Let us credit Donald Trump with a concept every American now needs to understand: the trust-less trust.
Throughout his 18-month campaign for the White House Trump again and again told voters to “trust me” and “believe me.”
“Trust me” was a major theme of the Trump campaign. Way back in August of 2015 Trump, pressed on the specifics of his plans to “replace Obamacare… fix China… (and) bring jobs,” said he’d get it all done, believe him: “There has to be a trust. There actually has to be trust. If you don’t trust, you’re not going to do very well.”
And just before taking office Trump said that he would put his business assets, owned under the umbrella of the Trump Organization, into a trust—a blind trust, to be precise. Many of us knew that was a bad joke since previous presidents held securities, not buildings and golf courses and and resorts emblazoned with their names in giant faux gold letters.
To reassure skeptics, and trick the gullible, Trump made a big show of separating himself from his businesses. At a January press conference, Trump stood by a long table stacked with manila folders, none of which he would let anyone read. All we got to see—three months later—were a few heavily redacted pages filed with federal ethics officials and a certification filed by Trump’s trustee, who is also Trump’s employee.
Trump also asserted that he could run his business and the country at the same time and so “perfectly.” But, Trump promised, he wouldn’t do that.
We now know that was a lie.
With no public notice at all, Trump signed changes to those pages just three weeks after taking the oath of office that made his arrangement a trust-free trust. Trump can now reach into his supposedly blind trust and withdraw cash whenever he chooses—and he doesn’t have to tell the American people about it, either.
It gets worse.
Before taking office, Trump made an unqualified promise to never discuss his businesses with his sons until he left office. “My two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company,” he said on Jan. 11, adding “They’re not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don’t have to do this. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”
Lack of fidelity, not to mention self-awareness, is a Trump family trait regularly on open display for more than a century. In late March, Donald Jr. and Eric met with a Forbes magazine writer to discuss the family business and the president’s promise to stay out of the business while in office.
Eric told Forbes writer Dan Alexander: “There is kind of a clear separation of church and state that we maintain, and I am deadly serious about that exercise… I do not talk about the government with him, and he does not talk about the business with us. That’s kind of a steadfast pact we made, and it’s something that we honor.”
That sounds good until you read what Alexander wrote next:
But less than two minutes later, he [Eric Trump] concedes that he will continue to update his father on the business while he is in the presidency. “Yeah, on the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that, but you know, that’s about it.” How often will those reports be, every quarter? “Depending, yeah, depending.” Could be more, could be less? “Yeah, probably quarterly.” One thing is clear: “My father and I are very close,” Eric Trump says. “I talk to him a lot. We’re pretty inseparable.”
This all fits perfectly with Donald Trump’s lifetime of lying and denying, just like his paternal grandfather and his father and now his children, too. But in this case Trump’s lack of fidelity to anything but himself matters a great deal for the national security of the United States, for America’s standing as a beacon of liberty and support for human rights and for the future of our system of Constitutional government, which is based on the ideals of facts, study and reasoned debate that come to us from the Enlightenment.
Trump also asserts that ethics rules do not apply to him. While that’s no surprise it should be cause for alarm, especially given how his executive orders affect differently the countries where he does business compared to those where he does not.
The founders of this country, for all their raucous disputes, were deeply concerned about institutionalized corruption. It’s why our Constitution includes an emoluments clause—to make sure our president and other officials are “independent of external influence.”
For those interested in understanding the corruption issues posed by Trump’s business entanglements and his lies about his eyes-wide-open trust I recommend Zephyr Teachout’s Corruption in America and David Callahan’s The Cheating Culture. Both are easy reads, solidly researched and make their points about institutionalized corruption with memorable clarity.
With his business dealings in countries where deals are more political than commercial, Trump’s business creates irresolvable conflicts between America’s national security and his financial interests. His faithless attempt to trick us with his anything-but-blind trust has now been revealed as a sham. It shows that only fools trust Donald Trump.
The framers of our constitution were fully aware of European monarchs—like Trump, kings of debt—who were secretly on the payrolls of other countries and thus disloyal. The framers wrote about their concerns about the corrupting influence of money, especially how great inequality could eventually destroy our nation.
John Adams, our second president, worried that a business aristocracy would arise and deceive the many. Should the “rich and proud” dominate, Adams wrote, their economic and political power “will destroy all the equality and liberty, with the consent and acclamations of the people themselves.”
For our freedoms to endure we must have integrity in government. All politicians lie, just as all people do. But integrity must be our goal, an ideal we honor. And when crisis comes, as it always does, we should not wonder if our president is making decisions because he is in debt to the communist government in China, counts on income from Russian oligarchs and Middle East dictators, or is eagerly sucking up dollars corruptly paid to the company he falsely claims to have nothing to do with, the Trump Organization.
Donald Trump’s deeds and and words—and now his trust-free trust document—establish that he is an affront to the notion of honesty, a man who lies all the time and sees nothing wrong with that.
Honor matters. Donald Trump has none.