The Longest Now


Trump’s tee-totalling: why are so many meetings held on the golf course?
Sunday December 01st 2019, 6:17 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,citation needed,fly-by-wire,international

It is time we stop talking about “golf time” as leisure time away from the presidency, and start treating it as a primary channel for meetings, negotiations, and decision-making. (See for instance the last line of this remarkable story.)

Trump’s presidential schedule is full of empty days and golf weekends – roughly two days a week have been spent on his own resorts, throughout his presidency. Combined with his historically light work schedule, averaging under two hours of meetings per day, the majority of small-group meetings may be taking place at his resorts.

He has also directed hundreds of government groups, and countless diplomatic partners and allies, to stay at his resorts and properties.

On his properties, his private staff control the access list, security videos and other records.  They are also able to provide privacy from both press and government representatives that no federal property could match.

How might we address the issues involved with more clarity?

Paying himself with government funds

To start with, this is self-dealing on an astronomical scale: the 300+ days spent at his golf clubs and other properties have cost the US government, by conservative estimate, $110 million. The cost of encouraging the entire government to stay at Trump properties is greater still, if harder to estimate.

Most of this money goes to the Trump organization.  Additional funds from events held at these resorts while he is there go directly to him, through presidential fundraisers of one sort or another.

Playing up his par lore

Lindsey Graham, preparing to golf with Trump

Trump has a long history with golf. He treats it as a status symbol and business, but is not a sportsman, cheating outrageously at every opportunity. He promotes a myth of his own golf ability, and gets people he holds meetings with to tell tall tales about his prowess.

This promotes the idea that he spends time at his resorts playing golf rather than at off-the-record meetings. But he rarely plays – on over half of the days he spends at golf clubs, there is no record of him playing golf.

Hiding personal meetings from the public

More importantly, on most days there is no record of who he met with at all.

Trump has always opposed the White House tradition of publishing visitor logs, ending that tradition in April 2017. He likewise does not publish logs of who visits Mar-a-Lago or his other resorts.  Lawsuits to gain access to those logs have met with stonewalling (sharing only the already-public record of a visit by Abe).

On rare occasion, Trump will give a small public statement with a prominent guest on a rotunda. But more often he manages to keep the travelling press pool away from his resorts, and there are no public reports on his activity. Private resorts are an excellent alibi: it isn’t easy to guess who might be there to meet with him, as there are many people coming in and out simply to play golf.

This leaves him free to arrange meetings for personal gain, or other unpopular ends, outside of the public eye.

Hiding personal meetings from the government

Visitor logs to the White House are still kept privately, and available to others in the government.  By moving meetings to properties he owns, Trump can further reduce the number of people with visibility into his contacts and schedule, and move the conduct of official business out of buildings maintained by the government, to those built and maintained by employees of his family Organization.

This may leave him free to arrange meetings at odds with the national interest, outside of the purview of government watchdogs and auditors.

 

These are the issues we must address — challenges to American policy, ethics, and diplomatic norms, to transparency and due process; conduits for billions of dollars in personal bribery and graft, circumventing traditional safeguards.

So if you ever find yourself about to mention ‘another round of golf‘ or a ‘golf habit‘, try one of these perspectives instead.


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