In 2019, the first impeachment trial of a President of the United States in over 20 years gripped and divided the nation. With a Democratic-led House and a Republican-led Senate, the fated outcome would always be nothing more a spectacle and a public relations campaign.
At the time, the Democrats and their more ardent supporters thought they had Donald Trump dead to rights. That he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of leveraging American aid and support in return for dirty laundry about who he perceived as his greatest threat in the 2020 election: Joe Biden.
There is an old saying, “it’s not what you know but what you can prove.” Sadly, even this old saying is no longer relevant. Even if you can prove something today, you still have to convince people to care about the proof. They conveniently left that part out of the original quote.
In Politics, polls are king. They shape decision making, both current and future. And so when polls never showed Republican support for impeachment above 15%, the Republicans knew they wouldn’t lose an ounce of support from their base by simply denying any wrongdoing, ensuring the whole affair died a short, quiet death in the Senate.
What Was It All For?
If Trump’s removal from office was never possible, then what was the point of spending two months of precious congressional time on a dead-on-arrival impeachment? Public Relations.
Sure, there is a subset of Democrats and their supporters who believe (perhaps naively) that the impeachment was pure and without motive; that the only goal was to prove the unpatriotic guilt of a man unfit for office and to usher in his removal from said office.
However, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are not dumb. They have played the game of politics for a very long time, and they likely knew from the outset that they were to lose this battle. The war was what they were focused on, and a strategic loss here could turn the tides in a much larger win down the road.
So they fought on that hill, knowing they were going to lose, knowing that their loss was never the point all along. The real purpose was to damage Trump’s reputation and position as President. Forever impeached, even if he was acquitted.
Silver Bullet Never Fired
As I watched the impeachment unfold in 2019, knowing that it was a circus designed to do as much perceptual damage to Trump’s legacy as possible, I could not help but notice that the Democrats left the most damning, easily provable, and easiest to comprehend accusation out entirely.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Donald Trump and his family have profited immensely from the office of the President. Knowing that he has continuously, without fail, violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, the Democrats could have easily painted him as the grifter that he is.
The Emoluments Clause is broken down into two subsets: the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. Without getting too far into the weeds, the over-arching concept is that a public official cannot receive profit, fees, payment, titles, etc. from the US or foreign governments. Exceptions can be made on the foreign side, with consent from Congress.
My focus is on the Domestic Emoluments Clause specifically:
(art. II, § 1, cl. 7): “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation which shall neither be encreased 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 any of them.”
The compensation that Donald Trump is entitled to be $400,000 per year, the President's salary. Nothing more, nothing less. And he shall not receive any other emolument (salary, fee, or profit) from the United States.
This is where the best shot at painting Donald Trump as ‘unfit for office’ existed and where the Democrats misfired during the impeachment.
His supporters will immediately scream that Donald Trump donates his presidential salary every quarter, that he is working for free. And every time, it takes every ounce of my being not to crack up laughing.
Donald Trump is a businessman, a capitalist, a “billionaire.” I have to put that word in quotations because no one really knows. And because he is a businessman, his top priority is and always will be making money, with a healthy side dish of accumulating power.
So why would a capitalist businessman donate money that he believes is rightfully his? The same reason any famous and/or wealthy individual donates money and then tells the world about it: good PR.
You see, donating that money and then receiving good press about it means that money was well spent. A donation only exists by its very definition if it is given, and nothing is received in return, except maybe the intrinsic feeling of doing a good deed.
However, if you make a donation and tell the world you made it, and a dozen media outlets cover it in detail… well then, that’s not a donation at all. You just exchanged a certain sum of money for good media coverage.
And that is exactly why Donald Trump donates his presidential salary. He is purchasing good news and receives a bump in support with his base. He is purchasing a rebuttal to the argument he has profited off the office by providing his cult an opportunity to scream in retort.
“He is losing money as President! He donates his salary! He is working for free!”
Oh, honey… no one works for free. Especially not a life-long capitalist. He is earning something from the Presidency, and a lot of it is easily quantifiable.
