Attacking President-elect Trump on the basis of his expected violations of the conflict of interest laws provides the anti-Trump crowd a convenient outlet to vent their anger and frustration over his election. But as the attacks continue to pop up in op-eds and on cable and be smuggled into straight news reporting, those launching them might bear two things in mind: the attacks will surely further divide the nation and, even worse for the anti-Trumpers, make it more likely Trump will pursue the policies he espouses that they so adamantly reject.
As explained here last week, the conflict of interest laws do not apply to presidents; suggestions that Trump should follow them even though he is exempt make no sense.
Take the “solution” of a blind trust being peddled by so many critics. Were Trump to establish one in accordance with Office of Government Ethics rules, he would still have to recuse himself from any decision affecting the offending assets in the trust until the trustee certified they had been sold off. What if the trustee hadn’t sold off his substantial portfolio by Inauguration Day? Would that mean he would have to recuse himself from decisions affecting it until the assets were? Who should serve as acting president until they are sold? Which section of the Constitution authorizes a president to delegate his powers under these circumstances?
The conflict of interest laws were passed because experience showed that lower level government employees sometimes did not have the strength of character to resist the temptation to award contracts to friends and relatives or to otherwise put the national interest above their personal financial interests. But no contracting officer is ever put to the ultimate character test: asking the electorate to trust him or her to make decisions affecting its economic well-being and security.
Donald Trump was and passed, even if only barely. The conflict of interest attacks are thus entirely misplaced: the voters have put their trust in him for the next four years. Those who already say he can’t be trusted, before any evidence in support of the claim is in, are simply contesting the passing grade he eked out November 8. The argument is that if he doesn’t establish a blind trust, sell off his assets, keep his children or businesses at arm’s length, or whatever else critics have believe is necessary for him avoid conflicts of interest, he can’t be trusted to impartially decide matters of state. Any pledge or promise Trump makes to ignore personal financial considerations when making them is in their view disingenuous if not a down-right lie.
Attacking Trump on conflict of interest grounds surely makes the anti-Trump crew feel good (see Rachel Maddow’s November 16 broadcast for a fine example). But arguments, often put in the most vitriolic of terms, that Trump didn’t merit a passing grade on the November 8 character test are likely to further anger those who thought otherwise. Nor does it seem that implying again and again that Trump’s character is so weak that greed will make him incapable of separating his financial interests from the national interest will push him to reconsider deporting illegal immigrants, cozying up to Putin, or pursuing any of the other policies the conflict of interest attackers find so objectionable. Indeed, repeatedly suggesting he is a lying, greedy SOB would seem likely to drive him into the arms of those rooting for implementation of all the terribles promised during the campaign.
Isn’t bringing citizens together and dissuading Trump from implementing his most questionable policies more important than launching “feel good” ad hominem attacks on him? The answer would seem so obvious as to not bear stating. But in the superheated anti-Trump world (comparable to that of the alt-right’s?), the question itself will likely never even be raised.