There are certain expectations we, as citizens, have for the individual occupying the White House. We expect that they have a certain level of integrity, honesty, morals, intelligence, experience, judgment and so forth even if we do not always agree with positions, political or otherwise, they may take.
Clearly there have been times in which we may have been let down by occupants of the White House, but just as certainly failure to live up to expectations should not result in lowering our expectations. We should always demand the best of our elected officials even if, at times, we are let down by their actions and judgment.
There are also certain practices and protocols that we and they have come to accept as prerequisites for holding the highest office in the land. The foremost example is the release of tax returns by candidates for the office. What we, as citizens, did not see coming was the refusal by a candidate, any candidate, to simply ignore past practices.
Well, welcome to Trumpworld, although I do wonder, since Trump did recently authorize the release of top-secret classified information by “de-classifying” it, if there is any chance of him “de-auditing” his tax returns since the IRS is every bit as much a part of the executive branch as is the Department of Justice. Regrettably, not likely.
Not only did Trump, first as candidate and then as president, simply ignore past practices such as release of those tax returns, but he even turned a blind eye to the Constitutional requirement regarding the emoluments clause in Article I, Section 9 and its Constitutional prohibition against profiting from foreign entities. Every dollar Trump makes with foreign dignitaries staying at his Trump Hotel in downtown Washington to curry favor with the president of the United States is a violation of that emoluments clause.
You can also add to this list his failure to divest himself of his financial holdings by placing them in a blind trust. Handing them over to his sons Uday and Qusay – I mean Eric and Don Jr. – is not blind even if he believes everyone will turn a “blind eye” to his deception. Even Jimmy Carter sold off his peanut farm before taking on the full-time responsibilities of president of the United States.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the need to legislate requirements for anyone running for the position of president of the United States that had heretofore been adhered to out of simple respect for both the office of the president and the expectations of the people. The list is long and I will leave it to our legislators to come up with a more extensive list of requirements for anyone considering running for the presidency to be included in formal legislation, but here are some starters for consideration:
• release all tax returns
• divest all financial holdings going well beyond emoluments clause in the Constitution with a great deal more specificity
• not be subject to any lawsuits in which the candidate was either found guilty or who settled in lieu of judgment
• be required to take a real psychological exam performed by a certified professional to determine actual mental state not the ridiculous test performed on Trump to detect dementia that could be passed by a kindergartner
• have a reading level above third grade, make that fourth grade – this is the presidency we are talking about
• have attained some level of experience in government (not sure about this one; may be too restrictive)
I recognize that the Supreme Court has held some rulings on the issue of qualifications. In U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995), for example, the court ruled that “states cannot impose qualifications for prospective members of the U.S. Congress stricter than those specified in the Constitution.” The specific qualifications for serving in the Congress stated in the Constitution (Article I, Sections 2 and 3) are: “No person shall be a representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state in which he shall be chosen.” For senator, the requirements are: “No person shall be a senator who shall not have attained to age thirty years, and been nine years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that state for which he shall be chosen.”
Similarly, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution spells out the qualifications for president: “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States”.
It is rather likely that the Supreme Court would rule similarly in a case to expand the Constitutional qualifications for president, but based on our current presidential predicament, it is certainly worth revisiting the issue.
Interestingly, in his dissenting opinion, Clarence Thomas pointed out that “Nothing in the Constitution deprives the people of each state of the power to prescribe eligibility requirements for the candidates who seek to represent them in Congress. The Constitution is simply silent on this question. And where the Constitution is silent, it raises no bar to action by the states or the people.”
Also interesting is that prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the South had required proficiency tests to discriminate against certain voters (black) and make it more difficult for them to vote. Wonder how they would react to requiring a test for the individual being voted on? In other words, the “votee” rather than the voter.
It is clear that Trump simply ignored practices and protocols that his predecessors would never have thought to turn a blind eye to. It is because of the unforeseen actions by Trump that there really is a need to legislate standards and requirements of the presidency so the next Trump can’t simply ignore what he or she doesn’t want to be subjected to.