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Trump defies presidential standards

Melvin B. Miller | 1/18/2017, 12:30 p.m.
During the recent campaign for president, critics often expressed concern that Donald Trump was not presidential enough. For many people ...
“Didn’t Trump always say the election was rigged?” Photo by Dan Drew

During the recent campaign for president, critics often expressed concern that Donald Trump was not presidential enough. For many people a certain dignity and decorum were required for the job. Nonetheless, Trump understood the necessity of appealing to the “ignored” and “overlooked.” He did not want to be identified as one of the “elite” who looked down upon the working class folks. Unfortunately, many of Trump’s constituents tolerate a laxity in the requirements for president that could damage democracy.

Trump’s strategy worked. There is a strong penchant for people to vote for those who are just like them. Somehow, Trump who arrived in his own 747 and boasted of being a billionaire, was still able to convince the unemployed and others facing personal financial crisis that he was one of them.

That demonstrates the value of advertising and Trump’s skill at self-promotion. Many of those politicians who now support Trump had previously blocked Barack Obama’s proposals for massive infrastructure programs to build bridges, roads and airports. Trump now promises to implement the plan in order to become “the world’s greatest job creator.”

The only problem is that according to reports, while Trump touts himself as a stellar businessman, he has suffered six bankruptcies. One must wonder whether a serial bankrupter will develop financially sound government programs. But even more distressing should be the pathological lies. Trump promised several times to disclose his tax returns, as normally expected, as soon as the IRS examination was completed. He never did so, and he indicated at his press conference that he has no plans to do so.

The most disturbing aspect of Trump’s conduct is that his constituents seem to approve it. They do not seem to understand the customs that have developed over the years to strengthen the nation’s democracy. There is no law that requires presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns. Rather, it is a practice that has developed over the years to require candidates for high office to reveal their financial connections.

Last October the New York Times published a Trump tax return that indicated he had suffered a $916 million loss in 1995, which could offset taxable income for many years. This disclosure not only raised questions about Trump’s business skills, but it also indicated that Trump probably had not paid income taxes for a long time.

It would seem that the available financial information on Trump would induce knowledgeable voters to be concerned about a businessman in the White House. There is a long democratic tradition that the president is to work exclusively on the business of the people and not be involved in personal commerce. To assure that, wealthy presidents have placed their assets in a blind trust. Trump also has refused to do this.

What Trump indicates is a blind trust falls far short of the requirement. In an independent blind trust the trustees have the authority to sell the assets and reinvest the proceeds as they see fit, all without any communication with the president or reliance on his opinion. Trump’s conveyance of his assets to his sons to manage hardly meets the independence standard.

The involvement of the chief of state in commercial activities can lead to political problems, as it has recently in Brazil and South Korea. And it also raises a question as to whether decisions on relations with foreign countries will be made to enrich the president.

Public officials must exert every effort to require Trump to comply with the conventional standards of full disclosure.