Thursday, February 9, 2017

A new presidential directive to 'go shopping'

Today one might feel sentimental about the speeches given by then-President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. On Sept. 20, he addressed the nation:

"Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat...I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today."

Again, on Sept. 27:

"When they struck, they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear. And one of the great goals of this nation's war is to restore public confidence in the airline industry. It's to tell the traveling public: Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed."

In such a moment of crisis and confusion, many people craved greater moral leadership or more explicit instructions on what they could do to help others, and thus Bush was roundly mocked for having told the nation to "go shopping," as his words were commonly paraphrased.

But probably no president has ever told the nation to go shopping the way Donald Trump has just done.

Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka at a campaign rally in New Hampshire, ahead of the February 2016 New Hampshire primaries. Creative Commons 2.0. Wikimedia Commons.

In early February 2017, Ivanka Trump's clothing line was dropped by Nordstrom while other stores like TJX Companies and Belk have said they will scale back their promotions of the line. Ivanka's father tweeted on Feb. 8: "My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom." This was retweeted by @POTUS, the Twitter account of the office of the President. The next morning, the president's counselor Kellyanne Conway spoke from the White House to the Fox & Friends television show: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, but I am going to go get some myself today. This is just — it’s a wonderful line, I own some of it, I’m just gonna give a free commercial here, go buy it today, you can buy it online.”

Laurel Raymond explained that Conway's comments "appear to violate federal ethics law, which prohibits the endorsement of products by federal officials." Jill Disis quoted Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in his letter to the House Oversight Committee chair: "This appears to be a textbook violation of government ethics laws and regulations enacted to prevent the abuse of an employee's government position."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the use of @POTUS was appropriate:

"This is less about his family's business, and an attack on his daughter. He ran for president, he won, he's leading this country. I think for people to take out their concern for his actions or executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success. When it comes to his family, I think he's been very clear about what they've accomplished. And for someone to take out their concern for his policies on a family member of his is just not acceptable, and the president has every right as a father to stand up for them."

As for Conway's comments, Spicer said she was "counseled on that subject, and that's it."

Disis quoted the opinion of Larry Noble, general counsel of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center: "He [the president] should not be promoting his daughter's line, he should not be attacking a company that has business dealings with his daughter, and it just shows the massive amount of problems we have with his business holdings and his family's business holdings."

If there were a crisis, what would we be asked to buy then?

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