Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s wealth now an issue

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Hamish McRae

THERE are, on my quick tally, some 19 Trump Towers in the world, though not all have his name em­bla­zoned on them. But there are none in Rus­sia. There have been plans to build some­thing on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, most re­cently last sum­mer, but as yet no ground has been bro­ken.

If you are in in­ter­na­tional prop­erty de­vel­op­ment you will in­evitably be look­ing at sites in dif­fi­cult lo­ca­tions – and deal­ing with the dif­fi­cult gov­ern­ments there.

But most prop­erty de­vel­op­ers do not end up as pres­i­dent of the US, so the in­au­gu­ra­tion of Don­ald Trump adds a new di­men­sion to an age-old issue, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pol­i­tics and money.

The in­ter­ac­tion has many facets. For most of his­tory peo­ple have gone into pol­i­tics to make money. They do in much of Africa and Asia now, they used to in com­mu­nist East­ern Eu­rope, and – put it this way – the en­tourage of Vladimir Putin in Rus­sia has not done too badly.

We in the West see this as cor­rup­tion, and while resid­ual cases of such cor­rup­tion still oc­cur they are gen­er­ally jumped on by our so­ci­eties.

In Bri­tain a hand­ful of MPs have gone to jail for fid­dling their ex­penses. In Ger­many the do­na­tions scan­dal at the CDU party led to An­gela Merkel, who was not im­pli­cated, ris­ing to its lead­er­ship.

In France the for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter, now head of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, Chris­tine La­garde, was re­cently con­victed of neg­li­gence in ap­prov­ing a state pay­ment to an in­dus­tri­al­ist, though this did not con­sti­tute a criminal record and there was no pun­ish­ment. Even in Italy, ranked by Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional as the most cor­rupt ma­jor econ­omy in Eu­rope, there is a lot of pres­sure to clean up their act.

Fight­ing cor­rup­tion re­quires con­stant vig­i­lance, but by mak­ing ex­am­ples of wrong’uns, west­ern democ­ra­cies have man­aged on the whole to keep their po­lit­i­cal sys­tems rea­son­ably clean.

Re­tired politi­cians are free to make money, and a few, in­clud­ing Tony Blair and Bill Clin­ton, have proved very good at it. But wise serving politi­cians know the risk-re­ward ra­tio plays in favour of keep­ing things clean.

Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion cre­ates a new sit­u­a­tion. He has not gone into pol­i­tics to make money, though many peo­ple as­cribed his ini­tial can­di­da­ture to that. His money en­abled him to reach the pres­i­dency with­out hav­ing to cut deals with the usual army of wealthy fun­ders.

In that sense he is less be­holden to cor­po­rate Amer­ica than most of his re­cent pre­de­ces­sors. Yet in his choice of cabi­net nom­i­nees he has very much favoured both Wall Street and US Inc – big money and big busi­ness. The stock mar­kets have duly cheered him on.

Now that he is about to be­come pres­i­dent his wealth is an issue. Can he re­ally step back and hand con­trol to a blind trust? If a good op­por­tu­nity were to arise to build that Trump Tower in St Peters­burg could the man­agers go ahead? They cer­tainly couldn’t with­out his knowl­edge, and if they did to what ex­tent might that com­pro­mise re­la­tions with Rus­sia?We caught some flavour of those dif­fi­cul­ties in the Pres­i­dent-elect’s press con­fer­ence. He is quite rightly striv­ing to cre­ate a wall be­tween his busi­ness in­ter­ests and his po­lit­i­cal role, and the new busi­ness struc­ture de­signed to do so de­serves a fair wind. How his busi­ness in­ter­ests are han­dled in prac­tice will cer­tainly be sub­ject to mas­sive scru­tiny, as they must.

But this is not just a world of le­gal and ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­tures. If he is to be an ef­fec­tive pres­i­dent he will some­how have to rise above his past. His wealth could en­able him to do so, but he will have to find a way of step­ping back from be­ing a busi­ness­man, even – and this is a big ask for a 70-year-old – of think­ing like a busi­ness­man.

Those Trump Towers will re­main around the world. But he does not want to be re­mem­bered for those, does he?


The Trump Plaza Res­i­dence build­ing next to Trump Bay Tower in Jersey City, US. Trump Bay Street is a 50-storey lux­ury apart­ment build­ing built by Kush­ner Com­pa­nies, whose chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Jared Kush­ner, is mar­ried to Trump’s daugh­ter Ivanka.


Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump will have to find a way of step­ping back from be­ing a busi­ness­man.

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