The three things Donald Trump really cares about


(CNN)Two weeks into his transition from President-elect to America’s commander in chief, Donald Trump has signaled his priorities and demonstrated the habits of mind he will bring to the most powerful position in the world. The clues tell us we shouldn’t expect this 70-year-old showman to be transformed into a genuinely sober, predictable leader, but this is not necessarily a bad omen.

There are lots of things ordinary politicians care about — rules about what kinds of things can be said while in office or on the campaign trail, traditions that have been tested in the history of US government and politics — that Trump may not care about. But it’s clear from his career and evident from his period as President-elect so far that there are three things he does care about:

    He still cares about the media — a lot.

    Trump has attended two big gatherings in the days since he seized the presidency. Neither of these sessions brought him together with the campaign staff that served him so well or a large group of men and women who might serve in his administration.
    Instead Trump chose to spend hours with the key leaders of the major TV news networks and the writers and editors of The New York Times.
    No one in such a high position should feel compelled to respond to the rather mild types of commentary expressed on “SNL” or at the “Hamilton” performance. Barack Obama, to cite one very apt comparison, didn’t respond every time Donald Trump suggested inaccurately he might not be legitimately the president because he could have been foreign-born.
    Behind Trump’s resentful tweets, of course, resides his deeply felt insecurity and constant concern for his public image. He may be poised to accept the most powerful job in the world, but the comments prove he doesn’t really feel powerful. He remains needy and obsessed with making sure everyone recognizes his greatness.
    Complaint is Trump’s longstanding practice and in the transition period he has shown he remains vulnerable to insult. Sometimes he sees insult when it isn’t even present. The “Hamilton” tweet is a case in point. As the cast member gave his brief speech, the object of it, Pence, told his children that the moment demonstrated what freedom looks like.

    Trump still cares about personal profit

    Although he has referred to the arrangements he is making for his businesses as a “blind trust,” Trump is keeping his holdings intact and will put his kids in charge. To expect them to do anything inconsistent with his wishes is like expecting lion cubs to turn vegetarian. We should, instead, assume that they will not only inform him of their activities but they may also exploit his status as president.
    No one elected president has carried into office the complex and far-flung interests Trump has built over his many decades of entrepreneurial activity. Trump partnerships and branded projects can be found across the United States and around the world. Trump has already been subject to reports that in post-election contacts with leaders in Argentina and the United Kingdom he may have mixed business with affairs of state.
    Despite the demands of the transition, Trump made time to meet with business partners from India.
    Worse, in terms of the image it conveyed, was the effort by one of Ivanka Trump’s businesses to market the bracelet she was seen wearing during an interview with the TV news program “60 Minutes.” Priced at $10,800, the Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry piece is made of gold and diamonds. A “style alert” her company sent to the media noted it is her “favorite bangle.” (An executive of the brand said a marketing employee had sent the alert to the media and that the company was still adjusting to the post-election reality. The company said it is considering new policies about how it sells her products.)

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    As he moves between business and government, President-elect Trump has made the point that “the law’s totally on my side” and a president “can’t have a conflict of interest.” That is consistent with his lifelong practices of equating what is “legal” and what may be the right thing to do. It is also not entirely accurate. Presidents have long been given the benefit of the doubt by those who assume they will avoid conflicts and they are exempt from regulations covering other government officials. However the US Constitution bars officeholders, arguably including the president, from receiving “foreign emoluments.” This clause of the Constitution indicated the Founders concern about undue influences and could provide the basis for a challenge to Trump’s practices should he indicate a conflict.
    Although one can imagine a legal challenge if Trump mixes business and his role as president, the true counterweight to his more risky impulses is his desire for approval. Here the time he spent at The New York Times is most illuminating.
    On position after position, from climate change to the use of torture against terror suspects, Trump offered the editors and reporters more nuanced and flexible attitudes than he ever showed during the campaign. On a personal level, though, his comment about Republicans who rejected him during the campaign but want to be in his good graces now showed where his heart tends to go. “Right now, they’re in love with me,” he said at the meeting.
    In his candid references to critics who now love him, and new policy positions that would reassure those who worry about a future with Trump in the White House, the President-elect reminded us that he wants, more than anything else, the security that comes when admiration is added to his wealth. He wants love to go with his money and he’s willing to behave more like a responsible politician if it means he will get it.

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