It has long been custom in the United States, and most other western democracies for that matter, for politicians especially presidents to not engage in two things, the practice of nepotism, and the ownership of private business while in office. Donald Trump has however challenged this standard in many ways since his election. He involved three of his children and his son-in-law in the transition team. I can not find any evidence of any other president-elect to ever having involved his children in any formal capacity while on the route to assuming the office of the President. At the same time that Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump were named to President-elect Trump’s transition team those same three children were named by the Trump Organization as receiving control of the business and our now heads of the trust.
Nelson Rockefeller, became Vice President while having business holdings within the United States in 1974. In 1974 the department of justice claimed that presidents and vice presidents are “exempt from the federal conflict-of-interest law” which allowed Rockefeller to become vice president. The inherent difference however is that Trump has a much more international business portfolio which could allow for many more policies to have impacts on his business. Along with the fact that Trump’s children still hold ownership of his assets, Ivanka has been named a white house employee as an advisor to the president. This comes even though the nepotism law wich was passed in 1967 says, “no public official – from the president down to a low-level manager at a federal agency – may hire or promote a relative.”
The Question is why hasn’t this been stopped? How did we get to this point?
The answer lies in Muller’s theory of Populism. Donald Trump led a campaign against the ‘establishment’ since the beginning of his campaign and even now still speaks ill of Washington elites. Muller writes in What is Populism?, populists “end up confirming those people’s view of liberal elites as not just deeply condescending but constitutively unable to live up to their own democratic ideals by failing to take ordinary people at their word…” Trump’s way of ensuring the populous that they should not respect the established order of politics has led his average voter to not find any issue in these previously examined conflicts of interest. While some have remained vigilant to this issue most have let it fall by the way side due to the unorthodox manner of Trump’s never ending breaking news cycle.
I would argue that had any mainstream candidate attempt to appoint family members as presidential advisors or even as members of a transition team this would have been met with heavy scrutiny and possibly would have been a fatal blow to his or her possible presidency. But not for Donald Trump. Due to his constant questioning of mainstream politics and politicians his constituency no longer cared when they claimed he was breaking norms of presidential conduct.
How do we combat this if it is not directly against the law but just custom?
As Muller describes we must constantly debate to provide information and evidence as to why these actions threat our democracy. The next question to be asked is, are these appointments of children and organization of his international business assets inherently a threat to our democracy? I would say so, you can make your own judgement.