Conflicts of Interest the Size of a (White) House

Here in the United States, we take conflicts of interest seriously. When you are employed by someone else, you are expected to act in their interest, and no one else’s. Acting to the contrary is unethical and, in many cases, illegal.

Say for example, you decide to buy a house, and hired a lawyer to represent you to make sure that the property taxes have been paid and that the deed is in good order, etc. If the lawyer happened to be the sister of the person selling the house to you, you would expect her to tell you that she can’t work for you because she has a conflict of interest. Even if nothing goes wrong with the house, the potential for conflicted loyalties if something did go wrong is enough to mean that she shouldn’t work for you. When you hire someone for a job you want to be confident that your interests are their priority, and conflicts of interest raise questions about their dedication to you.

Now let’s look at Donald Trump, the most powerful employee of the American people.

Due to one of Trump’s recent executive orders, citizens from several countries (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) are not to be allowed to enter the United States in order to “protect the people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals.” This is despite the fact that the countries on the list are not even those that have produced violent terrorists in the past. In fact, not one citizen of those countries has killed anyone on American soil in the last 40 years.

In contrast, the terrorists who killed several thousand Americans on September 11, 2001 were largely from Saudi Arabia, which is not a country targeted by the executive order. When Saudi Arabia was mentioned to Trump at a campaign stop in Alabama, Mr. Trump said: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

We also don’t see the UAE on the list. Perhaps Mr. Trump is concerned that it may hurt business at the Trump hotel in the UAE, which he described as a “half-billion dollar, five star condo-hotel.”

Another country left off the list is Turkey. Turkey has a lot of terrorism, including a number of ISIS-affiliated groups, and the head of the country is a militant muslim who believes in spreading Islamic religious rule. However, Turkey is also not on that list. I do not read minds. I don’t know what the president is thinking, but he did once mention that he has a conflict of interest because of his buildings in downtown Istanbul:

Trump property in Istanbul

There may be nothing inappropriate at all going on, but the countries chosen for the ban are a curious collection. None of them have produced terrorists on US soil, and none of them have ties to the Trump business empire. Meanwhile, citizens of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt (all countries in which the Trump businesses have deals or agreements) have killed thousands of Americans, and yet those countries were not chosen for this executive order. If the travel ban was really about protecting Americans from terrorism, one would think those would be the first countries on the list.

This is the problem with Trump’s conflicts of interests and refusal to divest from his business. Immigrants are good for America! This is a nation built by immigrants and refugees. From Andrew Carnegie to Elon Musk to Henry Kissinger to Arnold Schwarzenegger to countless others, American history is full of immigrants who have been forced to flee from other countries, and ended up coming to America and making many people very rich. By keeping people out, this executive order hurts the US.

But it somehow doesn’t hurt Trump’s businesses. This may be a coincidence, but until Trump divests himself from his companies and investments we have no way of knowing whether Trump is putting himself or the American people first. As President of the United States, he has a duty to put the interests of this country before his own, and so far he has utterly failed to fulfill that important obligation.

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