I think that one of the most fascinating aspects of the Trump presidency thus far is the general confusion that is generated by the blurring of lines between the private and the public (or one might say "strictly" political) aspects of the Trump White House. I think that many mainstream politicos (in both parties) assumed to some degree that once Trump took the oath of office, his tendency to blur those lines, which had been one of the most marked aspects of Trump the campaigner, would abate someone and that the Americans would still have a so-called "commander in chief." Not only has this abatement not occurred but the lines between the personal aspects of Trump and his family (and his minions) has become almost inextricable from the office of the president.
This blurring of lines has been on full display in the last few days, particularly in the fallout from the decision by Nordstrom, an up-market retail chain, to stop selling Ivanka Trump's line of clothing and accessories. This decision incensed the president, and what incenses the president must necessarily anger his minions too. Thus on Thursday morning, presidential advisor and spokes-demon Kellyanne Conway, appeared on Fox News and as she spoke with reporters about the Nordstrom decision she took a moment to explicitly and shamelessly plug Ivanka's clothing line, telling Americans to "Go buy Ivanka's stuff." Well, this little plug is a clear violation of the US Code of Federal Regulations (Specifically 2365.702) which states that "An employee shall not use his public office for private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service of enterprise." Ms. Conway's endorsement, one might even say promotion, of Ivanka Trump's products is such a gross violation of a fairly simple CFR code that it seems almost comical if it weren't so terribly sordid.
The lines of personal and political blurred further when Donald Trump himself used Twitter to disparage Nordstrom for its business decision. Trump had Tweeted on Wednesday morning, telling us that his "daughter Ivanka has been treated unfairly" by Nordstrom, and that she is "a great person." This Tweet is arguably also a violation of the same CFR code, though a more ambiguous one. What is most startling, however, is the degree to which this has already become the new normal. The idea of a President using personal time and presidential power to publicly argue about a business decision that financially impacts his daughter is totally amazing. And the silence on the part of congressional Republicans is deafening in this regard. If President Obama had issued such a Tweet concerning a family member of his, the impeachment hearing would have already begun.
But specific ethics code violations and impeachment issues aside, this blurring of the lines of the political and the personal at the very top of the US government should be deeply troubling to anyone. Of course, politicians (particularly executive one) are able to routinely enrich their friends and associates through public appointments. This phenomenon is so rife that even in the most tightly controlled democracies it seems almost impossible to stop. And after politicians leave elected office they commonly enrich themselves through things like paid speaking engagements etc. However, with the Trump administration the US has now entered the realm of the "banana republic" or modern autocratic nations like Russia in which wildly unqualified political donors are rewarded with federal cabinet positions, the President's children have found their way into the highest level international meetings, the President continues to have his hand in business processes directly affected by government decisions, the President is attempting to delegitimize other branches of government, and he and his minions are actually using their positions to directly promote the financial interests of the Trump family. And and troubling as these facts are, they don't even touch upon the way that the Trump administration has made lying a matter of course. And we are not talking about traditional political "spin" here, we are talking about simple, readily verifiable, falsehoods. The cult of personality that has so defined the autocracies and dictatorships of the past century has truly come to roust in Washington.
And if the US (and the rest of us) survives the Trump era intact, it seems clear that democracy has been severely (if not mortally) wounded in the process. Once the line between personal and public interests has become so blurred is very hard to see clearly again.