An interesting tidbit that came out of Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect (which will likely be overshadowed by some of its more contentious moments), was a disclosure regarding the mogul’s business dealings. Taking the stage, tax attorney Sheri Dillon announced that all Trump hotel profits generated by payments from foreign governments will be donated to the U.S. Treasury.
The stated purpose of the arrangement was to avoid all possible conflicts of interest, but the decision’s greater value falls into the arena of political optics. Truth be told, it was an absolutely brilliant public relations move.
Trump ran his campaign on a nationalist message that appealed to hard-working Americans in the middle class. He promised them more job opportunities and relief from the economic hardships they’ve faced over the past decade. Though he has yet to take office and put some meat behind his rhetoric, he has undoubtedly used his skills as a successful salesman to create a perception that he’s priming the pump for a new era of economic prosperity.
What better way to add to that perception than handing U.S. taxpayers a generous gift, compliments of foreign wealth? The premise is not all that different from Trump’s popular campaign promise of making the Mexican government pay for a border wall. Only, this initiative is feasible and will almost certainly be implemented.
Of course, the money that Trump directs to the Treasury won’t do a thing to relieve the tax burden of everyday Americans. Much like the president-elect’s public negotiations with companies like Boeing and Ford (under the premise of better serving the interests of the citizenry), this is mostly symbolic small-ball economics. Real change will have to come through legislation and reform, and with a fragmented nation and a hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington, that will be no easy task.
Still, gestures can go a long way in today’s politics, and with this move, Trump has done something that few politicians ever bother to: express gratitude to the American taxpayer.
Our leaders in D.C. are great at spending our money, and championing their own efforts in how that money is spent, but rarely do they show respect to those who create the wealth that makes it all possible. You often hear politicians talk about the poor and disadvantaged among us, but you rarely hear them deliver a message of indebtedness to those who aren’t. Trump’s decision at least feels like a “thank you” of sorts to that sector of the American public.
The move might even give Trump a little wiggle-room on his continuing refusal to produce his tax returns. Though journalists and political opponents have been demanding this information for over a year, there is some unfortunate truth to the president-elect’s contention that most people simply aren’t interested in it. If it were a stickler, Trump wouldn’t have won the election.
Now, when he’s hounded by the press to produce his taxes, he can always say something like, “Look, I just gave a tremendous amount of my money to the U.S. Treasury. I didn’t have to do that. Other successful businesspeople like Warren Buffet – who you people in the media are in love with – always say we should give more money to the Treasury than we have to. But they never actually do it. I did it. So let’s move on to something that people care about.”
Should that be enough to let Trump off the hook for his evasiveness on the issue? Absolutely not.
Will it be? In this political environment, it just might.
All in all, it’s a win-win for Trump. We’ll soon be at that point, however, when the optics will have to take a backseat to governance and sound policy. Only then will we see if working Americans come out ahead.