The One Article of Impeachment That Mattered
During the 2016 campaign for the Republican Party, Donald Trump spoke endlessly about Barack Obama’s golf habit. That Obama was never working and that the American people deserved a President who would never leave the Oval Office.
Trump himself said he would never have time for golf because he would be working for the American people. Fast forward four years, and we all now know how blatantly dishonest Trump was being at the time. A microcosm of his overall treatment of the Presidency and the American public.
Barack Obama golfed a total of 333 times in his eight years as President. An average of one round of golf every 8.8 days.
So far, Donald Trump has golfed 279 times in his three and a half years as President. An average of one round of golf every 4.9 days.
President Trump golfs twice as much as Barack Obama while President. Now, the Trump Cult has come out with a dozen excuses why, as you would expect. It is his only form of exercise. He works so hard for the American people; he is allowed to enjoy himself. He does business on the golf course, as businessmen do, so he’s also working.
The logical gymnastics these people need to do is exhausting to listen to.
But there is one wrinkle here that isn’t addressed that should have been the focus of intense scrutiny during the impeachment process. Most of Obama’s golf trips were to government-owned golf courses. And most of his time away from the White House was to Camp David, a federally owned ranch.
On the other hand, Donald Trump spends almost all of his time away from the White House on golf courses and at resorts his family owns.
Where Do Government Funds Go?
When government officials travel, they are required to pay any establishment they use for their services. More importantly, the government pays for those services. And where does the government get its funds? The taxpayer.
Theoretical example: a low-level ambassador travels to Seattle and stays in a hotel for one week at a rate of $200 per night, which costs the American taxpayers $1,400. Plus flights ($500). Plus food, $50 per day ($350). Plus, a per diem of $25 per day ($175). This one trip, of one person, for one week, cost the American taxpayer at least $2,400.
The hotel made money off of the taxpayer. The airline made money off of the taxpayer. The restaurants made money off of the taxpayer. None of those things were free because the government did them. The government is required, using taxpayer money, to compensate an establishment for its use.
Knowing this, what do you think happens when Donald Trump, as President of the United States, exclusively travels to his resorts to stay for the weekend or play golf?
There is no charity occurring here; those rounds of golf and rooms for himself, his staff, his security detail, and the press corps aren't comped or donated. No, those are paid for by the American taxpayer. And who owns the hotel and golf course? The Trump family. So where is that money going?
From the taxpayers’ wallets to the Trump family wallet.
Trump’s golf trips to his private resorts cost the American taxpayer at least $140,000,000 alone. So while Trump ‘donates’ his presidential salary ($1.6 million over four years), his family profits are in the tens of millions of dollars for his golfing habit exclusively.
This is not even scratching the surface of the rent he charges his campaign (donor’s money) for his election office to be housed in Trump Tower. Or the many other costs associated with his and his family's business dealings and travel, Melania’s refusal to move to the White House the first year, etc.
In one Presidential term, Trump and his family will likely profit from the American government, and its taxpayers, to the tune of $100 million or more. That is the reason a businessman and capitalist wanted to become President.
He passed a tax cut for the rich and corporate elite, injected trillions of dollars in coronavirus relief money into corporations, artificially boosted the stock market, and ensuring regulations were reduced to increase the profitability of their business holdings.
Bring the Receipts
This should have been the leading Article of Impeachment for the Democrats because it was the easiest to prove and would have been simple enough for large sections of the American population to understand.
Like it or not, the American public need things broken down into simple, digestible factoids and blips. Anything more than that, they get bored, their attention is lost, and then they don’t care about it.
The Office of Management and Budget tracks government spending, which surely includes the President's expenditures and his travels. Without a doubt, there are invoices accounting for all of his trips to Trump resorts and golf courses. Every dollar and cent would be accounted for.
Imagine the impact these receipts would have had on the American public during the impeachment trial. Imagine what would have happened if the American public were able to see the direct line drawn between their wallets and the Trump wallet.
The American people take being bamboozled very seriously when they know it is happening. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer could have painted Donald Trump as the greatest American grifter of all time; receipts and all.
Instead, we are left dreaming of an impeachment that never was and hold onto a hope that somehow Donald Trump won’t win re-election. If he does, Trump might finally secure that title of ‘billionaire.’