As much as Republicans groaned about Donald Trump, they were always destined to fall in line once he actually had power. They are still falling.
There is, I admit, a certain shooting-fish-in-the-barrel aspect to critiquing Wall Street Journal op-eds, particularly if you do not believe it is fine for Poison Corp. to pump poison directly into public school water fountains for the sake of increasing earnings per share. Too easy. For this reason we often let them slide. But people—rich people!—still read this shit. And sometimes something comes along that is worthy of notice. (Noticing that it is a piece of shit).
Republicans: the business types, right? The party of law and order, right? The party that follows the rules. Ehhh... but now there’s Donald Trump. May we present to you today’s extraordinary reading experience, “A President Is Always Conflicted,” by Holman Jenkins.
The person holding the most powerful elected office in the world should not own a for-profit business on the side because this would be the Platonic Ideal of conflicts of interest. A modest proposition? Not any more!
By definition, everything a president does is, to his critics, bad public policy. If Mr. Trump had no business interests, his opponents would still see his policies as self-interested attempts to curry favor with some particular voting bloc, donor group, logrolling legislation faction, future benefactors of his presidential library, or journalists and biographers whom he hopes will pen glowing tributes.
In what sense, then, are his business conflicts a meaningful complication of the necessary suspicion that follows all presidential actions?
Great question. The answer is that business ownership creates direct financial conflict with a president’s decision-making process. Not suspicion of conflict—actual conflict. Good talk. Are we done here?
Mr. Trump, with his forthcoming Dec. 15 press conference, promises a “solution.” Reason tells us any solution can only be ceremonial. If he transfers control to his children, he will still own a big stake in the Trump business. If he sells out to his children entirely, he will still care about their future success.
If he dismantles the business, disinherits his children and retires the Trump brand (which he would never do, since the cost would be extravagant), he would still wake up to find his every action assailed by opponents.
Aha... so as long as anyone is involved in politics, a field in which their actions might be “assailed by opponents,” they should be free to ignore the most basic ethical practices and run the world’s most powerful nation as a true banana republic in which the political leader can and will easily use his public office for direct personal gain.
If anyone is likely to yell at you about anything at any time in the future, you are free to disregard all common sense rules. Get it???
On the flip side, at least the press and political opposition will find it easy to police Mr. Trump’s business conflicts compared with many other conflicts that presidents are heir to. If he sells out the U.S. national interest in dealings with the Philippines because his name embellishes a Trump Tower in Manila, the media and critics both Democratic and Republican will not fail to notice and turn the fact to his disadvantage.
Conflicts of interest are good because people can notice them.
Let’s grow up. In our democratic and interest group-mediated political system, the public expects politicians to be self-interested. The public also hopes and trusts, because political actions will be subjected to withering observation and criticism, that the net result will tend toward the public good.
The public’s deepest interest is that the recursive game keeps going. There’s another election coming, another legislative vote, a new interest group or voting bloc making its voice felt.
Speaking as a member of the public, I’d say my “deepest interest” is not that the “game keeps going,” but rather that my most powerful elected leaders make decisions in the interest of the public rather than their gaudy real estate empires. But people can disagree I guess!
Donald Trump, with his Twitter habits, with his detachment from party, is a new kettle of fish. Many of the beholders now shrieking like schoolchildren are simply outraged at the unfamiliar. Here’s a modest suggestion: Why not widen our tolerance a bit? Why not allow that Americans have the right to pick a business owner as president? Let’s see how their choice plays out.
Brazen corruption isn’t bad; it’s just unfamiliar. Why not try being more tolerant of bad things? Instead of not doing something bad, let’s see how it plays out.
Nice column jackass.