Post #137: The National Interest and the Trump Interest

As the Trump administration takes shape, one fact seems unassailable: We have an unprecedented situation in which, step by step, a president’s business interests—past, present, and future—are inseparable from the nation’s interests.  Donald Trump has over 100 investments and other financial ties in at least 18 countries or territories, in many cases creating potential conflicts of interest with US national security concerns.

Below is the Washington Post’s investigation, which is based on Trump’s financial disclosure statements.  As the article (www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/a-scramble-to-assess-the-dangers-of-president-elects-global-business-empire/2016/11/20/1bbdc2a2-ad18-11e6-a31b-4b6397e625d0_story.html) points out, there remains a good deal of missing information that Trump’s tax returns and other documents could provide.  But he chooses not to provide them, and a fair assumption is that they would reveal still more compromising deals.

trump-empire

How much influence these financial interests would have over Trump’s and his appointees’ policy choices is anyone’s guess at this point.  Trump himself has hinted that his business interests in Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia do have political import—for example when he expressed admiration for the crackdown engineered by Turkey’s president Erdogan after a failed coup attempt.  Since Trump consistently applauds strong-armed rulers on one hand and is so far unwilling to create a true firewall between his family and his assets on the other, conflicts of interest involving authoritarian regimes are more than theoretical.

Trump gives no sign of separating personal business dealings from his upcoming job as president.  Far from it, he says “only the crooked media makes this a big deal.”  He recently entertained three Indian businessmen who are using the Trump brand to overcharge on apartment high-rises near Mumbai (Bombay).  In all, Trump may have as much as $1.5 billion invested in India, in “at least sixteen partnerships or corporations” (www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/trumps-extensive-deals-in-india-raise-conflict-of-interest-concerns/2016/11/21/3313319e-3f04-44fa-a28a-c297d891465c_story.html).  He allowed his daughter Ivanka, vice-president of acquisitions in the Trump Organization, to sit in on a meeting with the visiting Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo.  He has urged Britain’s Brexit leaders to speak out in opposition to offshore wind farms near his Scottish golf course—because they obscure the view!  And no sooner did he do that than Trump tweeted that Nigel Forage of the UK Independence Party would make a great UK ambassador to the US!  Finally, as is well known, some of Trump’s top advisers—Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Flynn—have extensive overseas financial interests that could also be compromising.

Trump’s spokespersons call his business meetings informal when in fact they are private and, according to the Indian business men, include talk of expanding the Trump business empire.  This secretiveness is also worrisome: It walls off his business dealings (and much else besides) from public view.  Thus has The Art of the Deal already become central to Trump’s policy process.

Does this incoming president have any constraints on his clearly unethical, if not outright illegal, behavior?  Will the Republican leadership in Congress continue to wink and nod as Trump erases the line between public and private activity? Will Trump ever be compelled to open the books on his finances?  Is the Trump interest equivalent to the national interest?

(Update: On November 29 Trump tweeted that he would be holding a family press conference to announce that he would be “leaving my business in total” so that he can devote all his time to being president.  But he did not say he would completely divest his ownership interests, either by selling them off or creating a blind trust run by an independent person. Trump referred instead to no longer being involved in “business operations,” which is a far cry from ending ownership.  And his statement also leaves unresolved the question of his family members’ role in his administration while they also manage the Trump Organization.)

Back in the 1950s “Engine” Charlie Wilson, who went from head of General Motors to secretary of defense, said he thought that “what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” Trump has taken that idea one step further, into the troubling realm in which US policy toward a country’s repression of human rights, civil war, aggression, nuclear program, or violation of trade agreements will be weighed against the impact on the Trump Organization’s holdings.

(Note: On the constitutional questions that arise once Trump assumes the office, see www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/politics/donald-trump-conflict-of-interest.html.)

 

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3 Comments

  1. Another timely and thoughtful post, Mel. His businesses may turn out to be the next president’s greatest vulnerability based on a simple barometer; how quickly and forcefully the president-elect has been pushing back on this issue over the last 7 days. I believe that his inner circle has known all along that the list of conflicts of interest is many pages long and will result in an steady accumulation of media scrutiny and legal attacks. They may be calculating that he can do what he has always done: use legal maneuvers to prolong legal resolution until the issue is moot, and keep the media busy with sound bites and bigger stories so these issues are swamped in the news cycle. I’m hoping that this approach will (finally) have met it’s match in an enraged post-election progressive voice and a more cohesive and effective Democratic Party apparatus. Although David Brooks was not explicit about his reasoning, my guess is that this was one of the main reasons for his prediction that Trump with either be impeached or resign within the year. Let’s (as Captain Picard would say) “Make it so.”

  2. Great one Mel. I think the long run greatest threats are his deliberate undermining the EU and giving the green light to China for their global trade deals….. These together with his warm relations with Russia and dictators in general are dangerous to say the least. Giving a green light to Israel to go to war against Iran then getting involved will destabilize the region for decades and create an insurance policy of continuous war. Last but not least his racist alienation of Latin America speaks for itself.

    ________________________________
    ROBERT WISE, Associate Principal
    503.278.3454 | http://www.coganowens.com

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