Frida Ghitis: The conflicts of interest for a Trump presidency are rolling along like an unstoppable freight train
Ghitis outlines five key areas where the transition has revealed some worrying signs for a Trump presidency
Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
People everywhere have been wondering what kind of president Donald Trump will make. Will his shocking statements during the campaign turn out to have been political theater, or a sign of what’s to come?
Well, a couple of weeks into the transition, there’s much to suggest that what we saw was no act, and that President Trump will implement policies that embody many of the most disturbing traits and statements displayed by candidate Trump.
The list is long, but here are five of the most troubling things we are already seeing:
A welcome mat for extremism. Last week, America’s reinvigorated neo-Nazis held a jubilant gathering to celebrate the rise of their beloved Trump. Snapping arms in the Nazi salute, some declared “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”
By victory, of course, they mean the incoming Trump presidency. The group’s leader, Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, has reportedly called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing,” with a view to bringing America back to its white, European roots.
Spencer and his ilk describe themselves as the “alt-right,” a deceptively anodyne term that masks an ugly white supremacism. Indeed, Spencer has quoted Nazi propaganda about Jews, the media, and others, and when he called on the crowd to use “the original German,” he wasn’t talking about the language of Goethe. They shouted “Lugenpresse,” the Nazi term for critics in the media, meaning “lying press.”
We don’t know how Trump feels about his most distasteful backers. In a meeting with The New York Times on Tuesday he made an attempt to distance his campaign from extremists. But there is no question the election awakened waves of bigotry around the country. Yes, his spokesman issued a statement saying Trump condemns racism. But why is it the President-elect can find the time to personally criticize “Saturday Night Live” and “Hamilton” via Twitter, yet struggles to squeeze in condemnation of some of the ugliest talk imaginable about minorities and women in America?
A hotbed for conflicts of interest. Trump’s failure to release his tax returns and the countless lawsuits against him cast a shadow over his campaign. But the Trump presidency risks bringing unprecedented levels of corruption to the US government.
It is troubling enough to know that Trump is likely to allow his children to run the business rather than setting up a blind trust. But he is already including these same children in top-level meetings and calls with world leaders. In addition, he has taken time off from building a government to meet his partners from India, and suggested Tuesday that he may have lobbied Scotland against a wind farm near his golf course. And then there is Trump’s hotel in Washington, which has reportedly hired a new “director of diplomatic sales.” Already, foreign dignitaries appear to see stays as a way of currying favor with the President-elect.
The conflicts of interest are rolling along like an unstoppable freight train headed for a collision with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.
But the issue goes beyond any actual efforts by Trump to enrich himself. A sense of corruption at the highest levels would be disastrous for America. And the truth is that Trump apparently doesn’t understand the problem. He tweeted that we all knew about his businesses around the world, and that only the “crooked media” minds. On Tuesday, he allegedly told The New York Times: “The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
Free press, free speech under attack. Attacking the media was a crowd pleaser at campaign rallies, and the undermining of professional journalists looks set to become a primary strategy under chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Trump, clearly, has little respect for the First Amendment. When asked about his commitment to it on Tuesday by The New York Times, he claimed, “I think you’ll be happy.” But the day before, in a most inappropriate use of his position, he was relentlessly attacking the media, including individual outlets, in what seemed to be an effort to intimidate potential critics and undercut their credibility.
Donald Trump is about to become the world’s most powerful man, yet he has busied himself attacking television comics, award-winning professional journalists and Broadway actors. If he didn’t want to be criticized then he ran for the wrong job. A man with such a low tolerance for criticism is a threat to everyone’s freedom of speech.
A hazy view of the world. It was easy to overlook candidate Trump’s simplistic and contradictory foreign policy pronouncements. But now that he has been elected, the world is on edge, especially as Trump’s objectives for America are astonishingly hazy.
With Trump seemingly prepared to throw in America’s lot with Russia, it seems possible the biggest winners will be the most dangerous regimes. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Trump may be a “natural ally.” The Syrian people, meanwhile, are being massacred by a Syrian regime propped up by Iran, Russia and the terrorist group Hezbollah. Trump, who says he wants to focus only on destroying ISIS, may end up throwing America’s weight behind the axis of destruction in Syria. But if he helps Assad win, he will only have strengthened Iran, a country he claims he wants to get tougher with.
Views on the Trump Transition
Meantime, in Europe, America’s allies are wondering how much he respects NATO, the alliance that has underpinned global security since World War II.
Turning back the clock on the environment. Trump’s pre-election statements on the environment could not have been more alarming. Trump has dismissed climate change as a Chinese invention aimed at hurting America. True, during his New York Times interview he allowed that there is “some connectivity,” between human activity and the climate. But the man overseeing the transition for the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, heads an organization The New York Times notes is funded “in part by the coal industry,” reminiscent of the tobacco-funded think tanks that used to challenge the idea that cigarettes are harmful. Ebell, who like Trump vows to dismantle environmental protections, is a climate denier. But if temperatures rise, he wrote, fewer people will die from the cold, and people will rather enjoy the balmy weather.
Of course, it is early yet. Trump has consistently shown a willingness to abandon past pledges, and the weight of the job could change the man. But so far, the signs are not good. Trump has already given America – and the world – plenty to worry about before he even takes office.