17 Sep Ten Ways the U.S. Constitution Impacted the Trump Presidency
The average length of time a person owns a home in America is eight years, and the average house is 37 years old. Marriages? That average, like home ownership, is only eight years. Employment contracts are generally at will, meaning most jobs have no guaranteed length at all, and even business-to-business contracts often are for one year, with “extended” contracts running for five or sometimes ten years.
By contrast, the form of “merger agreement” signed by the representatives of the original American colonies on this date 234 years ago remains in place. It is the United States Constitution.
With a document that old, it seems impossible that its provisions remain relevant in modern times. As a simple illustration that the Constitution certainly is alive and well today, this article will list just 10 of the many constitutional provisions that had an impact on the Presidency of Donald J. Trump.
From Start to Finish
In generally chronological order, the list below shows 10 ways the Constitution signed on September 17, 1787, came into play some 230 years and 45 presidents later:
- “Birther” allegations. According to the Article II, section 1 of the Constitution, the President must be a “natural born Citizen” of the United States. Donald Trump, a businessman and television celebrity at the time, rose to political prominence in 2011 by questioning whether President Obama met this eligibility requirement. Although Trump did not end up officially pursuing the White House until four years later, this issue drew more attention to his potential political career.
- Electoral college. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump won 30 states to Hillary Clinton’s 20, and the states Trump won covered a large majority of the country’s geography. Clinton actually received nearly 3 million more votes, yet she lost. This result flows from Article II and the 12th Amendment of the Constitution, which create an “electoral college” of state-selected “electors” who formally choose the winner, rather than using the national popular vote.
- No payments on the side. The so-called “emoluments clauses” prohibit any payment to the President other than the standard salary; no state or foreign government can provide side payments (to avoid conflicts of interest and potential for bribery). This provision was brought into play by accusations that President Trump’s businesses benefitted through dealings with foreign governments.
- Judicial appointments. With the “advice and consent” of the Senate, the President appoints federal judges, including trial and appellate judges, and, crucially, Justices of the Supreme Court. With the support of a Republican-controlled Senate, President Trump made three Supreme Court appointments and placed numerous other judges in the lower federal courts. Judicial appointments are for life under Article III, section 1 of the Constitution, and these judges likely will be President Trump’s legacy.
- Federalism. Remember President Trump being in the middle of disputes in 2020 about whether the states or the federal government should control coronavirus-related restrictions like stay-at-home orders and mask mandates, in addition to early battles about which level of government should provide ventilators, testing, and personal protective equipment? The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says that any powers not specifically delegated to the federal government belong to the states or to the people themselves. The state-versus-federal politicization of all things covid came to symbolize a divided America.
- Impeachment. Articles I and II of the Constitution provide for impeachment of the President. The impeachment process occurred in 2020 and again in early 2021, bringing into the spotlight the constitutional standards and rules such as “high crimes and misdemeanors” and a two-thirds Senate vote requirement.
- Free speech. Truer words were never spoken than these: Donald Trump was active on Twitter. That is, until Twitter banned him (as did other social media platforms), thus raising the new-age question of whether a President has a right to tweet. “Free speech” under the First Amendment, we all learned, prohibits governmental restrictions on speech but allows private businesses like Twitter to make their own rules.
- “Inability to discharge duties.” At various points during his tenure, Trump opponents suggested he be removed from office under the 25th Amendment, which allows the Vice President and a majority of the President’s Cabinet to declare the President unfit for office.
- Election law. Perhaps you have heard that Trump disputed the results of the last presidential election in various states. The Constitution, however, gives the states broad powers to control their own elections, which caused the 2020 election challenges to be unsuccessful.
- Pardons. During his last week in office, President Trump exercised his power under Article II, section 2 to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the U.S.” All told, 237 people received clemency or pardons during the last presidency, but that is fewer than were pardoned by most previous presidents.
You can judge for yourself whether any of the above impacts were good or bad. Our goal here is not to cast aspersions on anyone, but simply to demonstrate that indeed the Constitution of the United States remains very relevant today. It not only still comes to our attention often in politics, but the Constitution controls what many people believe are among the most important issues in our nation.
Flexibility and Amendments
Anticipating that the United States would grow and change with the times, the signers of the Constitution carefully included provisions allowing any necessary updates. In the 234 years since, in fact, 27 amendments have been made; the most recent was in 1992.
The United States remains the oldest living democracy in the world. Using Constitutional principles, we have survived all political problems and presidencies. It could be said that only the Constitution could “make America great” like it has been. There remains hope that another 234 years and 45 more presidents from now, the same will be the case.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts twice each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.