law daily, and Sessions doesn’t seem to care.

I don’t think I ever realized, until the Trump presidency, how much we as citizens depend on our president to do the right thing because he’s president. To wit there’s probably no specific ban against the president encouraging police brutality as Trump did in a speech a few months back, but presidents don’t do that. There’s probably no specific ban against the president tweeting mildly threatening comments about his former opponent, but presidents don’t do that. There’s probably no specific ban against the president abasing and humiliating his own cabinet and staff, but presidents don’t do that. There’s probably no specific ban against the president filling his pockets with the rewards of being president, but…oh wait, there is.

The Emolument Clause from Article I of the Constitution reads as follows: [No] Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

On July 17, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to release logs of visitors to Mar-a-Lago for presidential business by Sept. 8, ten days ago. On that date Trump released 22 names out of the several hundreds who have stayed there, many of them from foreign countries. In other words, the president refused to comply. (Incidentally, not that it matters, but a two-night stay there will set you back slightly under $1,100. I doubt if meals are included.)

Still, this is about more than foreign dignitaries filling Trump’s pockets . If we don’t know who the guests are, we can’t tell the lobbyists from the Trump Corporation employees from the legitimate visitors on “presidential business.” In the end the American taxpayer winds up paying millions for a Trump weekend in Florida where he uses the time to increase the earnings of his own company: meanwhile the resort itself rakes in huge profits.

Federal law exempts the White House from the Freedom of Information Act, but the request to release those names has not been abandoned. But even if on some cloudless and perfect day Trump is forced to give in, the Republican Congress could vote to allow their president to receive gifts from anyone anywhere. It’s hard to imagine they would be so sycophantic, but their past record leaves me with very little optimism.

It remains, however, a fight worth waging, quixotic as it may be. Of course the nation’s policeman, Jeff Sessions, will undoubtedly steer clear of this imbroglio: he relishes his position as Trump’s lawyer and will continue to abrogate his role as our protector.

America may be, as Sessions likes to say, a nation of laws, but anonymous oligarchs in our newly minted plutocracy seem to be exempt.

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