Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Should people dismantle their life’s work, to enter politics?

Jerry Stratton, November 30, 2016

Zucchini squash salesman

“Sorry, son. You can’t grow up to be president unless you get rid of the family business.”—the political class

I went into November 8 determined to be happy whatever the outcome. If Hillary Clinton won, well, divided government is usually good for the economy as long as Republicans hold the House, which they were going to do. And if Donald Trump won, it would be a good and well-deserved black eye for the political establishment. One very good result of his election is that he punctured the class ceiling. He’s not from the political class, and it’s a good thing that people from outside the political class can still be elected to high office without turning “politics” into their career. But the political establishment obviously doesn’t think so. In the short run they’re trying to overturn the results of the election, and in the long term they’re trying to build some walls of their own to keep the political class safe.

Asking people to give up their family businesses in order to get into politics is one of those walls. They want to keep successful businesspeople on the other side of the political wall, and they want any businessperson who crosses it to pay for that wall. Trump’s holdings are much bigger than the average family business, but it’s still a family business; and for that matter the more successful a business is, the more important it is to its creators to hand it down to their children.

The members of the political class, politicians especially, usually have portfolios rather than businesses, because that’s how corruption works, and even when it isn’t corruption, that’s how investing works for political funds. It is relatively easy to put a portfolio into a blind trust.1

Or they have a foundation, and few, if any, of the people saying elected officials should give up their family business voiced any problem with the Clinton Foundation remaining the Clinton Foundation. Judd Legum, for example, before writing about how bad it is for a politician to own a family business, had been extremely vocal in support of the Clinton Foundation, completely whitewashing how much of its money went to pay Clintons and friends of Clintons, as officials of and consultants to the foundation. He also attempted to minimize the percentage of donors who received access.

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, the Democrat who is introducing a resolution “insisting that President-elect Donald Trump sell off his business”, had earlier defended Hillary Clinton’s routing all official emails through the Clinton Foundation, and then deleting them to avoid public records access, as just another way people communicate.

“People have different ways of communicating,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland. “I have a granddaughter who does nothing but text. You’ll never find a letter written with her. So everybody’s different.”

Thomas Mann, one of the three people on the letter from ‘ethicists’ recommending that Trump sell his business, defended keeping the Clinton Foundation intact back in 2008 when President Obama was considering Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State.

At the same time, those close to the former president said they would be reluctant to see him back away from charitable work that has provided a source of AIDS treatment for 1.4 million people, a major engine in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases and sponsorship of anti-obesity programs in American schools.

“The Clinton Foundation is not the same as the Clinton personal bank account,” said Thomas E. Mann, a Brookings Institution expert on ethics and governance. “It’s a nonprofit entity. It has an extraordinary involvement in a whole set of public activities.”

Norm Eisen, another signature on the ethicist letter2 and a major donor to the Clinton Foundation before being appointed Ambassador to the Czech Republic3, earlier this year argued that replacing all of the Clintons on the Clinton Foundation came with too many costs for the foundation, and that Chelsea Clinton was the best choice for managing the Clinton Foundation post-election.

He also noted that the foundation’s reorganization go above and beyond what ethics rules would require if Clinton wins.

Foundations, corrupt or not, are what the political class uses, and this ad hoc rule is about keeping government in the hands of the political class, not about corruption. That’s why Trump’s family business must be dismantled, but the Clinton Foundation would have been fine. They’re two completely different things: one’s a tool of the political class, and one isn’t.

Claudia Dumas, President and CEO of Transparency International-USA, who is also calling for the full removal of the Trump family from the Trump family business, gave, as part of Transparency International, an Integrity Award in 2012 to then-Secretary of State Clinton “for her emphasis on the importance of increasing transparency and countering corruption as part of U.S. foreign policy”. When Clinton tried to use this award as evidence that the Clinton Foundation was transparent and integrous, Dumas claimed that Transparency International doesn’t even look at the foundations run by the recipients of their awards for transparency and integrity. They are, after all, focused on government transparency. Not transparency by people in government. Unless they own a business. Or something.

If you make your money by talking rather than by doing, it may sound sane to put your savings in a blind trust, even savings consisting of investments. But a businessperson doesn’t look at their business like an investor looks at their portfolio. A family business especially. They worked, hard, to build those businesses up. Requiring that you sell your family business, not even pass it to your kids but dismantle it, is something only someone who wants to enter the political class and never leave it would be willing to do.

Which is the point. It’s designed to keep the political class secure. You can hear it in statements like this from Bradford Malt, a Boston lawyer “who served as trustee for Mitt Romney’s blind trusts”:

Selling such a large pool of assets all at once may not be ideal, Malt acknowledged. But, “Nobody asked him to be president. He made his choice.”

In fact, half of America asked him to be president. What Malt means is that no one in the political class asked him. And no one in the political class wants him.

And the idea the establishment is suddenly putting forth that the founders wanted to require politicians to give up their family business is complete bullshit. It cuts against the very idea of citizen government the founders created. They didn’t expect elected office to be a full-time job. George Washington didn’t sell his family farm. He retired to it, voluntarily, after two terms, perhaps the single most important act in the early Republic. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the next three presidents and all founders, likewise returned to farming after they left politics. James Monroe sold his farm during the first year of his presidency, but that was likely to pay debts and had nothing to do with any constitutional requirement.

John Quincy Adams, the first post-founder president, is also the first president to remain in politics after the presidency. He moved to the House of Representatives for seventeen years before he died. He was the first president for whom politics was a career. As far as I can tell, he didn’t even have a career from before politics to return to.

Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party, returned to his family farm, which he had left to his son to manage in his absence, after his two terms as president.

Calling for Trump to not just leave his family business, but also to take it away from the rest of his family, is just a way to enforce a professional political class. While on the surface it discourages people who have successfully created their own business from running for politics it also encourages those who don’t care about their family business. And if that wall fails, it hopes to subvert them into becoming a permanent part of the political class.

In response to Election 2016: Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.

  1. Though if it consists of businesses you have personally helped build, personally helped fund, or even just stock from a small number of businesses you’ve personally chosen, that’s not easy to forget, either.

  2. Eisen is “President Barack Obama’s former ethics czar”.

  3. According to leaks, Eisen donated over a million dollars before being appointed Ambassador to the Czech Republic.

  1. <- Entangling long-term alliances
  2. Let’s make a deal ->