So now that Trump’s transition is in full swing, we’re getting an idea of how Trump’s mind works. It appears to be the mind of a real estate developer. Big shock, right?
People who build things for a living are going to take a certain view of things that others simply won’t see. Let’s say you’ve just built an office building and you’re looking to lease out space. You also happen to own a few businesses. So you move those businesses from your competitor’s buildings to your own. That has the effect of lowering their income and raising yours. You use that knowledge to buy your competitor’s buildings, knowing that they’re motivated to sell because they’re not making as much income as they thought, then, once you’ve bought, you let them fall into disrepair, knowing that the tenants will move into the building with your name on it. Is that legal? Is it ethical? That’s a vast oversimplification of the world of real estate. Unless you have an incredibly narrow focus in your business, it seems to me that conflicts of interest are built into the real estate development world.
We’re seeing those conflicts play out on a geopolitical level now. Trump is taking calls with heads of state who have the power to let his projects move forward or stop them. Trump owns a tiny part of the North Dakota Access Pipeline that is currently being protested, and violently repressed. Will his decisions here be for the best of the country, or his pockets? How will we know? How will he know? The thing about conflicts of interest is that they don’t have to be conscious. Just having the option to enrich yourself is going to influence your decision. So now we see where our system’s weaknesses are.
Trump has tweeted that the president can’t have a conflict of interest. Legally, he may be right. Ethically, of course he’s wrong. But even though he does, what can we do about it? The only way to get rid of a president is if he’s committed an actual crime, and even then you need to clear a very high bar of evidence before there’s even a chance. There are no other punishments we can inflict on a president. The constitution doesn’t really address what to do in this situation. And it’s damned hard to amend the constitution. That’s the problem. Ultimately, our republic rests on the constitution as our highest legal document. But there are so many points where it’s vague. My favorite example of this is the 2nd amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Ignoring that the word arms isn’t clearly defined, the sentence itself is completely unclear. Does this apply to militias or individuals? It specifies both. Can an individual form a militia, or can only the government do it? The real problem is that our culture looks wildly different than what the founders thought it would. We’re not a culture of farmers who only come together when we have to. We’re one system that needs to think and behave as a unit, not just individuals. What was obvious to them simply may not apply here.
One of the biggest problems with Trump is that he is changing the rules even further. We already live in a world in which the founders never envisioned, yet we’re still ruled by their legal documents. Trump is changing it further, in ways I don’t believe any but the most radical academics even speculated about. To say the least, we are entering uncharted waters. And the person leading us is a real estate developer. Who knows where we’ll end up.