Paul Krugman shatters any fanciful notion that somehow Donald Trump's business empire won't influence how the president-elect conducts himself in office in Monday's column. "He’s already giving us an object lesson in what real conflicts of interest look like, as authoritarian governments around the world shower favors on his business empire," Krugman writes. "Of course, Donald Trump could be rejecting these favors and separating himself and his family from his hotels and so on. But he isn’t. In fact, he’s openly using his position to drum up business."
If a president who uses his office to enrich himself and his wealthy friends sounds bad, Krugman points out that the problem with this unprecedented self-dealing goes way beyond the money, though the money could be substantial—billions not millions.
The real problem is that the lack of any ethical compass results in catastrophic policy decisions, starting with cabinet appointees like Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Apart from the fact that her wealth stems from the fraudulent pyramid scheme called Amway, there is the fact that her pet issue, school vouchers, where parents are basically paid to send their children somewhere other than public school, is a documented disaster that could even feed into for-profit schools. Think Trump University and others of its ilk sprouting up all over the place.
Trump's infrastructure plan, with its massive amount of privatization of public facilities, already smacks of crony capitalism.
But Krugman saves the worst for last:
But what’s truly scary is the potential impact of corruption on foreign policy. Again, foreign governments are already trying to buy influence by adding to Mr. Trump’s personal wealth, and he is welcoming their efforts.
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is illegal, in fact unconstitutional, a clear violation of the emoluments clause. But who’s going to enforce the Constitution? Republicans in Congress? Don’t be silly.
Destruction of democratic norms aside, however, think about the tilt this de facto bribery will give to U.S. policy. What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.
Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.
The always incurious Trump could be learning about just how dangerous all of this is if he was, say, attending his national security briefings, but so far he's skipping those. Why go educate yourself about inconvenient truths?
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