There are sharp differences between the political parties in many areas, but one principle on which there has been a longstanding agreement is that the presidency should not be used as a marketing platform for the president’s personal business interests. Donald Trump seems determined to break with this principle.
The basic point is simple: when you enter the White House you put your assets into a blind trust. This way when the president makes decisions in various areas of foreign and domestic policy, he or she does not know whether they will personally profit from them. The idea is that we want the president to make decisions based on whether they are good for the country, not whether they will fatten their pocketbook.
Presidents of both parties dating back to Lyndon Johnson followed the practice of putting their assets into a blind trust. Richard Nixon did it, Gerald Ford did it, as did Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Both President Bushes put their assets into a blind trust. And President Reagan put his assets into a blind trust.
None of these presidents had any problem with the idea that they should not be in a position to know whether their actions were directly helping or hurting them financially. Apparently, Donald Trump thinks he is different.
The potential for conflicts is very real and we are seeing it even now in the transition. Last weekend, Donald Trump met with Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan. His daughter Ivanka sat in on the meeting. Japan is now debating whether to allow casino gambling. This is an area where Trump’s business enterprises could have considerable interest, since he has a stake in many casinos around the world.
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Did legalized gambling come up at the meeting? Would Donald Trump be inclined to be more favorable towards Abe if they allowed him to open a casino in Japan? Would he not press an issue because he is worried that Abe could retaliate against his casino business?
The same would apply with every other foreign head of state. For example, Turkey has a president, Recep Erdogan, who is looking increasingly like a dictator. In response to a failed coup last summer, he has arrested a number of opposition leaders and purged universities and even high schools of teachers who are thought to be political opponents.
It turns out that Trump has a stake in a number of resorts in Turkey. Will this affect his attitude toward Erdogan?
These are the sorts of issues that will arise all the time with Trump in the White House. And, there are at least as many on the domestic side involving everything from tax reform to education policy.
Every other president was prepared to put aside their personal business interests when they entered the White House. It is a job requirement; it’s as simple as that. Anyone who cares about the integrity of the U.S. government and that the presidency not be used as a platform for personal enrichment should be demanding that Trump follow longstanding precedent by selling off his holdings and have them placed in a blind trust.