We’ve seen the friction surrounding any real or perceived overlap of one’s personal business and their role in public office. Conflicts of interest are taken very seriously, as we realize that government corruption and the exploitation of power for personal gain are tragically prevalent.
So what happens when a billionaire with multiple business interests moves into the White House?
Chances are that he will be required to keep all of his holdings and corporate interests in what’s called a “blind trust,” which means that all of his corporate holdings are handed over to an independent trustee to manage while he’s in office.
This is not an uncommon thing, as politicians frequently have law practices, medical practices or other professional endeavors they have to do this with while in Washington D.C.
The difference is that his is worth many billions of dollars, and it’s built almost solely around his family name.
It would stand to reason that one of his children might step in to run things while he’s in office, which is what Trump’s lawyer said he intended to do (actually he wanted to have all three of his oldest kids handle things). However, this will prove to be a problem of public perception, if not prove to be illegal entirely.
Kenneth Gross, a political-law expert and ethics expert at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, who has advised multiple presidents on matter of this sort, says on CNBC that, “A creator of a blind trust is tagged with the knowledge of the assets put into the trust, and in terms of conflicts his children’s interests are co-extensive with his self interest.”
Put another way, clearly he’s going to talk to his kids and still be connected to intimately to the business if all of his oldest kids are in charge of it.
Much like how Mr. Trump parlayed a monumental business loss into a nearly billion-dollar, two-decade pass from paying personal taxes (also ethically and legally questioned by many in the legal, political and financial professions), he’s skirting on the boundaries of legality for personal gain. He’s certainly repudiating the spirit of the legal employment of a blind trust, if not planning to use it in an outright illegal way.
Dancing along the thin line of legality is not unfamiliar to many in business, but the person holding the most esteemed and most powerful office on the planet is and should be held to a higher standard. Aside from head of the military and chief executive of the country, they are an example of how America conducts itself.
I explain to my children that good morals and ethics are cornerstones of good character. I claim to them that cutting corners and using words, people and laws as tools of personal convenience is not how we succeed in life.
Now I will have to explain that sometimes it works. But regardless of how much one might benefit from exploitation and obfuscation, it doesn’t change the weight of a person’s conscience and soul; on the contrary, it only adds to it.
Christian Piatt is the author of “Leaving A-Holiness Behind: From Pious Jerk To Not-So-Pious Jerk.” He’s also the founder and cohost of the Homebrewed CultureCast.