I’ve been saying for months that the language of ‘conflicts of interest’ for President Trump is entirely inadequate and frankly silly. The concept of a conflict of interest is one that speaks to a situation in which an overlap or conflict between an individual’s personal and professional or public interests makes it impossible for that individual to act in an ethical manner or to appear to be doing so. It has no meaning when the actor – in this case, the President – is openly using his office for personal profit. In other words, it has no meaning when the President refuses to recognize any difference between his public responsibilities and his personal and familial business interests, the state and himself. He recognizes no conflict. Indeed, there isn’t one. President Trump is openly using his office to become the billionaire he always wanted to be. And now his Press Secretary has said as much.
Just a few moments ago, Sean Spicer said that Nordstrom’s decision to drop Trump’s daughter’s eponymous clothing line constitutes a political attack on the President and he is within his rights to retaliate.
I think this is less about his family’s business and an attack on his daughter. He ran for president. He won. He’s leading this country. I think for people to take out their concern about his actions or his executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success … There’s a targeting of her brand and it’s her name. She’s not directly running the company. It’s still her name on it. There are clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father’s positions on particular policies that he’s taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. Her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.
This is just the clearest statement of what has been obvious for months. President Trump sees the United States and his family businesses as a fully integrated entity because he is President. Remember, just a few days ago the President’s wife argued in court that a disputed and subsequently retracted article damaged her ability to take advantage of the business opportunity of being First Lady. That literally means that her public office is a thing of specifically quantifiable monetary value to which she has been wrongly deprived and for which is seeking compensation. He is the state. He is the business. That may sound dramatic and even hyperbolic. But look at Spicer’s own words. They’re not.
As I’ve been saying, stop talking about ‘conflicts of interest’. Those are guide rails meant to help ethical people to stay ethical or unethical people put on a show of it. There’s no show here. Trump is openly using the Presidency as the world’s greatest marketing opportunity. Happily, there are some signs his efforts to punish companies that don’t enrich him and his family may be backfiring. But that’s irrelevant to the question of intent. He’s openly doing this. The only question is who helps him and who refuses to accept this as a normal state of affairs.