Among the reasons #NeverTrump Republicans opposed Donald Trump’s election was that his lack of conservative principles and ethical stands would inevitably corrupt, intellectually and morally, the GOP. Republicans would feel compelled to defend anti-free-market and anti-democratic moves. They’d wind up as apologists for behavior and policies they would never have tolerated in a Democratic administration. This has happened already, and the president-elect hasn’t even finished picking his Cabinet.
On the ethical front, the Republicans remain mute about Trump’s ongoing morass of conflicts, the mixing of private and public interests and the unwillingness to recognize that his foreign holdings pose a constitutional problem. Ethics guru Richard W. Painter of the University of Minnesota Law School explains:
The possibility of quid pro quo will emerge every time somebody working for either the government or the Trump organization talks about government business and Trump business in the same conversation or with the same people. Nobody in the American government, including the president, should ask a foreign diplomat about any aspect of Trump business, including such matters as, for example, unsightly windmills that are too close to Mr. Trump’s golf courses. Such conversations will inevitably suggest a link between official government action and benefits for the Trump businesses. In other words, a bribe.
Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses.
As Painter points out, “This problem does not go away because someone else is managing the business. It is still his money, and if he is president, he can’t take it. The only remedy for a serious violation of the Emoluments Clause is impeachment.” And the only way to prevent this cavalcade of corruption and self-dealing is for Trump to liquidate his businesses and put the proceeds in a truly blind trust.
So where are the Republican voices of outrage akin to their condemnation of the shenanigans documented in “Clinton Cash“? Crickets.
As for conservative principles, Trump’s intervention to secure a $7 million bribe — that is, in essence, what it is — for Carrier to keep about 1,000 jobs in the United States was followed by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s cheerleading. Trump is making liberals into free-market boosters and conservatives into supporters of crony capitalism.
We are old enough to remember when Ryan deplored government picking winners and losers, compelling companies to make political and not economic decisions:
The federal government’s job is not to play favorites among firms — it is to make and enforce clear rules of the road, so that markets are fair, transparent, and competitive. In other words, government’s job is to foster an environment that is conducive to private-sector job creation.
By picking winners and losers in the energy sector, the government-as-investor model distorts markets, weakens the rule of law, and fails to spur sustainable job creation. Instead of helping the economy, the story ends with taxpayers losing billions of dollars, successful companies losing their competitive advantage, and workers losing their jobs — in Solyndra’s case, 1,100 of them.
Oh yes, Solyndra. (Ryan’s comments were made in 2011.) So much for the conservative objection that government intervention for a particular company promotes corruption, unproductive use of capital, unfairness and rent-seeking behavior by businesses. Keeping the well-connected big players in business means that the little guy — all those small-business people who voted for Trump — must compete on an uneven playing field.
Here is where Trump’s continued ownership of private businesses makes matters even worse. Will he favor with tax credits a company that licenses the Trump name somewhere in the world? Is he really going to consider wooing, say, the Hilton or Hyatt hotel chains to keep jobs here with the promise of tax handouts? Conversely, we find it easy to imagine Trump threatening a firm that is impeding a Trump real estate deal with tax penalties or loss of contracts. Every such interaction is going to be fly-specked for evidence of self-dealing.
Now it’s up to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to indict Carrier-type deals and point out that Trump “has signaled to every corporation in America that they can threaten to offshore jobs in exchange for business-friendly tax benefits and incentives. Even corporations that weren’t thinking of offshoring jobs will most probably be reevaluating their stance this morning. And who would pay for the high cost for tax cuts that go to the richest businessmen in America? The working class of America.” Mr. Speaker, are you listening?
Sanders and Trump, however, share another scheme: Companies that do take jobs overseas (and who can tell whether a job is “taken” from the United States or created anew overseas?) for whatever reason should be punished. (The Post’s editorial board points out that “if you impose political controls on capital, whether by ad hoc arm-twisting, as Mr. Trump did in the Carrier case, or by statute, as Mr. Sanders says, the result will be less investment, not more — as job creators refrain from putting their funds at risk in the United States to begin with.”) Frankly, this is how tin-pot dictators in South America — or the Kremlin — operate. The United States has never been an extortion racket where the government cajoles, threatens, punishes and rewards players in the private sector. Unless Republicans wake up and remember their free-market roots, Trump will wind up doing far more damage to U.S. competitiveness and the rule of law than any liberal Democrat could have ever pulled off.