So with his transition in full swing we’re starting to get an idea of how Trump works. It isn’t pretty. He’s been accused of bending the rules of ethics so far they’re reaching the point they’re meaningless. He wants his kids to run his business, making the term “blind trust” really mean something more like, “cover your eyes and pretend you’re not looking trust.” He’s tweeted who he wants England to send as their ambassador. He’s taken the opportunity to berate media executives at a closed door meeting. There is lots of talk of him using the opportunities afforded him as president-elect to further his business interests. This should not be a surprise.
As best I can tell, real estate development requires some level of corruption. Not necessarily outright bribes or blackmail, but coercion and skirting laws seem to be common. The big projects that everyone publicly sees are the end result of months or years of backroom deals that may or may not be legal, but probably aren’t ethical. That’s probably fine. Real estate developers are private citizens and hence have a certain privacy we all believe is a good idea. The president is not a private citizen. While everything he does isn’t out in the open, it’s scrutinized far more than anyone else. So even legal actions can look far more sinister than they are. Witness Clinton’s email server for proof of that. Had she been anyone else, no one would have noticed she had a server in her house. But she was running for president, and had been for years. Everything is scrutinized.
So what does this mean for Trump’s presidency? It’s so hard to predict what this guy is going to do, and how people will react, but history can guide us somewhat. Barack Obama was and remains a center left guy. He was never the huge liberal many thought he was going to be. That was a problem, not because his policies weren’t liberal enough, but because his opponents treated them as if they were. He was attacked in a reflexive sort of way that meant we couldn’t have an honest discussion about his policies. Conservative attacked them, forcing liberals to defend them, regardless of whether or not anyone actually agreed with them. With Trump, those attacks will be justified in a way Obama’s never really were.
Trump’s opponents are treating him as a corrupt guy just out to enrich himself and his family. Ignoring the question of whether or not that’s true, that means that everything he does that fits that story will be out in the open and scrutinized in ways the presidency has never seen in our lifetimes. We will be forced to ask questions about the presidency and the role of government we have never asked before. Is it ok for the president to have his kids run his businesses? Is it ok to appoint cabinet members with no experience or are actively fighting the departments they’re going to be in charge of? Can the president ignore decades of diplomatic precedent for reasons only apparent to him? I truly do not know. And if we don’t like the answers to these questions, we will fight.