Remember when then-candidate Donald Trump, gleeful that no matter what he did those at the base of his support wouldn’t care, aimed his finger at a camera and reckoned that he could “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” and nothing would happen? He meant it, and as it turned out, after scandalous tapes, being caught in lie after lie and making a mockery of the attempts at serious presidential debates, he was right.
This devil-may-care attitude has continued right into the Oval Office, where the president is simply ignoring ethics guidelines and going about his business the way he always has – with reckless disregard for customs and rules and the perceptions of the members of the American public who are paying attention.
Consider that after some in his campaign tried to make an issue of President Obama’s vacations and what they cost, Trump has gone to family properties on 54 days since becoming president, including 40 visits to a golf course he owns. These trips have cost millions and millions of dollars, but as of much concern to the man now departing the Office of Government Ethics is the fact that Trump, when he travels and his own venues are involved, is actually profiting from his presidential travel while the American people pick up the tab.
The ethics chief, Walter Shaub, believes U.S. ethics policies are being ignored by Trump and his administration. Shaub said it’s hard for America to take the high road on ethics with the rest of the world “when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility.”
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Perhaps Trump figures if he and his administration can get away with private meetings with Russians about Hillary Clinton, why would the public care that millions of its dollars are going to put him up at his golf clubs?
Shaub believes the ethics office should have subpoena power, that it ought to get able to negotiate on what are and are not conflicts of interest for a president, that it should be able to order candidates to release their tax returns.
The White House dismisses Shaub as self-interested, though it offers no proof of that. Trump clearly believes he can get away with anything and simply doesn’t care about even putting up a front of obeying ethics rules. The compounded problem with that is that the president has to set an example for all others in government. If he doesn’t, what’s to prevent a lower-level bureaucrat from ignoring the rules on the grounds that the person in the White House doesn’t care about them?
Congress needs to act, and it should move ahead with new ethics rules, particularly since Trump’s stature has been diminished by his own ineptitude in dealing with Congress and approval ratings showing the American people are rapidly losing confidence in him.