About a month before last year’s election, I wrote a blog entry in which I argued that Donald Trump was the least deserving of being elected president than any other candidate with a legitimate shot at the title, in American history. Looking back on that essay through the lens of hindsight, I may have been too charitable and kind to the man.
Since he took the oath of office, he has carried out petty grudges against anyone who might dare to challenge him, made disaster recovery all about him, engaged in an ongoing attempt to erase the legacy of his predecessor, and generally has been presiding over a degree of corruption in government that could challenge the corrupt legacies of the Grant, Harding, Nixon, and Reagan administrations. And that’s not even getting into the evangelical Christians / theocrats who have been the base of the Republican Party since the Reagan administration and are the primary reason why I can’t vote republican in good conscience and who are the only people applauding his moves.
I sincerely doubt he would pass a middle school-level civics test.
Although there have been rumblings about impeachment and/or the 25th Amendment almost since the day he came into power, that talk has grown in the last week. I want to talk about what happens after that. I think a series of law changes — if not amendments to the constitution — are warranted here.
When the constitution was written, the only requirements surrounding eligibility for the position of president, were being a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and having lived in the country for at least 14 years. The only real change to this since then, was when the 22nd Amendment was passed, limiting the total time in office to ten years. (Although the definition of a natural-born citizen has evolved…)
It seems to me as though these rules need to be modified. Here are some possible modifications we ought to consider:
1. Remove the natural-born citizen requirement. Immigrants who want to become citizens must pass a test, which arguably means they understand the workings of the government and American history better than some natural-born citizens. I see no harm in requiring that naturalized citizens have resided here for a minimum time period (which could easily be two decades or more and which could still restrict which immigrants would even consider running for president) but this rule, which was designed to prevent foreign attempts to manipulate our government from within, seems outdated, especially given the growing evidence that it didn’t really work.
2. Test the candidates. Design an exam that covers the facts of how the constitution operates, facts of American history, and an ability to state matters of current events factually (not solutions to current problems as those would be more subjective but, for example, if a candidate wants to criticize a law or a treaty, he or she needs to be able to explain exactly what that law or treaty does or does not do. A candidate who fails the exam would not be eligible to run during that election cycle.
3. Require the release of candidates’ tax returns. A law like this recently passed the California state assembly, only to be vetoed by California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown’s official argument against it was a slippery slope argument that, quite frankly, if we accept it on face value, should render this entire blog entry moot. I’m not saying there can’t be unintended consequences to this, or any other suggestion I’m making here, but I would like to see future presidents to be culled from the best of the best in this country. I often say that I don’t care for the pledge of allegiance and argue that everything after the word “stands” is factually incorrect. I’m open to debate on whether the USA qualifies as a republic, since the leaders of a republic are generally chosen from amongst the most deserving. Unless you count the ability to raise large sums of campaign cash as a condition of “most deserving”, it could use a little more honing.
4. Require candidates to fully divest themselves of their business interests. This should be self-evident, given that the emoluments clause covers foreign investment. But Trump is making money off of the government without violating the emoluments clause by having republican fundraisers and events at his hotels and by housing the secret service in Trump properties when he or his family are there.
5. Empower fact-checkers to declare official winners and losers of debates. Kind of like the test I mentioned above, but if a candidate proposes a new program without saying how they’d pay for it, or if they say a law or treaty is awful, they’d better be prepared to take a dinging from the fact checkers. Right now, the debates don’t do anything since both sides will argue that they won the debate as soon as it’s over.
There are some other ideas that, if implemented, hypothetically could have prevented Trump’s election but on a higher level won’t necessarily fix the problems in our electoral process that could still be exploited in the future. These ideas include abolishing the electoral college, eliminating the gerrymander, and requiring a maximum number of constituents per representative in the house. (That last one won’t give Wyoming’s electors more per-voter clout than California’s.)
There may be others but this is at least a start.