The argument of this post is simple. Under the administration of Donald Trump, taxpayer dollars are being used to openly benefit private individuals — and that is a bad thing. It is strange that anyone should have to point that out. But in a political environment so warped by partisanship and animus for the other side, it bears repeating. In short, it is a problem that taxpayer dollars are being used for private gain for (at least) five reasons:
- Corporations, banks, and foreign governments may be able to manipulate the Trump administration into taking action that is against the interests of taxpayers.*
- People in the Trump administration may, generally, take action that negatively impacts taxpayers in order to enrich themselves.
- There aren’t a lot to spare. The national debt has gone up $300,000 since you started reading this.
- Most people think it is important. In a recent poll, 77% of people said it was “important” or “essential” that there should be no private gains from public office.
- It may have long-term selection effects. If you buy the assumption that Donald Trump is benefiting more from public office than any other modern president, then it is possible his presidency is setting a dangerous precedent. That is, other wealthy business people (enter Mark Zuckerberg and at least one of the Shark Tank people) will see that he was successful lining his pockets, and enter politics with ulterior motives. In other words, a Trump administration that gets away with corruption encourages corrupt candidates (“bad” types) to run.
Examples of this troubling trend abound. In fact, they are so frequent, it is difficult to keep track of them. Recently, the State Department was caught promoting Mar-a-la-go, the President’s private business enterprise, on a publicly owned webpage. Trump’s schedule is designed to increase the value of his golf courses, hotels and resorts. In the first hundred days of his presidency, over 30 were spent visiting those private enterprises. The visits themselves are so frequent, the Secret Service leases space directly from the President. That means, literally, taxpayer dollars are going directly into the President’s business enterprises. Following the President’s decision to no-longer refer (falsely) to China as a currency manipulator, Trump was granted 38 new trademarks in China. Following a dinner where Ivanka Trump sat next to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Ivanka was granted new trademarks for her products in China.
Moreover, Mr. Trump’s past business interests seem to govern American foreign policy. After Turkish President Recep Erdogan successfully abolished many constitutional checks on his authority in a referendum conducted during a state of emergency, Mr. Trump praised him. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted to murdering his own citizens, runs an anti-drug program that condemns offenders to death without trial, and is most famous in the US for calling Barack Obama’s mother a whore. Mr. Trump is inviting him to the White House — at taxpayers’ expense. Erdogan helped celebrate the opening of Trump Towers in Istanbul in 2012. Duterte’s official diplomatic envoy — in a remarkable coincidence — is also the man building Trump Towers Manila.
Since the start of then-candidate Trump’s campaign, it’s been common for pundits and commentators to point to events like the ones I’ve listed above and say: “This is not normal!” That statement has been part of a seemingly endless trickle of news that can easily make the same pundits and commentators hyperventilate. But that statement is fundamentally vacuous and flawed. Normal-ness is not a standard I want to use to judge elected officials.
So when I write that the president is using his office to openly — even gleefully — enrich himself, his family, and his associates, this is not just abnormal. This is wrong. It demonstrates a brazen lack of integrity and disregard for public service. It is something that should upset anyone who pays their taxes and follows the rules. It is something that should cause decent people to abandon partisan loyalties and demand more.
*Note: Here, I have in mind the “median” taxpayer — whose interests sometimes diverge from the other entities listed.
**Note: a shorter title to this post might be, simply “corruption.” But that word is thrown around — without evidence and often primarily for political reasons. In contrast, what is currently happening under President Trump’s administration is verified and very observable. His administration is not even attempting to hide it. This, of course, implies that he does not think it is wrong — or believes he can get away with it. It does not really matter what the President thinks, however — either way, all of the points above stand.