They decided to cut him some slack

John Cassidy at the New Yorker on the elephant in the room: Trump’s conflicts of interest and his cheery refusal to do anything about them.

Last week, a spokesperson for the Trump Organization said the family was “in the process of vetting various structures,” and insisted that whatever arrangement they settled on would “comply with all applicable rules and regulations.” But this was yet another empty statement. For historical reasons, Presidents are exempted from many of the conflict-of-interest laws that apply to other federal officeholders, such as Cabinet members.

This exemption dates back to the earliest days of the Republic, when Presidents tended to be wealthy plantation owners with large holdings of land and slaves. The Founding Fathers were well aware that men of this ilk would see their fortunes affected by some of the policies that the federal government would pursue, such as those relating to agriculture and tariffs. Rather than forcing a President to recuse himself from dealing with these issues, or to sell off his holdings, they decided to cut him some slack.

Ah, did they. I see. That makes so much sense – they saw that presidents were going to have huge conflicts of interest, so they decided to do nothing about them. Brilliant.

And of course those conflicts of interest to due with owning slaves did indeed help to warp government policy for many decades, spoiling the lives of millions of people and entrenching racism in the fabric of the country. So it all worked out well then.

“Because the president of the United States is the single most consequential decision maker on the planet, Congress has decided his hands shouldn’t be tied on any issue because of conflicts of interest over any potential financial or personal gain,” Norman Eisen, a former ethics counsel to the Obama Administration, who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.

Again, the reasoning seems perverse. The president’s decisions are consequential, therefore it’s fine if they’re shaped by the president’s personal financial interests. Wtf?

Once you grasp the geographical spread of Trump’s interests, it is hard to see how the potential conflicts of interest could ever be resolved. Take the Middle East, a region of the world that every modern American President has had to focus on. According to the Post, in addition to the Trump-branded real-estate development in Turkey, Trump has business ties to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, two oil-rich countries that have funded radical Islamic movements. And, just last year, Trump registered eight companies named after Jeddah, the second-largest city in Saudi Arabia.

It’s not just that Trump won’t be seen as an honest broker in the Middle East. He wouldn’t be seen as broker of any kind but as a principal and business partner of some of the region’s repressive governments and their cronies. Even if, for the duration of his Presidency, Trump were to put his businesses into a properly independent trust, run by business executives not connected to him, the Trump-owned and Trump-branded companies would still be generating income for the President and his family. He and his advisers would know that. The governments of the countries where the companies are located would know that. And so would the rest of us.

Yes but he’s the populist choice, so none of that matters! Right? He’s filthy rich and he always acts in his own interests, but hey, he’s sexist and racist so that’s all cool.

Trump is clearly not going to do anything about it, so we can rail but it won’t make any difference. Thanks, “Founding Fathers.”

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