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.
This week, ProPublica reported that the Trump Organization ordered 12-inch replicas of the presidential seal to be used as tee markers at Trump golf courses. To review: A private, for-profit company – one where the President’s name appears everywhere you look, and one that continues to direct money, to the President’s benefit, despite his official position – is trying to further cash in by using a symbol that represents the chief servant of the American people?
That Trump and his clan have already profited handsomely from his position as President (again, a position of public service) is well-documented. This time, at least, it might be a violation of federal law: The law states that the seal can only be used for official government business “except as authorized under regulations promulgated by the President and published in the Federal Register” (my italics). Paying customers marking the tee at Trump golf clubs does not meet that standard.
It would be another striking example of a President not just keen to profit off this once-vaunted office, but so attention-hungry and egomaniacal that he has turned what used to be the most respected position in the country into a cut-rate reality TV show, Trump product placement included.
More than a year into his presidency, he needs to get serious about his ethical obligations to the country he leads, and should abandon all such self-promotion – beginning with the ridiculously specific co-opting of a presidential symbol … for presidential branding of his golf greens
But again and again – to the ongoing outrage of government ethics officials – he has shown he is happy to blur the lines between the office of the presidency and the Trump Organization. The hotels he continues to slap his name on in exchange for a fee, the tacky country clubs where business associates and lobbyists have queued up for membership (and access), the gilded condos ripe for sale to buyers with an agenda; he isn’t just content having them say TRUMP in giant letters, he wants them associated with the American presidency.
So what if that cheapens the office itself and degrades America’s image around the world?
The presidency, in short, has offered him a huge branding opportunity and a big stage on which he is the star. “Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore - except your President (just kidding, of course)!”
He wasn’t kidding (of course).
He seems to believe that when you’re President, they really “let you do it; you can do anything” – build your personal wealth by exploiting the office, tell blatant lies to the American people, start trade wars because you’re bored and not getting as much attention as Black Panther.
The shocking part is that he’s right: The press covers it valiantly, but the sheer volume of absurd, insulting and egregious acts has left the public largely inured to Trump insanity. His fans love it – Trump has turned politics into exciting, chaotic, trashy television. His party goes along with it – some cringing unconvincingly – but mainly leaves him alone, so long as Republicans can count on him to keep them in power.
His opponents are dumbfounded and don’t know how to play by these new rules – what do you do when someone is so thoroughly unqualified, and breaks so many of the rules, and yet faces no consequences?
So, the once respected seal of our nation may now be down in the dirt.
A fitting corruption of a symbol for a man whose own family crest, which some Trump golf courses currently use as tee markers, is a fake, and for a President who has spent a quarter of his days in office on the golf course, costing taxpayers some $6 million.
The attempt to bring presidential seal tee markers to Trump golf courses may be a federal offense (not to mention a crime against decency and good judgment), but at least it is right on brand.