The New Publius Letters: Part One
To say that a Trump presidency poses unprecedented risks would be redundant. It may also be slightly incorrect. Obviously, he is completely unqualified and unethical, and that poses a threat. However, I cannot say it is unprecedented. The Founders of the United States and the Framers of the Constitution foresaw various threats to the future nation, and a man like him was one such threat. Alexander Hamilton actually wrote about a man like Trump. In the first of the “Publius Letters” he addressed public graft and corruption, a subject that is unfortunately very relevant to the incoming regime. I find it only appropriate to refer to this as the start of the “New” Publius Letters, for our newly troubling times.
As Trump approaches power and prepares to abuse his office to further his business interests in Saudi Arabia, India, and of course, back at home in Trump Tower (a residence that he insists on living in part time, an insistence that will cost the American taxpayers roughly one million dollars a day, while causing massive traffic issues in parts of Hamilton’s beloved New York City), I am drawn to Hamilton’s remarks on the matter. He pulled no punches when discussing men like Trump. For men like Trump, who abuse their power and exploit the American people to add to their already substantial wealth “there is no strain of abhorrence, of which the human mind is capable, nor punishment, the vengeance of the people can inflict, which may not be applied to him, with justice.” Indeed, Trump is setting the table for a truly detestable spread of self-enrichment and conflict of interests, with the American people coming out as the losers.
It’s a credit to the prescience of the Founders and Framers that they saw the threat of a man like Trump coming to power. Just as Hamilton predicted a corrupt man like Trump getting into office in the first Publius letter, he also imagined the movement that would bring such a man to office in the second letter. Hamilton said “there are seasons in every country, when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamours of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.” Unsurprisingly, we saw a man who campaigned on religious discrimination, attacks on freedom of the press, shameless misogyny, and, most relevantly to this particular piece of writing, a brazen pride when it came to financial indiscretions. Has there ever been a President who has publicly bragged about not paying taxes?
It’s completely unsurprising that one of Trump’s first moves has been to fully embrace the role of kleptocrat. His children and other family members are wholly involved in his transition team, Ivanka Trump is using his press appearances to promote jewelry — and sitting in on meetings with heads of state. This is to be expected from a man who bragged about using his massive business failures to avoid paying taxes for years. As he said about getting away with a different sort of crime, when you’re a star, “they let you do it.”
What is to be done when such a man takes power? The only hope I can offer is a qualified one. The Founders and Framers foresaw the chance that a dangerous person would end up as President. That’s why they created checks and balances — albeit checks and balances that rely on competent and willing people to uphold them. We have checks like the Emolument Clause in the Constitution, something that Trump is set to violate on his first day. This clause forbids members of government from receiving foreign gifts without Congressional approval. Coincidentally, the other part of the clause forbids the government from granting titles of nobility, a cruel irony given the current status of Donald Trump’s children. Regardless, the law of the land clearly forbids Trump’s behavior. However, as the clause says, it hinges on Congressional approval. Which brings us to our qualified hope — Congress. We have a Congress that has the power to form investigative committees to look into abuses and failures — the Republicans have extensive experience here, given the Benghazi investigation. More than that, they can bring a President up on charges of impeachment.
This likely will not happen. I hope that I am wrong, but so far the Republican Party — with a handful of notable exceptions — has shown a complete inability to stand up to Trump’s abuses, be it an ethical abuse, or another abuse of power. Paul Ryan, terrified of a Trump-led insurrection amongst his base, is more than happy to tag along and attempt to take down entitlement programs along the way. The sanctity of our government, and our Constitution is not a priority for men like Paul Ryan. They are no better than men like Trump, and accomplices to the grand fraud of our government and nation deserve to be named and shamed. Barring a massive change of heart by a decent amount of Congressional Republicans, or a huge Democratic victory in the 2018 midterms — which still includes two years of unabashed Trump rule, and, really, is impossible to speculate on at this point in time — we are likely to see a kleptocracy on steroids when Trump is inaugurated.
There is one last thing we can do, according to Hamilton. Men like Trump, who abuse their power for personal profit “ought to feel the utmost rigor of public resentment, and be detested as a traitor of the worst and most dangerous kind.” Ultimately, it is up to the American people to keep up the fight against our incoming president’s corruption. We have been called to duty, now we must act. Stay angry, and always resist.