Government in the Private Interest

A current defense of Trump raises an ancient political question.

On October 17, 2018, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney provided what is emerging as new defense of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Specifically, the argument that what was done, withholding aid in exchange for certain actions from the Ukrainians is just standard operating procedure.

Q    But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo.  It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well.

MR. MULVANEY:  We do that all the time with foreign policy.  We were holding money at the same time for — what was it?  The Northern Triangle countries.  We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration.

Source: “Press Briefing by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney” The White House.

This defense also emerged in a Hugh Hewitt column in WaPo this week:

quid pro quos have always been a feature of U.S. foreign policy — from the long-ago Louisiana Purchase to more recently President Barack Obama’s sending the Iranian regime $1.7 billion in cash, which was central to the controversial U.S.-Iran nuclear “deal.” Quid pro quos are sometimes excellent and obvious, sometimes controversial, sometimes illegal.

Source: “If Republicans don’t stand by Trump, they risk losing their base forever.” The Washington Post.

(To Hewitt’s credit, he allows for the fact that some quid pro quos are legitimate, and others are not).

Another example, Rand Paul’s Breitbart column:

We give you this aid — on the expectation that you will not steal any of it for personal use, that you will spend it as we instruct, and on the understanding that if you don’t spend the money as we command, you won’t get any more next year.

Democrats want people to be alarmed by a Latin phrase, but, really, making foreign aid contingent on behavior is actually the defining reason that countries supposedly give aid — to influence the behavior of the receiving country.

Source: “Rand Paul: Is Quid Pro Quo the Status Quo?Brietbart.

The basic problem with this line of defense is that there is a profound difference between withholding government support, or providing it, in the pursuance of a public policy goal of the United States’ government versus doing so for the private benefit of the president.

To conflate the two, as Mulvaney, Hewitt, and Paul are doing is to excuse a profound abuse of power.

Trump did not seek to leverage US military aid to Ukraine to further public policy goals of the US government. He did so for personal political gain. He wanted 1) help confirming a conspiracy theory about the origins of what would become the investigation into Russian election interference, and 2) and investigation of Hunter and Joe Biden.

The first request is about undercutting the clear evidence that Russian intelligence interfered in the 2016 election and that that interference helped him win. He wants those facts to be a hoax so that his win was not tainted and to prove that the Mueller probe had no validity. That is for his personal gain.

The second request is to find dirt on a major political opponent, one who is perceived to be a potential threat to his reelection. Again this is for his personal political gain, not for a public policy goal.

I keep thinking back, as I hear these claims, to Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics. Both of these ancient philosophical texts made a similar claim on this subject: good governance is when government is conducted in the interest of the public and bad governance occurs when governing is conducted in behalf of the private interest of the ruler.

Indeed, the Latin term “res publica” from whence we derive the word “republic” means “public affairs” and can also be translated “commonwealth.” The whole point of The Republic is that good governance only exists when those who govern do so in the public interest. Whenever government is focused on the private interest of the ruler, that government is unjust. Hence, oligarchy is government by the rich wherein the rich simply seek to further enrich themselves.

For Plato, government driven by the appetites of those is power are unjust.

Likewise, Artistotle’s Politics details good regime types and perverted regime types. The regime types wherein those in government where able to govern in the common interest are good regimes. Those focused on the needs of the government are perverse regimes.

This is pretty fundamental stuff. Trump should not be allowed to use the power of his office to further his own personal needs. And that is exactly what he was trying to do with the entire Ukraine affair.

It is also why the Framers created the emoluments clauses–the president should not be using his office for personal gain.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Impeachment, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    Democrats want people to be alarmed by a Latin phrase…

    Paul and other Trump lickspittles, as well as Trump himself, should be alarmed by another Latin phrase, “Acta deos numquam mortalia fallunt“…

  2. Kit says:

    The first request is about undercutting the clear evidence that Russian intelligence interfered in the 2016 election and that that interference helped him win …

    The second request is to find dirt on a major political opponent, one who is perceived to be a potential threat to his reelection…

    good governance is when government is conducted in the interest of the public

    Republicans are enthusiastic about Trump because they feel he is governing in the public interest. They like what he’s doing, from tax cuts to walls to enthroning the right asses on judicial seats. At every step, he’s being fought by the Deep State, the liberal press, and a perfidious Democratic Party. Of course his actions to harm his enemies (the country’s enemies) and to help his re-election chances are also in the public interest. Just chalk that up to another Republican truth that unfortunately can’t be uttered in polite society.

  3. Nickel Front says:

    The first request is about undercutting the clear evidence that Russian intelligence interfered in the 2016 election

    Are we done talking about the Russian Collusion Hoax then? Or are we just ignoring the deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to take down a presidential candidate with the help of foreign powers? It most certainly should be a public policy goal of the United States’ government to know more about the origins of the Russian Collusion hoax. Especially if a current candidate was involved with that.

