Donald Trump is once again in a foul mood, after his staff spent the weekend attempting to bluster their way through acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s assertion that, well, of course the Trump team tied U.S. military aid to Ukraine to a quid pro quo assurance that the Ukrainian government would pursue a pro-Trump, anti-Democratic Party conspiracy theory on Trump’s behalf.
Speaking to reporters before a Cabinet meeting, though, Trump appears to be more upset over having to cancel his plan to hold the next G-7 summit meeting of world leaders at Doral, one of his own private, for-profit clubs, than over impeachment difficulties, Syrian withdrawal criticism, or anything else. He was furiously dismissive of concerns that he would have benefited from the blazingly obvious attempt to boost his private fortunes.
“You people with this phony emoluments clause,” he sneered at one point.
The emoluments clause of the Constitution is, it should be pointed out, not “phony.” It exists. It is known as Article I, Section 9, Clause 8: “[N]o person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” It couples with an Article II restriction barring the president from receiving “any other Emolument” other than a fixed salary from federal or state governments. In short, presidents are explicitly barred from accepting things of value from either foreign governments or our own, because doing so would obviously be Extremely Very Corrupt.
It is unclear what Trump meant by a “phony” emoluments clause. This is because Trump has never been very bright, and because his vocabulary has shrunk so significantly in recent years (almost certainly a symptom of pre-dementia, I say yet again) as to render his speech particularly nonsensical. Also, because he lies a lot: Even this press availability featured the usual lies over supposedly record-setting rally attendance. He may genuinely believe he can convince his followers that explicit clauses of the Constitution itself are hoaxes perpetrated by, say, CNN.
In theory, of course, Trump swore an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution during his inauguration, the words of which are laid out in the very next clause after the prohibition on domestic emoluments. It is a fair bet that defending the Constitution does not include claiming that some of its contents are phony.
It is the sort of rank national betrayal that Trump and Trump’s allies now practice regularly, a gaslighting that would have been met with such disgust during previous presidencies that television pundits would be having on-camera strokes and arguing that the removal of such a leader was absolutely necessary for the well-being of the republic. To Trump’s Republican House and Senate allies, however, it has become just another Monday.