The practice of gerrymandering, which played a crucial role in bringing Donald Trump to the White House, seems about to be tested in the Supreme Court. It certainly would not be the first time the Supreme Court has been tasked with adjudicating the fairness of redistricting, but the Wisconsin case has resulted in the development of practical metrics for determining fairness that were not available in the past.
With that glimmer of hope on the distant horizon, I thought we could use this time before the other presidential shoe drops to reflect on the deficiencies in legal restrictions on the conduct of a President that have been exposed by Donald Trump’s first weeks as President Elect.
Around this time last year, I was bitterly coming to grips with the reality that, for all of its progressive values, Vermont did not have a code of ethics, under which violations of the public trust (like those of which Norm McAllister stands accused)would have immediate and meaningful consequences. How many times did we hear the lame excuse that “we never needed one before”?
Here we are, a year later, discovering that the office of the presidency of the United States suffers from a similar lack of mandated ethical rules. That back door has been left wide-open, apparently with no thought given to the possibility that someone as arrogant and shameless as Donald Trump might one day use it to walk off with the nation’s silverware.
While we breathlessly await the President Elect’s next breech of traditional presidential ethics, it might be wise to note a wishlist of rules that now need to be imposed on any elected president by law rather than merely by custom. Candidate Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he cares little for truth, respect and conventional decency. We are therefore obliged to codify even the most rudimentary obligations of the presidency.
Here are a few suggestions, should Democrats regain the ability to initiate in 2018:
1) All presidents should be required by law to place any and all holdings in a true blind trust. We thought that was the case, but apparently the devil is in the details.
2) The definition of a “blind trust” must be clearly and rigidly defined by law, and arranging for that transfer to a blind trust should be the first obligation of the President Elect before he/she even begins to consider appointments. That blind trust shall not be administered by anyone having a familial relationship to the President, and the President must not have any access to particular information about his holdings while in office.
3) Husbands, wives, children and siblings of the President should be barred by law from any official position in his/her administration. No matter how brilliant one’s relatives may seem to be, the idea of presidential advisors is to serve the people’s best interests by permitting the “decider in chief” to entertain ideas beyond his own echo chamber.
4) As those family members should be barred by law from occupying official positions, they should as well not receive security clearance beyond the necessary scope of their own personal security vis-a-vis the president. They should not be privy to security briefings ofany kind beyond the security of their own person; and, by extension, should not be allowed in the room when sensitive foreign or domestic business is discussed.
5) The fact that family members are ethically barred from profiting from the presidency appears an insufficient deterrent even in these earliest days of the Trump administration. It is therefore necessary to establish specific and far-reaching definitions for the concept of “profit” because we can no longer trust that the President’s own judgment will not be ethically compromised.
6) A President who deliberately misleads the public should be subject to stiff penalties. With a President who famously lied 73% of the time during his campaign for office, it is unfortunately necessary to establish consequences for lying when one is the ‘leader of the free world.’ A President who doubles down on lies when challenged, and never admits that he is wrong,is extremely dangerous and requires additional legal constraints to keep him truthful.
7) The President should be required by law to allow a rotating pool of journalists from
a representative cross-section of established national news sources to accompany him throughout his schedule, being excluded only when it is a matter of national security. What exactly comprises a “matter of national security” must be clearly defined.
8) Press conferences allowing an opportunity for question and answer exchanges with the President should be established by law, to occur on a regular schedule…biweekly or monthly at the very least.
9) The Presidentand his/her immediate family should be required to make the White House their primary residence. Secret Service details should be limited to those members of the President’s immediate family who make the White House their primary residence. The costs and inconvenience accrued to the general public by any more whimsical arrangement in these security challenging times make it imperative that this simple rule be firmly enforced.
10) Anyone who has engaged in lobbying in the previous five years should be banned from appointments by the President. Anyone leaving elected or appointed service in the U.S. Government should be banned from lobbying activities for at least five years.
11) In order to ensure transparency and undetected avoid conflict of interest, the President Elect should be required by law to disclose his income tax returns for the past five years before election, and every year thereafter until he leaves office.
Why should the occupant of the highest office in the land be held to a lesser standard than any other elected official? It is completely indefensible.
One must now accept that someone completely lacking in a moral/ethical compass will occasionally ascend to the White House. The only way to protect our democracy under those circumstances is to established clearly defined laws, with meaningful consequences, specifically governing the president.
Of course, its time for a constitutional overhaul to replace the Electoral College with direct democracy; to overturn Citizen’s United; and to reintroduce the expired Voting Rights Act.
So, as P.E.D.J.Trump builds his historic legacy as the worst president ever, we have a to-do list that stretches far beyond his (hopefully) brief regime.
It begins with an urgent call for Democratic voters to turn out in record numbers to reverse the GOP majority in 2018.