    How can one call that a “conspiracy theory” while blindly accepting the premise that Trump conspired with Putin to win the election?

    It is essential that we investigate the origins of the Russian Collusion hoax and spying on a presidential campaign, and know who was involved in that. This MUST be investigated if we are to retain faith in our republic.

    Innocent people would welcome this investigation.

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  4. Nickel Front says:

    @Kit: Republicans are enthusiastic about Trump because they feel he is governing in the public interest

    It’s almost like you’re saying there are differences in opinion as to what constitutes the “public interest.”

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    This is why the GOPs are beating so hard on the quid pro quo and ignoring the quo, the ask for Zelensky to say on TV there is an investigation of Biden. A quid pro quo is, in principle, defensible, the specific quo is not.

    And Trump isn’t doing this because his win seems tainted. Everything he’s ever done was tainted. He doesn’t care. I think Adam Silverman is right in the LGM post I linked in an earlier thread. This is a black PSYOP aimed at providing a fig lead for Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    Or are we just ignoring the deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to take down a presidential candidate with the help of foreign powers?

    Oh? Than why haven’t members of Obama’s administration been investigated and charged by Barr’s Justice Department…

    It is essential that we investigate the origins of the Russian Collusion hoax and spying on a presidential campaign, and know who was involved in that.

    So you’re in favor of Julian Assange being arrested and charged for releasing stolen DNC emails…

    It’s almost like you’re saying there are differences in opinion as to what constitutes the “public interest.”

    Well, certainly trying to dig up dirt on Joe Biden to help win a presidential election is definitely not in the public interest…

  7. Gustopher says:

    @Nickel Front: The origins of the Russian-Trump investigation are well known and not favorable to Mr. Trump or his campaign.

    A series of troubling on the surface contacts were noticed and forwarded to the FBI. The FBI investigated, saw that they were credible, and proceeded from there, while doing their best to keep things quiet during the campaign, so as to not influence the campaign.

    From Russian asset Carter Page being a foreign policy advisor, to Russian Oligarch backed Paul Manafort being the campaign manager, to the details of the Steele dossier, to Flynn’s work with Russia and Turkey… it would have been gross malpractice to not investigate.

    It was gross malpractice not to interview President Trump or his children as part of the Mueller investigation.

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  8. Kit says:

    @Nickel Front:

    It’s almost like you’re saying there are differences in opinion as to what constitutes the “public interest.”

    Quite right! The idea that good governance must serve the public interest, an idea stretching from classical antiquity to just recently, had been completely abandoned by today’s Republican Party. Plato, no fan of democracy, nonetheless had the diagnosis down: a demagogue leading the ignorant masses by the nose. Prognosis: democratic collapse followed by tyranny.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @Kit: You’re not understanding him. The Public interest is the Republican interest.

    There’s no difference to him.

  10. Kit says:

    @Gustopher:

    You’re not understanding him. The Public interest is the Republican interest.

    That’s what I was saying, or at least trying to say, in my original comment. I took him as trying to imply that any difference in the understanding of public interest was valid, and thus Trump’s actions were justified.

    In any case, I think the two of us are on the same page.

  11. mattbernius says:

    @Nickel Front:

    Or are we just ignoring the deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to take down a presidential candidate with the help of foreign powers?

    Wow, this is major news that I have not heard about. Can you provide details?

    This seems really significant, what evidence is there to back up this claim?

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Nickel Front:
    Trump proved Russian collusion by attempting Ukrainian collusion and then Chinese collusion.

    You can say a guy didn’t steal a car, but if he is then caught stealing a car, and then another car, it’s a pretty good bet he stole the first one, too.

    But you just sail right on in crazytown, dude. Your delusions don’t much matter anymore. The cult has been priced into the overall situation and 42% support vs. 50% impeach the motherfker right now, is not a winning hand. No matter how you look at it, Trump goes down in history as a criminal and traitor, and you culties go down as a bunch of idiot Koreshies.

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  13. Teve says:

    Teve says:
    Friday, October 25, 2019 at 14:04
    There’s weird speculation right now on Twitter that Barr wants to indict Democrats for Russia’s 2016 interference.

    Hillary? Obama?

  14. SenyorDave says:

    It is amazing to watch the arguments supporting Trump move in real time. We have gone from there’s nothing here, there was no quid pro quo to sure it is quid pro quo but it doesn’t matter in this case. Just like he didn’t even know Stormy Daniels to what difference does it make that he paid her $130k in hush money because he was banging her while his trophy wife was home nursing their infant son.
    Hugh Hewitt used to pretend to have some principles, now he is a true Trump toadie.

  15. SenyorDave says:

    @Michael Reynolds: @Michael Reynolds: You can say a guy didn’t steal a car, but if he is then caught stealing a car, and then another car, it’s a pretty good bet he stole the first one, too.

