Trump Ethics And Conflicts Of Interest: What Happens Now?

Ivanka and Donald Trump at the inauguration last month of their new Washington D.C. hotel
Ivanka and Donald Trump at the inauguration last month of their new Washington D.C. hotel
Albert R. Hunt

WASHINGTON â€" Donald Trump will face wide-ranging questions about his ethics and integrity from the moment he enters the White House in January.

The president-elect says he'll turn over his vast financial holdings to his kids. But many doubt a blind trust will insulate him completely, potentially exposing him to conflicts of interest or the appearance of such conflicts on a range of domestic and foreign issues as no president before. During the campaign, Trump branded his opponents with nicknames such as "Lyin Ted" and "Crooked Hillary." Yet more than Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton, he lied and shrewdly assumed that the media, especially television, would never catch up with him as he moved to the next deception. That should be harder for a president.

The public will have reason to believe that Trump's "decisions are influenced by personal interests," says Stephen Gillers, an ethics expert and professor at New York University Law School. "The problem is exacerbated because of the number and diversity of his financial interests. It is not just a peanut farm. It is further compounded as the public doesn't know what all these interests are."

Gillers and Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota Law professor who was President George W. Bush's ethics counselor, note that conflict of interest laws that affect other Executive Branch employees and members of Congress don't apply to the president. But, Painter says, the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits payments by foreign governments and businesses controlled by foreign governments.

"It is a significant risk because it applies to the president," Painter says. His recommendation: President Trump should "unwind all business relationships with foreign governments and companies controlled by foreign governments, including the Bank of China." There is nothing to suggest Trump or his family will consider that step.

Trump property in downtown Chicago â€" Photo: Dhuiz

Ever the marketer and hustler, his presidential transition website, Politico reported, is promoting his "properties around the globe."

Even before taking office, he's embroiled in legal disputes. Later this month, he has to testify in a fraud trial involving Trump University. The New York attorney general is looking into controversial practices at the Trump Foundation.

Congressional oversight won't occur with Republicans in control of both chambers over the next two years. House investigative junkyard dogs such as Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah and California's Darrell Issa will probably turn into lapdogs in the Trump era.

As a result, Trump critics now envision their own version of Judicial Watch, the right-wing legal group that has relentlessly, and often effectively, hounded mainly Democrats, especially the Clintons, since the 1990s. There are 20 actions against Hillary underway. The Democratic version may be led by David Brock, a right-winger turned left-winger who has a capacity for raising lots of money for such ventures.

Even though Trump has refused to provide evidence he is as wealthy as he claims to be, he owns or manages -- or is associated with -- extensive assets around the U.S. More than a few of these properties receive government subsidies and almost all are affected by federal tax laws.

In addition, it is known that he's indebted to banks in China and Germany and that he has financial interests from the Middle East to Asia. This, as Painter, the George W. Bush ethics adviser, says, could "result in hearings by Congress" if Democrats win back control of one house.

He could resolve some of these appearances by releasing his tax returns, though he refused to do so as a candidate.

Trump, more than any national politician in memory, has been elusive about facts. He shrewdly calculated that he could get away with evasions and sometimes outright lies on television, in particular, during the campaign because he boosted viewership. That may not be the case after Inauguration Day.

It seems unlikely that the 70-year old president-elect will change habits of a lifetime. My colleague Tim O'Brien, who wrote an excellent book on Trump in 2005, has written that he prides himself on being an "outlaw entrepreneur," and that Trump has advised others that "The motto of the outlaw is: "Rules are meant to be broken.""

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!