One of the first books about politics that I remember seeing was written by a guy who, at the time, was a 26-year-old columnist for, ahem, the Philadelphia Inquirer. That author, Joe McGuiness, called his book "The Selling of the President 1968" -- it was a clever take-off on the best selling, weighty tomes by Theodore White that began with "The Making of the President 1960." (A star in the McGuiness book was a brilliant young Machiavellian campaign aide to Richard Nixon named Roger Ailes...not really sure what became of him.) Anyway, the book's main premise was that slick TV advertising values had overtaken serious political discourse; readers were shocked by how aides like Ailes fretted more about Nixon's eye makeup than any policy decisions.
McGuiness died in 2014. One can only wonder what the writer would have had to say about our current crisis, and the selling not only of the president -- in a two-year spectacle that would have made Dick Nixon blush, makeup or no makeup -- but, more importantly, of the presidency.
Much has been written -- some of it here, a lot more elsewhere -- about the myriad conflicts of interest involving President Trump, his company (The Trump Organization) that he still owns and isn't really in a blind trust, and his still-in-business family member/aides like daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner. One of the most blatant conflicts involves Trump's Palm Beach property, Mar-a-Lago, a private club where members (including a former owner of this news org...heh) get to mingle with the leader of the free world, and where the initiation fee was doubled to $200,000 as soon as the landlord was sworn in as president.
That's pretty bad -- but this is kind of shocking: Now the U.S. government is formally promoting Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit club owned by the president, all over the world:
President Donald Trump personally owns Mar-a-Lago, his private club on Florida's eastern coast. But that didn't stop the State Department, in a blog post on the United States Embassy in London's website, from touting the property.
In a markedly promotional blog post from April 5 that could eventually benefit the President's bottom line, should it spur membership or foreign visits, the embassy writes that the property has "become well known as the President frequently travels there to work or host foreign leaders."
Ethics watchdogs are suitably appalled:
Both Norm Eisen, former President Barack Obama's ethics czar, and Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, said the blog post was a violation of federal law that restricts aspects of the government promoting a private business that benefits their superior, the president.
"This is outrageous, more exploitation of public office for Trump's personal gain," Eisen said. "Using the government's megaphone to promote Mar-a-Lago" is like when Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump aide, urged people during a television interview to buy Ivanka Trump's clothing line. The Office of Government Ethics found that to be a violation, but Conway was not punished, despite being "counseled" on the matter. "It's illegality run rampant," Eisen said.
Our president and his administration and their complete lack of an ethical compass bothers me, of course, but I'm also a little troubled by the collective reaction to the corruption at the top of the United States government. I guess "the Philly shrug" that my colleague Helen Ubiñas has made into "a thing" is going national under Trump. This afternoon, Eric Lipton -- a really good reporter for the New York Times -- tweeted about the government's Mar-a-Lago promotion and added, "Odd move."
Odd move? Really? Would you say, "The mob just knocked off an armored truck and made off with $1.1 million...Odd move"? Or, "Nixon's goons just bugged the Democratic HQ...Odd move"? This is Grand Theft Government. It's not odd. It's what they do. And the more that we shrug about these things, the bolder they'll get. Every day we do nothing about The Selling of the Presidency 2017, our drowning democracy sinks a little more.
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