At the beginning of last year, a lot of articles were written about how Donald Trump was using the presidency to enrich himself. The evidence was damning, but the outcry was small. In a presidency defined by scandal this regular, workaday corruption simply fails to hold the public’s attention.
But it should, because the president and his family are profiting hugely from the publicity afforded to the office and making transparently corrupt moves from within the White House. It is the ultimate in hucksterism and sleaze, getting the public to foot the bill for advertisements on products they don’t stand to benefit from.
So, in the spirit of keeping these affronts present in the minds of the public, here is a laundry list of all the ways in which the Trump brand is benefitting off the backs of the taxpayer.
In the first year of his presidency, the revenue earned by Trump hotels has doubled. In 2016 Trump Hotels generated $33.8 million in income, in 2017 they brought in $60.5 million. Part of this has to do with brand exposure and recognition. The president is visible in basically every part of the media, basically all the time, so it stands to reason that all that promotion by association is going to happen. To be fair to Trump, he did remove himself from his businesses and left them in the care of his sons. However, he never placed his assets in a blind trust and so continues to profit from them.
That being said, the president is not just enjoying the free advertising – he is actively piping business back into Trump properties. Take for example the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C.; a place referred to by a Post reporter as “a kind of White House annex.” With rooms costing upwards of $600 a night, the White House hosts all kinds of events there and uses the hotel as a meeting place for prominent Republicans and sycophants to rub elbows with White House brass and, occasionally, the president himself. Last year Ivanka Trump’s share in the hotel rose to a value of $2.4 million. The president has of course not disclosed what his share is worth.
The same goes for Mar-a-Lago, where you the taxpayer can pay for foreign dignitaries to eat huge pieces of cake and house legions of officials, aides, and security. While we don’t know how much Mar-a-Lago profits from its farcical status as the ‘Winter White House,’ we do know that last year they raised membership fees from $100,000 to $200,000 annually. Mar-a-Lago also hosts a $750-a-head New Year’s party which is attended by the president. We additionally know that 50 government contractors and 21 lobbyists are members of Trump clubs and that two-thirds of those have played golf “while the president was there.”
Add a little peppering of cronyism on top of the enrichment sundae, why not?
Speaking of golf, every time the president golfs at one of his properties the nation foots the bill for his security. That includes golf cart rental fees totaling $137,000 in 2017, which can be thought of as security spending but that does not change where the money goes.
A similar grift is pulled at Trump properties for fundraisers, with the RNC spending $300,000 over the last two years just in Trump Hotels.
Then there’s Trump wine, which is served at all the Trump-hosted events and expensed to the taxpayer. Bizarrely, the wine was also found to be for sale in the Shenandoah National Park’s gift shops – which are run by an independent contractor. Surely, it’s just a coincidence that the president’s brand is at the gift shop in a national park – those hotbeds of wine buying activity.
Of course, there is Donald Trump Jr.’s trip to India last month – where his strictly business trip included a speech on Indo-Pacific relations where he shared the stage with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He can claim all the distance he likes; the reality is that those doors certainly would not be open to him without his access to the White House.
Finally, there is the Trump Store. An online retailer of mostly foreign-made goods which the President campaigns in and sells with all profits going to the Trump Corporation. You can make American great and make the president richer at the same time!
The most vexing thing about all this moral bankruptcy and transparent corruption is that none of it is illegal. The now-famous “emoluments clause” only prohibits the president from accepting gifts from foreign governments and does not have precise enough language to be applied to fat-catting off the presidency.
No, the only crime being committed here is against decency and moral uprightness. Voters would do well to remember that this November.