There’s a difference between an interest and a conflict of interest, and between the appearance of a conflict of interest and an actual conflict of interest. And remembering those distinctions, understanding them, and keeping them in mind is the key to making sense of the ongoing political uproar over the financial assets and income streams of President-elect Trump, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and his team of wealthy choices for cabinet positions, writes Ira Stoll.
Press coverage seems predicated on the absurd idea that being rich, owning real estate, or having business interests, is or ought to be somehow disqualifying from government service. But this, notes Stoll, is a principle that would have required George Washington to sell his Virginia farmland and put the proceeds in a blind trust before becoming president or serving as commander in chief of the Continental Army, or have required President Kennedy’s family to sell the Chicago Merchandise Mart and put the proceeds in a blind trust before Kennedy became president. It’s a principle that would have required Henry Morgenthau Jr. to sell Fishkill Farms and put the proceeds in a blind trust before serving as chairman of the Farm Credit Administration or Treasury secretary in President Roosevelt’s administration.