January 19, 2017

A Brand Named Trump

Chicago’s Trump Tower is proof that the president has no interest in separating his business from the presidency.

Knowing that this article will be published the day of the inauguration, I feel like it would be weird not to share how I feel about Trump’s transition into the White House. I could write about all the changes that his presidency will bring, like how his bigotry will harm minority communities, how his environmental policies will have destructive repercussions for generations, or how his cronyism threatens American democracy. But I think it’s important to look at what won’t change in Trump’s presidency, and for me the obvious answer is the ostentatious sign on the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. It’s ugly.

The fact is that the building that dominates downtown Chicago is simultaneously tacky and politically fueled. Without the sign, the Trump Tower would be just another modern, overly luxurious skyscraper, but with the sign the Trump Tower becomes a political statement. The building is a clear sign of where Trump’s interests lie—not with the American people, but with himself. Trump announced on January 12 that he would not be divesting from his business empire, instead handing it over to his sons. Although Trump’s lawyers claim that the newly inaugurated president will not interfere whatsoever, there still seems to be a major conflict of interest, not only with the obvious fact that his own family controls his business, but also with the fact that his business still bears his name.  

The building in Chicago, as well as the other buildings across the world that bear his name, shows that Trump has no interest in ethics or representing the American people. As a Washington Post satire piece points out, there is absolutely no way to monitor what Trump talks about with his sons around the dinner table. In a mock conversation, Trump asks his sons how things are, but quickly adds “not business things, obviously,” while “glancing down the table at the ethics adviser who has been following them around since this began.” 

Obviously, an ethics adviser can’t follow Trump around 24/7, as much as we would want that. But it does show that without a blind trust or a complete divestment from his assets, Trump can never truly sever himself from business. In his defense, Trump lawyer Sheri Dillon emphasizes the serious damage that would be caused to the value of the Trump Organization’s assets if the brand were to stop being used indefinitely. But the damage to the American people is greater. Retaining not just familial control but also an eponymous brand name defeats the point of supposedly giving up “complete and total control.” Being president is one of the most stressful and demanding roles in the world, and for the American people to have their leader further preoccupied with the image of his brand is not only ridiculous—but also dangerous. How can we ever be sure that he isn’t trying to benefit a brand so tied to his reputation and overinflated ego when he could so easily leverage his newly found power or try to influence the markets? The director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, says what we’re all thinking: “I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States.” What Trump is willing to do is to make the American people pay it.

But that’s an ethical problem Trump doesn’t seem all too concerned with. If his building downtown is anything to go by, he still proudly boasts his name and his business to all those who can see it. While three buildings in New York were able to remove their Trump signs, they were all able to do so because Trump didn’t actually own the buildings. In the case of the Chicago Trump Tower, the Trump Organization owns the building, meaning that the sign will only be removed if Trump desires it to be removed. For anything he owns and makes money off of, he will never give it up.

Maybe I wouldn’t have such strong opinions on the Trump logo as the sign on the Trump Tower if I actually supported Trump. However, no matter who you support politically, it is evident that the sign represents what Trump sees himself as, first and foremost—a businessman. While some voters may have voted for him because of his background in business, the fact still stands that as of January 20, he can no longer be real estate mogul Donald Trump. He is now the president of the United States of America and needs to work for and represent all of America, not just his own interests. But what he should do and what he actually does seem to be two categories that only intersect when convenient, and his Chicago building downtown is glaring proof of that. At this point, I feel like the only appropriate way to sum up my feelings toward the sign is to quote Billy from School of Rock: “You’re tacky and I hate you.”

Fred Kardos is a first-year in the College