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The hereditary principle is not only un-American but harmful to the children of great men, Benjamin Franklin declared soon after the Revolutionary War, as rumors flew of plots to establish a new aristocracy with George Washington at its head. To honor parents is reasonable, Franklin admitted, but to reward descendants for an accident of birth is “not only groundless and absurd but often hurtful to that posterity.”

Much about President Donald Trump would dismay the Founding Fathers. The tumult now embroiling his children and son-in-law surely would have nudged them toward outright alarm.

Even Franklin, a prescient sort, might have failed to imagine an American president’s child expressing willingness to receive “very high level and sensitive information” about a political opponent from a hostile foreign power — as Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., admittedly did during the election of 2016.

Long before that was known, however, the president’s use of his progeny as White House counselors and as managers of his real-estate empire — spurning advice to place his businesses in a blind trust — posed a grave threat to the checks and balances crafted by the founders.

Defenders of nepotism — they do exist — argue that close relatives are able to offer presidents more candid advice than any outsider. They note that by some counts 16 presidential children have worked in the White House, variously as private secretaries — a tradition begun by the sixth president, John Quincy Adams, himself a president’s son — or as unpaid gatekeepers, as with Anna Roosevelt, daughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, or as formal advisers: President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s son, John, served as a national security aide.

Such a defense breaks down, however, when America has a bad president. When ordinary aides find themselves in that unhappy situation, a sense of duty to their country, to their office or to the rule of law may prompt them to question furtive actions and poor decisions, or to resign. Other aides may be more strongly moved by self-interest or a desire to keep their good name from being soiled by an unfit boss.

When a child wields power at the pleasure of a parent, however, fidelity to country or to the law must vie with deeper, more visceral loyalties. That tug of loyalties is more painful still when a parent is like Trump, a clannish, vengeful man who, by his own son’s account, would send him to school with the growled warning, “Don’t trust anyone.” As for trying to preserve a free-standing good name, that is tricky if your name is Donald Trump Jr.

Checks and balances also are disrupted when a child-counselor to a president is at fault. Trump may still resent the fact that he had to sack his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for lying about contacts with the Russians. Nonetheless, the systems of control and accountability that caught Flynn, starting with a free press, did Trump a favor. Senior Trump administration officials and Republicans in Congress found Flynn, an angry and conspiratorial ex-general, almost impossible to work with.

In contrast, any hint of disrespect for a Trump child provokes indignation from the president, so that few Republicans in Congress care to exercise robust oversight of his daughter, Ivanka, or her husband, Jared Kushner, both of whom serve as senior advisers, with Kushner wielding influence over dossiers from domestic economics to peace in the Middle East.

In February, Trump attacked Nordstrom, a clothing chain, for dropping a fashion line branded by Ivanka, complaining on both his personal and government Twitter accounts that she had been “treated so unfairly.” The president took to Twitter again this past week to defend his daughter, enraged by scoffing in the world press after he asked her to fill his seat briefly at the G-20 summit. A press secretary for Trump felt obliged to denounce such questioning of his daughter’s role as an “outrageous attack against a White House senior adviser.”

Congress has been feeble in policing potential conflicts of interest involving the Trump Organization, headed by Donald Jr. and his brother Eric, as foreign governments book rooms or receptions at Trump properties, including a hotel a few minutes from the White House.

Struggling to engage with a nationalist, America First president with a limited attention span, foreign governments are learning to use his family to sway him. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany invited Ivanka Trump to a summit on women’s empowerment. Arab delegations in Washington enthuse that dealing with Kushner is a great comfort, because talking to rulers’ relations is the Arab way.

As for Asia, “because China is not remotely interested in the democratic health of the United States,” its leaders and tycoons are happy to flatter Trump or do business deals with his family, giving China an advantage over more squeamish Western powers, sighed a diplomat who sees this process up close.

In private, envoys to Washington compare the Trump children to princes and princesses in a royal court. That is a bit unfair to princes: Such modern examples as William and Harry in Britain talk of duty, of humility and of shunning politics precisely because they are unelected. The Trump children are more self-congratulatory, praising their father for selflessly giving up a life that was “the epitome of the American dream” to serve as president. Donald Jr. bragged to the Republican National Convention about youthful visits to construction sites: “We’re the only children of billionaires” as happy in a bulldozer as in a car, he said.

Many grass-roots conservatives cheer along. Last October, Donald Jr. told Republican campaign volunteers in Reno that his family was “sick” of “disgusting” media attacks, prompting one to reassure him: “I’d like to thank your family for going through the hell you are going through.”

America’s founders recoiled from the hereditary principle. They also feared a politics of tribal factions. The Trump clan is proving them right on both counts.

From the Economist magazine.