During the campaign Donald Trump pledged that "on day one" as president, he would label China a currency manipulator. Then he didn't. Then China granted Trump's businesses lucrative trademarks he has been seeking. Coincidence?
"On Day One"
On the campaign trail, Trump repeated again and again that if elected president he would label China a currency manipulator "on day one." For example, in an August, 2016 speech in Tampa, he outlined a seven-point plan that included this promise:
I am going to instruct my Treasury Secretary to label China a currency manipulator... Any country that devalues their currency in order to take unfair advantage of the United States will face tariffs to stop the cheating.
China's currency manipulation has often brought the "price" of their currency down, which means things made in China cost less in international markets than things made in the U.S. Of course, the U.S. has a Wall Street-favoring "strong dollar policy," which doesn't help. either.
If the Treasury Department declares that China is manipulating its currency, this opens the door that can eventually lead to the president imposing tariffs.
So far Trump has not directed his Treasury Secretary to label China as a currency manipulator, and his Treasury Secretary has not done so independently.
China Grants Trademarks
According to a Wednesday AP report, China has granted preliminary approval for 38 Trump trademarks that cover "everything from hotels and golf clubs to bodyguard and concierge services."
The report notes that Trump filed for these trademarks at the same time that he was publicly campaigning that he would penalize China, (hint, hint, wink and a nod).
Trump's lawyers in China applied for the marks in April 2016, as Trump railed against China at campaign rallies, accusing it of currency manipulation and stealing U.S. jobs. Critics maintain that Trump's swelling portfolio of China trademarks raises the possibility of conflicts of interest.
Once again, in public Trump was threatening China, but in private his attorneys were asking China to grant lucrative trademarks to his businesses.
A Protection Racket"?
A "protection racket" is when gangsters come into a business holding bricks and baseball bats and threaten that "it would be a shame if something happened to your store." They offer "protection" from such things happening, "for a price."
What Trump is doing with China has the appearance of corruption. It looks like Trump is operating a protection racket, on the one hand threatening the nation with presidential actions against them and on the other hand asking the nation to grant lucrative trademarks for his businesses.
China did, and Trump didn't.
Whether this is a quid pro quo exchange or not, it gives the public the appearance that China might be granting Trump's businesses these trademarks because Trump is president.
Violates "Emoluments Clause"
The "emoluments clause" of the Constitution, "no Person holding any Office .. shall ... accept of any present, Emolument .. of any kind whatever, from a ... foreign State."
This clause, in Article I of the Constitution, stems from concern in the 1700s that foreign states might use gifts to curry favor with U.S. officials. The wording makes clear that a gift doesn't need to be a bribe to violate the Constitution; accepting any kind of gift without permission is a violation.
China is a foreign state. It just is. An emolument is a "profit, salary, or fees from office or employment." With this grant of trademarks Trump is receiving a profit. He just is. And Bob's your uncle.
Whether or not Trump is actually demanding "protection money" from China, this all actually is a foreign government enriching our president. These trademarks are worth millions if not billions of dollars to Trump's businesses.
Chuck Schumer tweeted about this
Are the 38 trademarks China granted the President today his reward for failing to name China a currency manipulator? pic.twitter.com/B3tLpGL03G
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 8, 2017
What Trump is doing here is blatant. It goes far beyond the appearance of impropriety. It is an actual president actually receiving an actual profit from an actual foreign state. It just is. It's just right there in front of us. It doesn't matter if Trump was "shaking them down" to get the trademarks granted. It certainly looks that way, but it doesn't matter, thanks to the "Emoluments clause" of our Constitution.
But so what? Who is going to do anything about it?
What we are seeing is a complete failure of our system to hold Trump accountable. Republicans in Congress continue to protect him. The Trump-appointed, Republican-approved Attorney General will protect him. Republican appointees to the judiciary will protect him. Our system has been taken over by a political party more interested in power than law and democracy and accountability.
The only thing that can stop this is for the public to increase the pressure with continuing rallies, marches, calls, letters, demonstrations, voter registration and voting. And demanding paper ballots and demanding that they all be counted in public like we used to do.