As tempting as it may be to once again be horrified by Donald Trump’s Twitter ramblings — the most recent having demonstrated that the president-elect likes his Broadway performers to sing and dance but not participate in democracy, and the rapt attention he pays to Alec Baldwin, his Saturday Night Live doppelganger — the man’s weekend tweets were hardly his worst transgressions of late. Indeed, it’s gotten to the point where these SNL-worthy moments of outrageousness seem more calculated showmanship than misstep, perhaps even a chance to distract his critics from his far more troubling, if less overt, misbehavior.
We’re not talking about the jaw-dropping nomination of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as attorney general, the 69-year-old Alabama senator deemed too racist during the Reagan era to be a federal judge. Yes, America, that’s the man who could be enforcing voting rights and civil rights for the next four years. (Or not enforcing them, that is.)
Nope. The real doozy of the weekend escaped most public notice. It seems that while we were all debating whether it breaks decorum to caution audience members at “Hamilton” to stop booing and then politely ask Vice President-Elect Mike Pence to be kind to minorities, The New York Times was reporting that Trump met last week with developers of Trump Towers Pune, a high-profile pair of 23-story towers containing $2 million condos in which the Trump organization has invested its name.
In other words, the soon-to-be leader of the free world is making decisions about his business investments in India — not just Trump Towers Pune but a planned 75-story Trump-branded tower in Mumbai and perhaps other future real estate deals as well — between meetings with potential cabinet members. According to the Times report, these projects are worth in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion, Trump’s largest investments outside North America.
Such collaborations offer a dizzying number of opportunities for conflicts of interest. A U.S. president is in an extraordinary position to provide special favors to foreign countries or business owners or even to affect global markets in a manner from which he or she could profit. What foreign government wouldn’t want to sink its claws into the Trump empire and make the nation’s chief executive ultimately beholden to it? Can anyone say Vladimir Putin?
What makes this development all the more stunning is that Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for not fully distancing herself from the Clinton Foundation _ a nonprofit charitable organization _ when she served as secretary of state. There is even speculation that an Attorney General Sessions will pursue a criminal prosecution of Clinton. Trump once called the Clinton Foundation a “criminal enterprise.” What should he call his own business interests, which have already been far more compromised and where the stakes are so much higher?
Make no mistake, federal law doesn’t specifically call for a president to divest his holdings. But for someone who vowed to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C., Trump is certainly doing a fair impression of a swamp creature himself. It was bad enough that, as a candidate, he failed to disclose his tax returns, ignoring decades of precedent. Now he is literally making business decisions on which, as president, he could directly profit.
Has this nation really sunk so low that we are comfortable with a president with his own profit-driven agenda, like he was royalty or maybe a third-world despot? The only workable solution would be for Trump to put his holdings in a blind trust _ although he clearly doesn’t quite get what that means, as he’s been talking about having his children run his business empire in his place. The whole point of “blindness” is to not know where one’s money is invested or have any influence on its trustees. If his kids’ names are simply put on Trump Tower’s title, he’s accomplished neither.
If Trump doesn’t somehow recuse himself from anything to do with his holdings, foreign or domestic, the issue will haunt his presidency like Marley’s ghost. Negotiating anti-terrorism strategies with Pakistan? How might the government in India respond? Want to make changes to Dodd-Frank banking laws? Trump’s real estate lenders may have something to say. Even the most innocent conversations may be seen as grossly compromised if one party has ties to Trump investments or any kind. Remember that “constitutional crisis” involving the next president that Trump warned about during the campaign? He may have gotten the target wrong but be proven prescient yet.