Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 20, 2019
We grew up thinking that choosing our leaders — even our television drama presidents — had a lot to do with their “character,” some combination of ethical and political leadership skill, their ability to inspire, a deep-seated desire to make life better for most of us, if not all.
Clearly, that has given way to a more expedient calculation about whether this guy or that woman will deliver me personally more from government coffers. It means not using government to use the office for personal gain — as being explored in these impeachment hearings.
Whatever the president of the moment chooses to do with his own time, well, that’s between him and his political supporters.
The thought popped up again over the last couple of weeks because Donald Trump was caught, and found by a court, to have so cheated on the use of his personal charity foundation, that he must pay $2 million to other charities as part of a settlement.
Here’s the thing, though. The judgment was made public, of course, but that’s it. No one seems to care that we have a guy as president who would stiff returning veterans promised money for the chance instead for Trump to buy himself a portrait of himself or a football trinket or pay off a political contribution.
As the impeachment hearings drone on, punctuated with he-did-that moments, it is essentially the character of Trump and all of his witnesses and questioners that comes to mind. How Trump thinks it appropriate to attack career professional diplomats with decades of experience while pursuing an “irregular channel” to sic Rudy Giuliani and henchmen against a all-too-willing Ukrainian leader feels over the top each time it happens. And it happens repeatedly.
So, it was useful to look back to the recent court decision in New York. Judge Saliann Scarpulla ruled recently that Trump had misused money given to the Donald J. Trump Foundation, had named his children as directors who did nothing about it, and apparently used the charity proceeds — including money not his own — as a tax dodge, which likely is a separate criminal act for each year he did so.
According to the court documents, the charity was used to pay $10,000 for the portrait that was hung in his Doral golf resort in Miami, about $250,000 to settle lawsuits against The Trump Organization, $12,000 for a jersey and helmet autographed by former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, and $25,000 in 2013 to a political committee connected to former Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Biondi, who arose in the news this week as a Trump attorney in his impeachment case.
Even his $100,000 check to a veterans group during a campaign stop was ruled no good because money from charities is prohibited by federal law from participating in political campaigns.
The charity has now been shut down, and as a result of the suit by New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James, Trump is barred from creating a new charity in New York State.
Judge Scarpulla said, “Mr. Trump owed fiduciary duties to the Foundation,” state Judge Saliann Scarpulla wrote. “Mr. Trump breached his fiduciary duty to the Foundation.”
The board of the Trump Foundation had never met in 19 years from 1999 to 2018. Since 2009, Trump had not put any money into the foundation.
Trump ‘s lawyers admitted to the court that he misappropriated funds and he agreed to extreme oversight in any future charitable works. His children, who were originally named in the lawsuit, were let off in exchange for taking an “in-person interactive” course on how to be better board members.
Trump repaid the foundation $338,000 for improper spending, and has promised to distribute $3.8 million to eight recognized charities.
So, we’re left with questions about this man we have elected to be our president, a man now under the most serious legal and political test he has faced in pending impeachment charges.
Does this charity manipulation show us his true his character? Should it disqualify him from being the president of the United States? Does the adoption of a tax cut that served corporate interests and the appointment of dozens of very conservative, if sometimes unqualified judges outweigh the character of the individual we have representing us?
Once again, Trump is showing us that rules meant to govern, meant to describe fairness and legal use of money — this time through his charity foundation — mean nothing to him. His narcissistic bravado does not recognize right from wrong.
Thus, there is no issue about locking up children of migrants in dog cages or ignoring the plight of asylum seekers, no issue with removing access to health care 20 million people at a time, ordering the destruction of the environment through deregulation and withdrawal from treaties, promises and agreements.
We should be paying more attention. No Democrat or “never-Trumper” made him cheat on his charity foundation spending. No perceived enemy or conspiracy “witch hunt” made him favor self-promotion over actual philanthropy.
This election involving a television-savvy president, just as West Wing or Madam Secretary, American President or other fictionalized depictions, is very much about character.
Trump’s character is constantly missing in action, and his supporters don’t care.