Trump to Rescind Louisiana Purchase: A Contracts Professor Looks at Backing Out of the Iranian Treaty

Okay, it’s a joke.  As far as I know Donald Trump is not currently planning to breach our agreement to buy a huge chunk of what is now the United States from France, as we signed a contract to do in 1803.  Thomas Jefferson negotiated that deal with Napoleon and it was a pretty good one, so I suspect the Donald will keep it.  But all the other contracts our country has signed with nations all over the world are no longer as secure.

Donald Trump has announced that the United States of America will breach the contract it negotiated with the Republic of Iran even though all the experts attest that Iran has obeyed its commitment under that treaty.  Phrased another way: they keep their word and we won’t keep ours.  As I write that statement I have trouble believing it.  The United States?  Renouncing a treaty in 2018 that it just signed its name to in 2015, a mere three years ago?  At the same time Donald Trump plans to meet with North Korea and talk them into signing a new treaty by which North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and in return the United States will drop crippling economic sanctions against them.  If you were North Korea would you happily put pen to paper after the United States had just demonstrated what its signature on a document means?

I’ve been teaching the law of contracts since January of 1970 and have written one of the major textbooks used across the country about this basic subject.  On the first day of every Contracts class I’ve taught through the decades I begin by saying, “Our entire civilization is built on contracts.  You are sitting in this classroom because you’ve signed a contract that said if you paid the university a set amount of  money I will teach you the law of this subject.  When your Uber driver takes you to a destination tonight, that’s a contract, and when the person you love agrees to marry you, that's one too. Contracts control the world.  Consider that no family can exist without many express or implied understandings as to how its members will behave toward one another. These agreements may or may not be enforceable in a court, but if these understandings are broken, major disagreements can occur and loving arrangements ruined. Similarly, starting with cautious meetings between tribes of cave dwellers in prehistoric times, human beings have negotiated their progress through contracts—whether treaties or informal agreements—that have brought us to the complexities of the twenty-first century.  Ladies and gentlemen, it’s all contracts.”

Of course this is an exaggeration, but it gets their attention and now they’re willing to think about the rules we’ll study over the coming months. 

Let’s apply that little lecture to Donald Trump’s views on contracts.

Donald Trump never went to law school, but he did study business at Wharton and surely the topic came up there.  Alas subsequent history shows that he never paid any attention to the basics.  We know this because he violated huge numbers of the contracts he entered into throughout his business years, as his biographers detail in ugly retellings.  When he was building casinos in Atlantic City he’d frequently refuse to pay contractors or sellers for the agreed-upon price stating things like, “Everything is so much more expensive than I thought, so you’ll have to take 25% off and if you don’t like that, sue me.”  Since most recipients of these threats understood that a lawsuit would be more expensive than the dictated deduction, they gritted their teeth and took the lesser amount., (though some of them did sue, witness the meme below).  Trump has always used threats of lawsuits not as a means to resolve a real dispute but instead as forced capitulation, malicious duress. 

I’ve written at length (see Related Posts below) about the cruelty Trump created when he started Trump University (now defunct and paying back $25 million in settlement of fraud claims).  When he began the original scam he went after those who trusted him most: his fans, his admirers, and asked them to invest their life savings and trust in his promise to teach them how to make huge amounts flipping real estate.  Then he took their money and gave them NOTHING in return, frequently leaving them destitute.  Before he was elected president or was even running, I used a court opinion arising out of the resulting chaos in the first chapter of my textbook on Consumer Law.  That chapter is called “Fraud.”  My editor recently asked me if we should take it out of the next edition and I declined to do so.  It was fraud then and the fact that he’s the 45th President of the United States doesn’t change that at all.

When dumping the Iran agreement Trump boasted: “Today’s action sends a critical message: The United States no longer makes empty threats.  When I make promises, I keep them.”  It’s depressing to decode all the ironies in that statement.  I won’t do so.  It’s just sad.  Sad.  

Bombs going off all over the world will be sadder.

[Coda: Shortly after this post was written President Trump announced that the coming summit with North Korea was being cancelled.  Supposedly he did this because he believed that Kim Jong Un was about to cancel it himself, possibly for the reasons mentioned in this post, but more likely because Trump’s heavy-handed National Security Advisor John Bolton stupidly announced that the United States would use the Libya model for dealing with North Korea, and Trump said something similar.  That “Libya Model” led not only to denuclearization of that country but also within eight years finished with the dragging of Libya’s leader through the streets to his death.  See History is not likely to use the word “intelligent” in describing the Trump administration’s dealings with dangerous situations.]  

Related Posts:

“Trump University: A Fraudster for President”? March 10, 2016;

“Fake News You Might Like to Read,” February 17, 2017;

“Impeaching Donald Trump:  A Lawyer Looks at the Legal Issues,” August 16, 2017;

“Chaos in the Country: Eight Months of Trump’s Presidency”  August 28, 2017;

“A Criminal Controls the Detective: Why Trump Will Soon Fire Robert Mueller”;


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