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American soap opera: 'Family, business and government all intertwined in Trump's presidency'

There are multiple conflicts of interest and ethical concerns surrounding Trump’s family, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille

THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY has all the looks of a soap opera. Money, family, business and government are all intertwined.

Donald Trump has had three wives (Ivana, Marla, and now Melania), with whom he has had five children: Ivanka, Donald Jr and Eric (with Ivana), Tiffany (with Marla) and Barron (with Melania). Trump also has a business empire, and his grown-up children are involved in it to various degrees.

Therefore, objections have been raised that Trump’s business interests will interfere with his presidency and many have rightly called on him to divest himself from his assets. Otherwise, he could negotiate with China, Europe or Mexico in order to benefit personally.

Concerns also apply to his family

Case in point, his eldest daughter, Ivanka, 35, is married to 36-year-old Jared Kushner, who is a kind of mini Donald Trump. Kushner controls a vast property empire and owns the newspaper The New York Observer among other things.

It surely helped Kushner a lot that his dad had built the family business empire in the first place and made a $2.5 million donation to Harvard just before he was admitted to the university, from which he graduated in 2003. His admission reportedly surprised administrators at his high school since, “his GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it”.

In any case, the main problem is that Jared Kushner, who had been deeply involved in Trump’s electoral campaign, has just been appointed senior advisor to President Donald Trump, by Trump himself. Ivanka doesn’t yet have a formal role in the White House, but many think she may well get one at some point.

Ethical problems 

It’s easy to see the many conflicts of interest and ethical problems in this thorny situation. To start with, can a president employ his relatives, including his son-in-law? No, according to the anti-nepotism law that has applied in the US since 1967.

But, surprise. The Department of Justice recently said that it was actually okay for Trump to hire Kushner, under a somewhat twisted interpretation of that law. So Kushner will be hired.

But he has so many business interests that, just like Trump, it is hard to believe they won’t influence the policies he will advocate. Will he push for certain policies that will fatten his own pocket?

shutterstock_408626056 Kushner (pictured) controls a vast property empire and owns the newspaper the New York Observer, among other things. Source: Shutterstock/lev radin

This is not an abstract question. In November, around a table laden with $2,100 wine bottles and Chinese delicacies, Jared Kushner was dining with the chairman of a big Chinese company (Anbang Insurance Group), which has assets of $285 billion. They were negotiating an agreement to redevelop the Kushner family’s crown jewel: 666 Fifth Avenue, a skyscraper in New York City.

The Chinese company has close ties to the Chinese Government and is aggressively seeking to buy up hotels in the United States. So you can see how Kushner would want to influence economic policy towards China to benefit his own interests. Reportedly, he has plans to sell off some of his assets to reduce conflicts of interest, but in a Trump administration, we know what those kinds of promises are worth.

Kushner does have influence

And it is not as if Trump just gave Kushner an irrelevant symbolic position in the White House to be nice to his son-in-law. Kushner does have influence. For example, he played a significant role in convincing Trump to appoint Goldman Sachs’ president (Gary Cohn) as chief economic adviser. Well, it turns out that Goldman Sachs has lent money to Kushner’s companies.

Trump also said that Kushner will play a major role in dealings with Israel, but Kushner’s company has received many loans from Israel’s largest bank (Bank Hapoalim).

Kushner thus exemplifies perfectly the multiple, deep webs interconnecting the Trump administration and the global business world. It’s not difficult to understand that Trump will act to benefit the corporate world, not common people.

Indeed, Trump has surrounded himself with figures from the “big-money establishment”, even though his campaign rhetoric was all about fighting the establishment on behalf of ordinary people. The New York Times stated that Trump is building a team, “filled with tycoons, Wall Street heavyweights, cronies and a new rank of shadowy wealthy ‘advisers’ unaccountable to anyone but him.” All his cabinet picks so far fit that bill.

What about Ivanka? 

But, one might say, what about Ivanka? Isn’t she somewhat of a liberal, caring about women’s and children’s issues? Won’t she be able to moderate all those Goldman Sachs men, her husband and her father, if they become too extreme?

Absolutely not. Ivanka strongly supports Trump, who has already enacted laws against women, for example by banning funding to groups that promote pro-choice views on abortion. Ivanka shares Trump’s values. She’s in the same camp as him. Don’t let soft media stories tell you otherwise.

Julien Mercille is an associate professor at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille.

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