In the embarrassment of riches that was the crime spree called the Trump administration and its aftermath, let us not forget the little things. The twice-impeached ex-president and two time popular vote loser never tires of reminding people that he was once president of the United States. I suppose that part is his right, compliments of the First Amendment. What is not his right is his continued abuse of the presidential seal.
Specifically it says in 18 U.S. Code § 713 – Use of likenesses of the great seal of the United States, the seals of the President, that “Whoever knowingly displays any printed or other likeness of … the seals of the President or the Vice President of the United States, … or any facsimile thereof, in, or in connection with, any advertisement, poster, circular, book, pamphlet, or other publication, public meeting, play, motion picture, telecast, or other production, or on any building, monument, or stationery, for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States or by any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”
That’s a lot of verbiage. What does it all mean? Does it mean Donald Trump cannot use the presidential seal because he’s no longer president? No. He is free to continue to wear it and display it on his person and property. What he’s not free to do is use it in such a way as to imply that the federal government approves of, sponsors or otherwise endorses something that it does not.
Put another way, I can conclude this sentence with the words SpaceX, Microsoft and Honda. Those are well-known trademark names. But I cannot imply that those companies are sponsoring me or some product I am selling when in fact they are not.
While it’s also true that I cannot sell coffee cups or t-shirts with those trademark names on them, that is not true of the presidential seal. Therein lies the misunderstanding. Donald Trump is not necessarily in violation of the law just because he continues to slap the presidential seal on everything he owns and sells. That’s just bad taste, but not unlawful. But he may be in violation of the law if the seal is being used in such a way as to imply that the government endorses his ongoing attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.
This is where the Hill, the Washington Post and other news outlets got it wrong. Trump is not in violation of the law per se if he continues to display the seal everywhere he goes. But he could be in violation of the law if he uses the seal in such a way as to suggest that it is a trademark in direct support of his betrayal of the country.
For this reason I think Trump should be barred from the use of the presidential seal. The Big Lie is never far from his narrative, and he almost inevitably finds his way to It irrespective of the topic at hand. The seal of the presidency has no more place on Donald Trump’s property and person than it does at a Nazi rally. Trump’s use of the seal should be revoked immediately, or he should suffer legal consequences for its ongoing abuse. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.