Donald Trump proposes a few sporadic ideas for fixing government ethics.
Not surprisingly, these proposals say nothing about the most important person in a hypothetical Trump Administration: Mr. Trump.
An ethics executive order or statute is useless unless people in the administration comply with it and that will not happen unless there is an ethical tone at the top. The President cannot play by one set of rules, doing whatever he wants, and expect his subordinates to conduct themselves ethically. That simply won't work.
Every President until now has practiced transparency (including disclosure of tax returns as a candidate and as president). Every President has also avoided financial conflicts of interest (through divestment of assets and/or blind trusts) that would make certain official actions a criminal offense for everyone else in the executive branch under the conflict of interest statute. Trump has done neither and promised to do neither. No tax returns. And no plan for divestment or a blind trust. His problems include, among other things, entanglements with foreign countries and foreign government owned banks that could easily violate the ban on foreign gifts and payments under the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution (which does apply to the President).
And the problems are broader than that. Every other president and candidate has promised to uphold the Constitution, which means among other things respecting the legitimacy of elections carried out thereunder, respecting the independence of Article III judges regardless of their ethnicity, not applying a religious test of public office, and upholding the Equal Protection Clause. An ethics executive order signed by a President who does not respect the Constitution will be widely ignored and accomplish nothing.
Until Mr. Trump addresses his own issues, his proposed executive order or legislation on ethics will be as good as the Enron Code of Ethics, which can be had for a song on E-bay.
And in the meantime we can await Mr. Trump’s proposed White House sexual harassment policy, his nuclear nonproliferation policy, his proposals to combat foreign government hacking of Americans computers, and his proposals to close tax loopholes for billionaires who pay no taxes.