Living With Donald Trump’s Conflicts

He can’t annul his ‘brand.’ And, anyway, voters knew whom they were electing.

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

The then-candidate visits Trump International Golf Links at Balmedie, Scotland, June 25. Photo: Zuma Press


To imagine that Donald Trump, in order to eliminate conflicts of interest, would or could cash out his stake in his business empire is entirely unrealistic.

He wouldn’t do it, not least because he would practically have to annul the Trump brand, even stop his children from using it—which he can’t legally or ethically do. The Trump brand is a large share of his business value. It’s what generates licensing fees from products and buildings around the world. Who knows how its value will perform now in the U.S., but its international appeal already appears to have been boosted by his election victory.

He wouldn’t do it, and probably couldn’t if he wanted to. At least not in a way that would truly free him from being dogged by charges of conflict of interest—which can be expected in any case to follow his every action, nationally and internationally, no matter how seemingly remote from the interests of a condo-hotel-lifestyle brand.

It might be modestly helpful, and practical, for his children to borrow a large sum of money from banks or junk bond investors to buy out dad’s stake. Then he could stick his own cash in a blind trust. His children could claim to exclude him from management decisions and consultations.

But even if it were true, that would not deter critics and activist-connivers from hourly charging him with self-dealing on any and every public question that could conceivably affect the Trump businesses now controlled by his children.

This, we ought to admit to ourselves, was simply part of the bargain when voters elected Mr. Trump, in full view of his business interests. His business interests are how voters know him—and know him better and longer than they ever did Barack Obama. A search of Dow Jones’s Factiva newspaper database finds that, up to the day before he announced for president, Mr. Obama was featured in 38,282 published reports. Before Mr. Trump announced, he was featured in 224,569.

Is the criterion now for supporting President Trump or accepting the legitimacy of his actions to require of him a basically impossible task of de-conflicting himself from the Trump family business? If so, that would have been a criterion to stipulate before Election Day, not after.

Which brings us to the real question: Can President Trump function under these circumstances? We have our doubts. It would not surprise us if, having set the country on a new path and seen his efforts rewarded by voters with a GOP win in the 2018 midterms, Mr. Trump abruptly resigned and handed off to Mike Pence, saying the Trumpian revolution is in good hands but the insoluble hassle of his family business makes it advisable for him to retreat from elective office.

That’s one possibility: We’d like to think another is that the public will simply accept Mr. Trump’s conflicts of interest and rely on publicity—sunshine—to keep any exploitative temptation in check.

Mr. Trump can help by how he conducts his presidency. In encouraging fashion, the world seems to be interpreting his election as a break point. Suddenly the stalemate that saw central banks, since 2008, engaging in ridiculous exertions so politicians could persevere in orthodox (and increasingly self-defeating) tax, regulatory and welfare policies shows signs of shattering.

It reminds us once again how much politics and policy are guided by unthinking momentum and entrenched interest groups. It also explains the moral panic on the left, where something far more important than liberals’ favored policy mix is under threat—their self-image is. The idea that they are entitled, because of the pattern of slogans they’ve memorized, to assume superiority.

Mr. Trump ought to recognize that a bigger part of his job is his positive effect on national morale.

Meanwhile, the greatest Trump danger, quite unrelated to any fiddling on his own part, is that his administration will swirl down a drain of cronyism.

Mr. Trump’s idea of “renegotiating” our trade agreements can only become a special-interest bazaar to dwarf even Obama’s green-energy piñata. Steve Bannon’s plan to throw $1 trillion of infrastructure “up against the wall and see if it sticks” will provoke a crony-capitalist pigfest.

Foreign and domestic business interests will be lining up to partner with the Trump children believing it buys favor with the Trump administration. It can’t be otherwise on our human planet.

That’s why a better idea is to emphasize the good-government reforms for which there is a strong, decades-long consensus: Make the tax code flatter and less loophole-filled. Reduce the regulation that metastasizes rent-seeking across our economy, including those Obama green-energy handouts. Reform health care to elevate market forces in making sure patients get value for money.

Voters’ sense of emergency—the need to make America great again—plus a Trump focus on long-tail reforms will help Americans remember why they elected Mr. Trump in the first place even as the left tries to assail him every minute as some kind of self-dealing plutocrat.

0 comentarios:

Publicar un comentario