This week, Donald Trump spent much of the G7 summit trying to strong-arm America’s allies into booking rooms and event space at one of his family-owned hotels for next year’s summit.
The president might have had other diplomatic priorities at the gathering of advanced democracies in southern France. But in his public statements, Trump made clear that increasing off-season bookings at the Trump National Doral Miami Golf Club was one of the United States’ top objectives at the conference:
Presidents usually use international summits to advance their policy agenda on the world stage. But President Trump turned a public appearance in southern France on Monday into what sounded like an infomercial for his sagging golf and resort business in southern Florida.
… “It’s got tremendous acreage, many hundreds of acres, so we can handle whatever happens,” Mr. Trump bragged in Biarritz, France. “People are really liking it and plus it has buildings that have 50 to 70 units. And so each delegation can have its own building.”
“We haven’t found anything that could even come close to competing with it,” he told reporters at the beginning of a bilateral meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
Trump’s proposal would effectively compel foreign governments to make direct contributions to his family fortune, while also awarding his one of his properties exceedingly valuable international exposure. It could also put world leaders at unnecessary risk: Trump’s resort is adjacent to one of Doral’s busiest intersections, and its lobby was the site of a firefight between an armed man and police last year. Meanwhile, given the conventional timing of the G7 summit, foreign heads of state would ostensibly be descending on South Florida near the start of hurricane season.
In other news from the weekend, Joe Biden’s younger brother’s former business partners accused the Democratic front-runner’s sibling of promising them special favors from a Biden campaign and/or presidency, as part of a broader “fraudulent scheme to bankrupt them and steal their business models.” As Politico explains:
Joe Biden’s younger brother told potential business partners that the former vice president would help their firm land business with court systems and would incorporate their health care model into his 2020 presidential campaign, according to new allegations made in a court filing in Tennessee.
… According to one of the declarations, by Diverse Medical Management’s CEO Michael Frey, James Biden suggested he would enlist his older brother’s help in landing the firm contracts for court-ordered outpatient care.
Frey describes meeting James Biden in January 2018 at a hospital in Pineville, Kentucky, where Frey was asked to make a presentation about his firm’s operating model.
“During my presentation regarding intensive outpatient treatment, James Biden interrupted me to say, ‘My brother needs to have you in every court system in America,’” Frey alleges, adding, “I left the meeting very excited and optimistic about the future of DMM [Diverse Medical Management].”
According to another declaration, by Mohannad Azzam, in the lead-up to Biden’s presidential campaign launch, James Biden promised in a phone call “that the DMM psychiatric care model would be used by Joe Biden as part of his campaign.”
The lawsuit does not allege any wrongdoing on Joe Biden’s part, nor does it indicate that the former vice-president had any awareness of his brother’s unseemly offers. Further, the dispute’s core contention is not that James Biden besmirched his business partners’ honor by promising them patronage from his brother; rather, the complaint is that James Biden was trying to defraud them, which suggests this his promises of favors from big brother might not have been entirely on the level.
Nevertheless, for stalwart champions of ethics in government like Donald Trump Jr., the allegations against James Biden raise serious questions about his older brother’s fitness for office.
Scolding a Trump for brazen hypocrisy would be like reprimanding a cloud for obstructing the sun. But Don Jr.’s chutzpah illustrates a broader challenge facing the mainstream media ahead of the 2020 campaign. In a public discourse where objective truth enjoyed pride of place, the Trump family would never want to pick this fight. The president has explicitly, publicly declared his intention to direct lucrative government contracts to a business owned by himself and his family members. Joe Biden’s brother allegedly, dubiously declared that the Democratic candidate would pull some strings on behalf of his family friends. There is no equivalence between the strength of these two allegations of corruption.
And even if there were reason to believe James Biden had been telling the truth — and that his brother was interested in promoting the businessmen’s approach to outpatient care — what grounds would Don Jr. have for complaint? It is at least conceivable that James Biden’s acquaintances had actually developed high-quality services that taxpayers would wish their government to purchase. Which is to say, there is at least a hypothetical public interest in the state licensing outpatient and psychiatric care models from private firms. By contrast, there is no conceivable public interest in the 2020 G7 summit transpiring at Donald Trump’s golf course. The president’s conduct is only defensible if one stipulates that it is not wrong to leverage public power for personal (and/or familial) profit.
But objective truth has only a peripheral relevance to American political discourse. For this reason, in 2016, unproven (and often incoherent) allegations of corruption became a greater liability for Hillary Clinton than Trump’s manifest promotion of his private interests, refusal to divest from his globe-spanning business interests, and withholding of his tax returns from public scrutiny was for him.
In 2020, the mainstream media cannot let Trump define deviancy downward. If the Democratic nominee is plausibly accused of engaging in some act of corruption that is less severe than those the president proudly performs, journalists cannot ignore said allegations for that reason. And yet, the Fourth Estate must also strive to avoid helping the Trump campaign (and its allies at America’s most-watched cable network) obfuscate the choice that voters face. Which is to say: The press must not allow its vestigial reflex for partisan “balance” to lower the political costs of abusing presidential power for private profit by muddying the distinctions between Trump’s manifest corruption and his rivals’ alleged improprieties.