Action Items from The For-Profit Presidency: Ethical Issues in the Trump Administration and What You Can Do About Them

At our “sold out” forum on July 10, 2017, we promised to post a list of action ideas for how we as individuals can work on issues of ethics and accountability in government under the Trump administration. A video of the forum can be viewed on the Facebook page of Rockville Resistance and on our ethics Facebook page Trump Watch: Grab Him by the Ethics. Although Congressman Jamie Raskin was ill and could not attend, we had a wonderful surprise in our lineup. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined us to discuss Maryland’s emoluments lawsuit against President Trump. Our other dynamic panelists were Stephen Spaulding, from Common Cause; Virginia Canter, from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW); Robert Weissman, from Public Citizen; and Professor Michael Kazin, from Georgetown University.

Here are some takeaways and action items from our fabulous speakers:

1.  PICK UP SOME NEW SKILLS

Professor Kazin said all movements have media vehicles. Virginia Canter said she’s embraced Twitter since joining CREW, and CREW uses Twitter to get its message out. Follow the Facebook pages of your elected officials. If you don’t already know how, learn to Tweet!

2.  JOIN PUBLIC INTEREST GROUPS

Three wonderful groups, CREW, Public Citizen and Common Cause were represented on our panel. Join these groups. Sign up for their email updates and explanations of the issues.

Follow their Facebook pages. Follow their tweets. Support their requested actions and contribute financially, when you can.

There are other public interest groups also doing fabulous work to counter corruption, cronyism, and self-dealing. This article lists other great efforts and groups to support.

3.  JOIN A LOCAL ACTIVIST GROUP

Join Rockville Resistance, and/or one of our partner organizations for the Forum: Do The Most Good Montgomery County, Indivisible Montgomery, Progressive Action Montgomery County, or Indivisible HoCo MD. These groups offer a community and a platform for activism at local levels and beyond. There are many other activist groups in our area. Find one you like and get/stay active. A list of groups in the Maryland resistance coalition can be found here.

4.  JOIN OUR ETHICS FACEBOOK PAGE: “TRUMP WATCH-GRAB HIM BY THE ETHICS”

We post articles about all the ethics issues as they appear in the media. Virginia Canter and other speakers emphasized that it’s critical to be informed. Read these articles! Repost these articles on your own Facebook pages. Let the world know American citizens care about the self-dealing of this Administration and their destruction of ethical norms.

5.    PERFECT YOUR ELEVATOR SPEECH

Attorney General Frosh gave us a great explanation of the two emoluments clauses (brush up with this explainer by CREW and the Brooking Institute – PDF). Practice your “elevator speech” on the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses, so you can explain them to your neighbors who have never eaten an emolument. I mean cleaned with an emolument. I mean been upset that the President is receiving economic benefit from foreign actors which may sway government policy. (Ta-da….that’s the foreign one). Or that the President, whose salary cannot be increased or decreased during his term in office, is supplementing his compensation package by receiving additional profits from having the government rent space in his hotels and buildings and pay to feed and entertain folks at Mar-a- Lago (ta-da…that’s the domestic one.)

6.  RENAME AND TALK ABOUT THESE ISSUES

As Robert Weissman advised, let’s name the problem so people understand it. If “ethics” and “conflicts of interest” seem abstract, talk about “cronyism” and “corruption” and “self-dealing.” This is bad stuff!

Raise people’s consciousness about issues that go to the heart of preventing corruption in politics. We want our government to be staffed with individuals who are experts in their fields, who are working for their given salary, and not for other profit. Wasn’t it interesting when Virginia Canter explained that the foreign emoluments clause applies to the President and other federal workers (including the military), while the domestic emoluments clause applies only to the President?

7.    FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAWSUITS

Read about them. Read the papers filed in Court. The lawsuits provide a roadmap to how people try to curry the President’s favor through his businesses, and they show how foreign- controlled entities are funneling money to the President and his family. Here are some links:

8.  SAY THANK YOU

Call or write to our Attorney General Brian Frosh (contact info), thanking him for filing the Maryland emoluments lawsuit (and for showing up at our forum to fill in for Congressman Raskin).

Write or email newspapers to thank them for articles on these issues. Do the same when elected representatives take appropriate actions on these issues.

9.  SUPPORT STATE EFFORTS TO UPHOLD ETHICAL STANDARDS

Stephen Spaulding reported that a number of states are looking into legislation to require the President, or Presidential candidates, to disclose tax returns. What’s happening in Maryland?

10.  PROTESTS MATTER

As Robert Weissman noted, protests matter. Folks showing up at town hall meetings have changed the conversation about health care in this country. He reminded us that we are in a unique position. Living in the DC area, we can go downtown and physically join DC protests. Show up! Be seen! Let policymakers know people care.

11.  DEMOCRACY IS A VERB

Professor Kazin reminded us that, in the words of Judge Abner Mikva, “Democracy is a verb.” He told us to write letters. Talk to friends and neighbors. Don’t demonize Trump supporters.

Professor Kazin also quoted President’s Trump’s friend, Frederick Douglass, who said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Think and talk about what kind of a world you want.

Make demands. Move society towards the tipping point.

12.  AND THE CORRUPTION ISSUE EXTENDS TO CAMPAIGN FINANCING

Virginia Canter, Robert Weissman and Stephen Spaulding all discussed Congressional Representatives being intimidated from doing what is right by threats of Koch-financed primary election challenges. Learn about the frightening power of the Koch money in post-Citizens United America. You can start by reading, Dark Money, by Jane Mayer. Or watching the documentary on the Koch brother found on You Tube called Koch Brothers Exposed (video). Or read, Ratf**cked; The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, by David Daley. Tell us other good sources of information or articles about them and we’ll add them to our list.

13.  ALIGN WITH POWER

Professor Kazin stated that movements succeed if they also align with folks already in power. He advised us not to turn against a progressive politician in reaction to them taking a few steps inconsistent with our wishes. So when the critical elections of 2018 begin, and we need to act to preserve our veto-proof Democratic majority in the Maryland legislature, let’s work with the Maryland Democratic Party!

14.  ABOUT THOSE ELECTIONS

Stephen Spaulding said politicians aren’t more responsive to their constituents because Americans have such low voter turnout. He noted that, when voters see the kind of rampant corruption and self-dealing that is going on in this Administration, they get even more discouraged about government working for them. We can fight this hopelessness in the 2018 elections. Get people inspired to vote! Help get people registered! Help get people to the polls! Campaign! Volunteer on phone banks! Tell folks we can combat “corruption,” “self- dealing,” and “cronyism.”

15.  FOLLOW AND SUPPORT OUR CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION

Our congressional delegation has sponsored various pieces of legislation requiring transparency. Find contact info and more for your elected leaders at all levels via Countable here. Get on the email list of your Senators and Representatives. Follow their Facebook and Twitter feeds. Call their offices with feedback. When they are up for re-election, support them. When they are not taking steps they should take, let them know!

16.  DON’T STOP

As Professor Kazin reminded us, it takes time to change people’s thinking and values. But it’s happened throughout history. Slaves were freed. Women got the vote. Abortions were legalized. Gay rights were recognized. People are now beginning to think health care is a right. We can get integrity restored to government. What we’re doing, said Robert Weissman, is exactly what we should be doing. And boy was that good to hear!

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