TEHRAN, Dec. 01 (Press Shia Agency) – The United States modern political history, cannot recall such an explicit nepotism as much as the President-elect Donald Trump does.
He is accused of turning the U.S. politics as his familial assets in forming a transition team, in which four of his five adult children are involved. Rebecca Ballhaus, in her article in The Wall Street Journal “Donald Trump’s Children Won’t Have White House Roles,” says those potential overlaps have drawn criticism from ethics experts in both parties. Then, the turning point here is, whether the Executive Office of the President has turned into a startling family business in the hands of Trump’s extended family? Does it signal a large-scale nepotism and cronyism is forming in the White House? What does nepotism have to do with ethics? Whether federal anti-nepotism law is applicable to Trump’s transition team? And how deep is this country’s favoritism conundrum?
But, first of all, we should clarify what nepotism means and what consequences it has? Nepotism is the worst form of favoritism and corruption granted to relatives and in particular to the members of the elite family. The origins of this family involvement in the key positions, can trace its history back to assignment of nephews to dominant positions by Catholic Popes and Bishops in the mediaeval ages. The term originally stems from Italian word Nepotismo, which according to Latin root Nepos means nephew.
According to New Catholic Dictionary, “since the Mediaeval times up until the late 17th century, some Catholic Popes and Bishops, who had taken vows of chastity, and therefore usually had no legitimate offspring of their own, gave their nephews such positions of preference as were often accorded by fathers to son.” It is almost superfluous to say that, both nepotism and cronyism are two branches of favoritism, and generally it has been around since the beginning of life but specifically it can be traced back to the early city-states of ancient Greece.
Aristotle, a towering figure in ancient Greek philosophy, the one who made contributions to logics, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, biology, botany, ethics, politics, agriculture, medicine, dance and theatre believes that “Equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally.” Likewise, as far as one of the most basic themes in ethics is fairness and equal treatment of people, then, favoritism and its forbidden fruits – cronyism and nepotism – all of these things are in flat contradiction to such ethics. Because it provides with undue privileges and advantages to those who do not necessarily deserve the high positions.
In an interesting article, “Get Elected, Get Your Kids Rich: Washington is Spoiled Rotten” on The Daily Beast, author Clare Malone clearly states that the steeply rising nepotism in the U.S. political sphere and especially among those affluent families, is designing a ruling class that won’t be easily reversed. Frankly speaking, Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton and a professor of public policy at University of California, Berkeley, believes that in Washington it’s glaringly obvious that the ruling class would prefer to keep power in the blood line, owing to the fact that, “leisure class” reluctance to give power to an unknown outsider, has led to a “vicious cycle of wealth and power” within their families.
Therefore, being in a leisure class or having family member in government and higher posts, would help young men and women of ruling class become powerful in Washington. “Even in the midst of an era of heightened awareness about inequality – both financial and social – we might well be experiencing the beginning of another historic cyclical upswing of powerful family bias. In other words, those go-getter couples meeting over drinks at Café Dupont in their baggy suits and department store pencil skirts might just be the matriarchs and patriarchs of the next legendary American families” Clare Malone writes.
At loggerheads with Clare Malone, Adam Bellow, the author of “In Praise of Nepotism: A Natural History,” argues that family connections vouchsafe voters a sense of assurance, and that nepotism is a delightful and prevalent trend in all industry-wide practice from business (e.g., Wal-Mart Stores) to the movies (e.g., the Coppolas), politics, entertainment, sports, and religion. Affirming the positive role nepotism plays in the American dream, he said “the spirit of family enterprise gives dignity and meaning to our lives, and is not only a spur to achievement but also a check on excessive ambition.” He continued “it links the generations in a chain of generosity and gratitude. We would all be better off if we reflected more consistently and deeply not only on our debt to our ancestors but also on what we owe our descendants.” Ivanka Trump, daughter of newly President-elect and multi-millionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, is the one who is totally agree with Adam Bellow and she has been candid and straight to the point about her privileged upbringing. “Of course, nepotism got me in the door. It would be silly to say otherwise, but if I was not performing in a way that was satisfactory, I could not stay within the organization.” In a 2009 interview with ABC News she said.
But, Law professor at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley, has the idea that nepotism is one of the most bipartisan issues in American political system, for the reason that “it combines the two most powerful motivations in Washington: procreation and power.” He adds that “the benefit are the sons and daughters of the powerful elite.” Consequently, the United States, is a country that apparently, on the stage founded in opposition to hereditary rule, but at the behind the scenes we can name numerous nepotistic appointments. To put it simple, Brian D. Feinstein, law school professor at Chicago University, in his invaluable work “The Destiny Advantage: Family Ties in Congressional Elections,” releases the statistics that shows about 8.7 percent of Congress members had a relative in office before them, and also, the same study suggests that in the vicinity of 8.6 percent had a relative followed them in Congress.
Brian D. Feinstein concludes that, “brand identity” is the key reason in answering to this question that why do Americans are so tolerant about nepotism. Accordingly, antithetical to the flood of propaganda, which considers nepotism and cronyism as unethical trends and theoretically condemns this kind of family connections in politics and praises traditional American values of self-reliance and fairness, but notwithstanding this, practically among the U.S. political elites, “power begets power and it’s a family thing.” Hence, American voters in practice, would prefer a name they already know instead of an unknown politician even though he/she is conversant in politics and International Diplomacy but nobody knows her/him.
John Quincy Adams, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and now Donald Trump are the best examples of “brand identity,” of the four Presidents listed here, the first three belongs to political elite family and the fourth one himself is a brand name in economy and rules the U.S. economic elites. John F. Kennedy, son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr – who was a businessman, investor, and a leading member and politician of Democratic Party – by ascending to power, he had appointed his brother Robert as attorney general of the United States of America. Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the 46th Vice-president Dick Cheney, is another example of “family connections” who was appointed to the position of Deputy Assistance Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Notwithstanding she had no background in Middle Eastern Affairs.
The transition teams due to the fact that are not federal agencies, so according to federal anti-nepotism laws, this is legal for Trump to hire his adult children in his White House transition team. Nevertheless, the case of Donald Trump’s nepotism is more perilous to American political life than what was happened in the past U.S. history. Because, Trump’s presidency will connect and join the political elites to the economic elites those who are the rulers of the business world. According to Rebecca Ballhaus, “critics have voiced concerns not only that he could take government actions to benefit his companies, but that people could pay his companies money in an attempt to influence the president’s actions.” Charles Wright Mills, distinguished professor of sociology at Columbia University and prominent American sociologist, the one who founded the terms “power elite,” and “sociological imagination” in his famous book “The Power Elite,” prophetically warns about the centralization of authority within the elites of society and brought to light that interwoven interests of the leaders of the Military, Economic, and Political elites of the United States are at odds with the common good.
C. Wright Mills is of the opinion that, when the “power elite” collaborate closely with each other, their decision or lack of decisions will have enormous consequences, not only for ordinary Americans but also for the people all around the world (e.g., Trump’s position on climate change, border control, relations with friends and foes, and immigration has grown concerns all around the world). Robert Reich in his latest book, “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” thinks “the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite [threatens capitalism] that has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs,” he spoke to Real Time Economics. It does seem, the better way to read C. Wright Mills for better understanding, is listening to Bernard “Bernie” Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist and United States Senator from Vermont, and the one who campaigned against Hillary Clinton for the party’s 2016 U.S. Presidential nomination, when he said: “Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders, on Wall Street and elsewhere, whose policies and greed are destroying the middle class of America.”
Abbas Torabi has done his MA in North American Studies in Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran.