Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
With Donald Trump as President, American integrity is on sale – get it while it lasts.
This week’s exhibit: Donald Trump Jr. is in India, mixing political business and personal enrichment. Trump the younger is set to give a foreign policy speech and hawk Trump-branded apartments near Delhi, with one of the selling points being “a conversation and dinner” with Trump Jr.
The relatively small number of Indians wealthy enough to afford a luxury apartment aren’t just getting the chance to live in places bedecked with the vulgar, gold-plated Trump name (the Trumps didn’t invest in the project, just licensed their name to it). They’re also getting access to the President’s son – who far from being a disinterested party, avidly inserts himself into debates over his father’s presidency and policies – in exchange for enriching the Trump family.
How did we get to this deeply troubling point? This isn’t just a business trip for the acting head of the President’s business empire. Trump Jr. and his brother Eric Trump are supposed to be heading the organization while their father is in office. The two are not meant to be enmeshed in the administration.
So why is Junior planning to give a speech about Indo-Pacific relations, appearing on the bill just behind Indian President Narendra Modi? It defies logic to suggest that he isn’t speaking as a representative of the American administration, which makes it all the more egregious that he’s leveraging his political access to sell apartment units.
It’s not just Trump Jr. who profits from this: the President, who has only temporarily stepped away from the organization that bears his name, does, too. That creates a series of ethical concerns, especially because the President has not divested himself from his empire — far from it.
Painful and embarrassing though it may be to so many Americans, around the world, the word “Trump” means one thing: The American presidency. When the President’s son and the President’s company sell real estate, or anything else for that matter, with the President’s name on it, they are putting the honor of that office up for sale. And they cheapen it.
They also put American interests at risk. Ethics rules and the unwritten norms by which most previous presidents have operated don’t exist just to maintain America’s reputation, or to prevent the country from being associated with gold toilets and tacky faux-French detailing. They exist so that the president, and other elected officials, put the benefits to the American people ahead of any personal interests.
Perhaps, when faced with a choice between helping more Americans or personally enriching himself, Trump would indeed put the American people first. He hasn’t done that in the past, but even if you believe he would, the rules and norms aren’t made to guide the most morally upstanding person in the room (a designation one imagines has never been laid on the President, but let’s put that aside). Ethics rules are made so politicians aren’t in the position of getting to choose between the people and their bank accounts, and so there isn’t even the appearance of impropriety or self-dealing.
Donald Trump has ignored all that, choosing instead to tarnish America’s image abroad and compromise the integrity of his office.
Americans deserve a President who will advocate for America, and won’t be swayed in his foreign policy decision-making by his personal financial ties, brokered by Junior. Consider, for example: What if the same thing that’s best for the nation could hurt Donald Trump’s bottom line? Do we trust that a man whose son is quite literally making himself available to foreign leaders in exchange for pricey apartments will make the morally righteous choice there?
“They are auctioning off access to the first family in a foreign land,” Norman Eisen, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told CNNMoney on Monday. “What is to stop a foreign national with interests before the US government from asking Don Jr. to raise some issue or concern with his father?”
Trump wants to make America great again. You don’t do that by selling her cheap.