The Mar-a-Lago Problem

[Content Note: Bullying.]

Donald Trump has already spent an enormous amount of his presidency at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. In fact, per NBC News, he "has spent seven of 13 weekends at his Palm Beach, Florida estate. According to NBC News' estimates, by Sunday Trump will have spent 28 percent of his term traveling to or staying at Mar-a-Lago."

Each trip costs taxpayers between $1 million and $3 million. Which doesn't even account for local costs: "The cost of Trump's summit with President Xi hit hard on a local level, with the Palm Beach County community footing the bill, an estimated $1.5 million for Thursday and Friday's U.S.-China summit. Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told NBC that each day [Donald] Trump spends in Mar-a-Lago costs his department $60,000."

And the costs are only one piece of the enormous Mar-a-Lago problem.

The estate was reportedly put into the trust, which ethics experts have resoundingly condemned as insufficient to address the many ethics issues arising from Trump's business holdings. As but one example of said insufficiency, Trump knows, because we all know, that membership prices have been raised. NBC notes: "Since Trump became president the cost of membership at Mar-a-Lago has doubled, with guests now paying $200,000 just to join."

Further, because Trump continues his routine visits to Mar-a-Lago, people wealthy enough to afford the exorbitant membership know they are buying access to the president. Trump has openly discussed national business with guests, and has casually discussed national security issues with foreign leaders in front of guests. Because Mar-a-Lago does not keep visitor logs, there is no telling who has gotten access to Trump and his indiscreet conversations, making Mar-a-Lago what security experts call "heaven for spies."

We have very little transparency on which members of the administration are with Trump at Mar-a-Lago at any given time, nor into how he makes enormous national security decisions while he is there.

Visiting foreign dignitaries are obliged to meet with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, and stay at the estate, despite the fact that Trump is alleged to have eavesdropped on staff and guests, and is alleged to have assaulted women there.

And then there is this: In a profile of Eric Trump in the Independent, he says the following of his dad's trips to Mar-a-Lago:
While on the subject of golf, I raise the fact that his father has been criticised in recent days for playing 16 times since his inauguration. Eric says his father uses the game to de-stress but there is also another good reason for it—professional bonding.

"You can sit with somebody in a golf cart where there might be cultural differences and language barriers and have a good time and build a friendship in a way that you could never do sitting across an office table from someone—and I think being able to go to Mar-a-Lago [Trump's Florida estate], it is my father's Crawford, Texas."

He explains: "Crawford was George W Bush's ranch and Bush brought foreign leaders from all over the world [there]. He would go down to the ranch and they would drive a truck around and they would have fun and they would eat and that was his way of bonding.

"Mar-a-Lago is an amazing estate that has been a very effective tool for [my father] to go down and get to know somebody while not sitting—no different to you wanting to sit next to me on this couch today—not sitting across a wooden partition, which instantly makes a relationship more strenuous."

He explains: "If he can befriend people and find common respect, common ground and friendship—if you can have a good time together—then you are always going to see somebody in a very different light than you would with this kind of a relationship [he points to the wooden table] or a relationship over the phone, and that's an immensely powerful tool."
A most cynical spin. What Eric Trump is actually describing is a strategy of manipulative bullies, who always want people on their turf, so that they have the upper hand.

The White House belongs to the people. It does not belong to Donald Trump. He is its current occupant, but it is not his home. And that matters, when foreign heads of state come to meet with the U.S. President. When they visit the White House, they are visiting a state-owned property, only part of which is a temporary residence for the current president.

Mar-a-Lago is fundamentally different. It is Trump's place, not the people's place.

And, yes, that is indeed very much like Bush's Crawford ranch (although Bush hardly used Crawford to the extent Trump uses Mar-a-Lago). The thing is, Bush was a bully, too.

I object to the cost of Trump's excursions to Mar-a-Lago, and I object to the lack of transparency and carelessness of access during those visits. But above all else, I object mightily to the U.S. President using his private estate to give himself a "home court advantage" when engaging in what is meant to be good faith diplomacy with global leaders.

That he obliges them to come to his private estate subverts good faith diplomacy right from the start, and that leaves our country less respected and leaves all of us less safe.

This is not how I want the U.S. President doing business in our names. Nor where.

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