A presidential truthfulness oath – Yasheng Huang

MIT Sloan Prof. Yasheng Huang

MIT Sloan Prof. Yasheng Huang

From Project Syndicate

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. I say “sworn in,” rather than “assume the presidency,” because, under Section I of Article II of the US Constitution, Trump cannot actually become president unless he takes an oath of office, publicly committing himself to uphold the Constitution and perform to the best of his ability while in office. That is, of course, the case for all presidents. But, given how Trump comported himself during the campaign, it is particularly meaningful in his case.

Until now, Trump has made no effort to behave in an honest or reliable way. Technically, he didn’t have to. The US does not require any sworn statements from the men and women who run for president, nor does it have any enforceable code of behavior or constraints on the kind of rhetoric that can be used. Candidates may conduct themselves however they see fit.

This approach is based on the assumption that we can trust the candidates’ judgment. People seeking the country’s highest office should know how to balance the political imperative of winning votes with a sense of responsibility for the feasibility of – and reasoning behind – their policy promises.

By and large, experience has vindicated this view. The US has had the good fortune of choosing largely from among presidential aspirants who adhere to generally accepted norms. With Trump, it seems that fortune has turned into bankruptcy.

During his primary and general election campaigns, Trump lied incessantly about himself, his businesses, his opponents, other countries’ behavior and motivations, America’s electoral system, the size of trade deficits, the actions of the Federal Reserve, and data on everything from labor to crime (to name a few examples).

Moreover, many of Trump’s campaign promises – building a Mexico-funded wall on America’s southern border, bringing back lost manufacturing jobs, deporting millions of illegal immigrants – are patently impossible to implement. Mitt Romney, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2012, was right when he called Trump “a phony, a fraud,” a candidate whose promises are “worthless.”

But while these traits are clearly problematic, they obviously have not hurt Trump’s political career. Trump convinced a sizable portion of the electorate to ignore – if not condone – his flagrant policy reversals and lack of knowledge. Even Romney himself bowed to Trump in the end, meeting with the president-elect a couple of weeks after the election, reportedly in search of a cabinet position.

Read the full post at Project Syndicate

Yasheng Huang is the International Program Professor in Chinese Economy and Business and a Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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