    The Republican argument seems to be that there are plenty of reasons why stealing a car is okay, and the Democrats are to blame for even investigating it.

  16. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Trump goes down in history as a criminal and traitor, and you culties go down as a bunch of idiot Koreshies.”

    Not this assclown. He’ll just change his screen name again, pose as a never-Trumper, and post endless screeds screaming about how the Democrats stole the election from Tulsi.

  17. Nickel Front says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    “Everyone who doesn’t see things my way is guilty of collusion with some foreign country, and is a Russian Agent.”

    When even Tulsi is guilty of foreign collusion, no one is guilty of foreign collusion. You’d think that bizarre accusation would would finally make you see the inanity of all your collusion conspiracy theories, but you’re all too emotionally invested in it at this point. Looking into your conspiracy theories is now….a conspiracy theory. Sure, Jan.

    When you see a guy bragging about his son stealing cars, and you see his son diving stolen cars, odds are he’s a car thief.

    Gross malpractice, btw, would mean NOT investigating the Biden family and their connections to China and Ukraine. Again, if they are innocent, they should welcome this investigation. If nothing comes from it, then we’ll know how pristine Biden truly is. The public interest demands that we investigate.

    You keep being you tho, seeing Russians EVERYWHERE.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Nickel Front:
    – Hillary said the REPUBLICANS are grooming Gabbard for a third party run.
    —-NYT reported it as Russians, and later corrected it.
    – I don’t recall Reynolds said Gabbard is colluding. You said collusion.
    – Who bragged about his son stealing cars?
    – What evidence do you believe there is for …
    Oh why bother. Thank you for the demonstration of the effect of RW media.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    You keep being you tho, seeing Russians EVERYWHERE.

    I suppose it’s much better to simply be a useful idiot, and go around screaming that the Russians haven’t interfered in foreign elections, both in this country and elsewhere…next we’ll hear how Putin is simply a misunderstood choir boy who would never do anything nefarious…the political party that used to stand up against Soviet aggression is now led by someone who is trying to cozy up to Russia…how the world turns…

  20. @Nickel Front:

    Are we done talking about the Russian Collusion Hoax then?

    Talk to the US intelligence community. Or, if you prefer, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence committee, both of whom confirmed Russian interference. Indeed, I think Matt Bernius pointed that out to you before, even quoted it to you, but you ignored it.

    If you are not willing to deal with basic facts, you are not worth engaging with, as it is clear you do not care about truth.

    It is sad that you feel the need to be so obedient to whomever it is that leads your party.

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  21. mattbernius says:

    @Nickel Front:
    Hey, I noticed that you responded to this thread but didn’t seem to provide any evidence for your original claim (after I asked for it) that you say Steven didn’t address:

    the deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to take down a presidential candidate with the help of foreign powers?

    This is an incredibly important claim that I would like to learn more about. Can you provide some evidence to back that up, I am sure you must have some stuff on hand.

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  22. mattbernius says:

    @Nickel Front:

    Again, if they are innocent, they should welcome this investigation.

    Also, I am curious, if this is the accepted truth, shouldn’t President Trump approve of all of these investigations? He seems to think there are “witch-hunts” (his words not mine). Clearly you appear to think this is the wrong thinking. I would love if you could unpack this contradiction

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  23. Jax says:

    @mattbernius: Nickel Front and friends reject our commie, libtard, factual reality in favor of their own superimposed reality, where Donald J Trump wears a muscle shirt and smites his enemies like the Lord Jesus Christ come back to save them.

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The acid flashbacks are strong in the Fronted Nickle.

  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kit: And, ironically enough, Nickel Front magically appears as the next commenter to reinforce what you had just said. It’s almost enough to make someone believe in God.

  26. Chip Daniels says:

    Conservatives aren’t stupid, anymore than evangelicals who insist on Creationism.

    Its just that sort of motivated reasoning where the world Trump promises- a world of hierarchy of white over black, male over female, rich over poor- is so enticing to them that by sheer force of will they force themselves into believing whatever nonsense is needed. Or if they can’t quite believe it themselves, they justify a “noble lie” as part of the effort to reach the grand prize.

    This is why Trumpism/ conservatism can’t be discussed in rational terms like most political differences, because it isn’t founded in rational thought.
    Its like trying to debate the transubstantiation of the body of Christ as some biological process.

  27. al Ameda says:

    @Nickel Front:

    Or are we just ignoring the deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to take down a presidential candidate with the help of foreign powers?

    You mean by that, the obtaining of a legal FISA warrant to monitor a candidate who was in contact with Russian operatives? Is THAT what you mean by a “deliberate attempt .. to take down a presidential candidate …”? Also, FYI, said foreign powers were trying to help said presidential candidate.