Leading up to his inauguration as president, Donald Trump has made strides in establishing himself as the nation’s entrepreneur-in-chief.
This should come as no surprise, considering that Trump’s campaign rhetoric spoke of a desire to make America great again while his actions focused upon a desire to make America great for Donald Trump. Yet the post-election work of the president-elect still has been disturbing.
Trump has met with developers from India who are involved with Trump Towers Pune, a pair of 23-story towers containing $2 million condominiums to which the mogul has given his name. He has held a meeting with British politicians in which he reportedly urged them to oppose off-shore wind farms — a project that Trump decries because he believes it would blight the view from a golf resort he owns in Scotland. And he has involved his children in high-level meetings with diplomats and dignitaries — the same children he says will run his business empire while he runs the country. Following a family interview on “60 Minutes,” the Trump marketing machine advertised that for $10,800 you, too, can own the bracelet that daughter Ivanka wore during the interview.
Trump supporters likely see no problem with these conflicts of interest, arguing that we knew Trump was a businessman before electing him. So allow us to turn the equation around and imagine that Hillary Clinton was the president-elect and that Chelsea Clinton had been tapped to run The Clinton Foundation. How would the public feel about the Clinton daughter sitting in on meetings with foreign leaders and executives who might or might not now contribute to the foundation?
Trump and his followers turned criticism of The Clinton Foundation into a cause c?l?bre during the campaign, arguing that the candidate had turned the enterprise into a pay-for-play scheme that allowed foreigners to purchase access to the Obama administration. It takes some mental gymnastics for those critics to now absolve Trump’s actions.
Then again, Trump has never been one for transparency. He broke with decades of tradition in refusing to release his tax returns during the campaign, so his opaqueness was to be expected.
Yet, that trait is problematic. If Trump has business dealings in India designed to increase his family’s wealth, can he legitimately negotiate trade deals with nations in that part of the world? Can he effectively discuss nuclear proliferation with representatives from India or its arch-nemesis, Pakistan — both of which have nuclear capabilities? Can he act out of a desire to enhance the United States’ standing in the world if it conflicts with his personal interests?
Trump has noted that there is nothing illegal about him pursuing business interests while serving as president. Many critics have suggested that it would be ethical for him to set up a blind trust for his businesses, but the president-elect has indicated that he has facile understanding of what that actually means. Meanwhile, there is little in his history to suggest that Trump will pursue an ethical course at the expense of personal gain.
Therefore, it is up to Congress to tighten laws regarding a president’s conflict of interest. The emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution prevents officeholders from receiving anything of value from foreign governments, but more leeway is afforded to the president. Given the expanse of Trump’s interests, which are unique for a commander-in-chief, it is important that steps be taken to ensure that the perception of conflict does not become reality.