Nepotism is not an American tradition. Neither is official corruption at scale. This is the truly exceptional character of the United States, and it comes to a close with the appointment of Ivanka Trump to an unpaid White House position.
The assignment comes complete with a West Wing office, secure communications equipment, and a security clearance, but no job description and plenty of unanswered questions about conflicts of interest — all the power with none of the accountability.
That’s because she will effectively be her father’s “eyes and ears” in an administration defined by paranoid authoritarianism. As Libby Nelson explains at Vox, Ivanka’s appointment is not ideological. It is all about her father’s distrust of anyone outside the family.
“In an administration that spent its first two months riven by very public leaks and infighting,” she writes, “Trump has apparently decided, as he did in his business career, that his own children are the only people he can really trust.”
Until now, government-as-family-enterprise has been common abroad, but not in Washington, DC. This is a terrible moment for America to start imitating banana republics, too: anti-corruption organization Transparency International recently determined that 85% of humans live under a corrupt regime, and the problem is getting worse rather than better.
The latest update of the Economist Intelligence Unit‘s Democracy Index, released on the same day as the Transparency International report, reflects an almost identical perspective. The EIU Democracy Index measures the state of democracy in 167 countries and the average global score fell from 5.55 out of 10 in 2015 to 5.52 in 2016, with 72 countries recording a lower score versus 38 which showed an improvement.
Corruption is the handmaiden to inequality. Corrupt governments produce greater extremes of wealth and poverty, oppress dissent more harshly, and reinforce discrimination against women and minorities (see: Vladimir Putin’s Russia). Wherever democracy resists corruption, equality is possible.
The question now is whether American democracy can shake off this First Family before they turn the executive branch into an arm of the Trump Organization. “The world is watching,” says New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in an op-ed making the rounds today.
I had several young Arabs from around the region tell me that when America lets its own leader get away with lying, hiding information and smearing the press or a political opponent, it is taken as a license by all Middle Eastern leaders, or the leaders of Turkey or Russia, to do the exact same thing and say: “See, the American president does it, why shouldn’t we?”
Friedman is a longtime champion of capitalist globalization, if not the inequalities it has produced. His premise — that Trump’s national security team should hold an intervention — is risible, given that this president only trusts his family.
But Friedman is correct that America’s example matters, and that by electing Donald Trump, American voters have discouraged everyone around the world who was fighting rampant corruption in their own society. This is the context for understanding why Ivanka’s new job is so problematic. Like the chilling advance of right wing parties in Europe, this is one more chilling ripple effect of the Trump presidency.
Featured image: public domain
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