The new White House website that went operational just as President Trump was sworn into office has already been getting attention for signaling sharp changes in policy and rhetoric. But the most striking section may be its adulatory biography of the 45th president. It unabashedly touts Trump’s achievements in real estate, promotes his business, describes him as the author of a “classic” book, and portrays his election as president as miraculous.
“Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story,” reads the Trump biography that was posted on the official whitehouse.gov website. “Throughout his life he has continually set the standards of business and entrepreneurial excellence, especially with his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment.
“Likewise,” it continues, “his entry into politics and public service resulted in the Presidential victory in, miraculously, his first ever run for office.”
The bio is similar to ones that had appeared on his campaign and government transition websites, which inspired warnings from liberal columnists that the real estate mogul was creating a “cult of personality” reminiscent of autocrats in Central Asia.
It also immediately drew criticism from ethics watchdogs on Saturday who say that some of the language arguably promotes his company’s hotels and real estate holdings, thereby raising new questions about Trump’s controversial decision to maintain ownership in his real estate business, even while handing over management to two of his sons while serving as president.
The language in question does not explicitly mention the name of the firm, Trump Organization, or any particular hotels. But, in summarizing his career as a real estate developer, the bio states that “the Trump signature soon became synonymous with the most prestigious of addresses in Manhattan and subsequently throughout the world.”
“That’s concerning and problematic — he’s blurring the lines between his business and being president, “ said Aaron Scherb, legislative director for Common Cause, the Washington public interest lobbying group that has called for Trump to fully divest his business holdings.
By touting his hotel holdings as “the most prestigious” in the world, “it’s implying that other entities — including foreign governments — should patronize those businesses.”
The criticism comes one day after the White House edited its biography of Melania Trump in response to a Washington Post story noting that the site gave the brand name of the first lady’s jewelry line, “Melania Timepieces & Jewelry,” sold on QVC.
To be sure, there is nothing unusual about a White House posting highly complimentary biographies of its occupants. The now-archived White House bio of President Barack Obama was also unwaveringly positive: “His story is the American story — values from the heartland, a middle-class upbringing in a strong family, hard work and education as the means of getting ahead, and the conviction that a life so blessed should be lived in service to others.” The bio also touted some of Obama’s achievements, noting he was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review and, as an Illinois state senator, he “passed the first major ethics reform in 25 years.”
But the reverential language in the Trump bio is almost certain to draw scrutiny from fact-checkers. For example, it describes Trump as “an accomplished author” who has written “over fourteen bestsellers,” adding that “his first book, The Art of the Deal, in addition to being the #1 book of the year, is considered a business classic.” The passage makes no reference to ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, who has challenged Trump’s claim of having written the book. (“I wrote the Art of the Deal. Donald Trump read it,” Schwartz wrote on Twitter after Trump announced his run for president in 2015.)
The bio’s account of the 2016 election is similarly selective. It states that Trump “won the election on November 8 of 2016 in the largest electoral college landslide for a Republican in 28 years. … Additionally, he won over 62 million votes in the popular vote, the highest all-time for a Republican nominee. He also won 306 electoral votes, the most for a Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988.”
What the bio leaves out is the actual results of the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton won by nearly 2.9 million votes. And the claim that Trump’s victory qualifies as an “electoral college landslide” was challenged Saturday by the “Fact Checker” in the Washington Post. It described his electoral college win as a “squeaker” in view of his narrow margin in three key states. (Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes, Wisconsin by 22,177 votes and Pennsylvania by 46,435 votes.)
Even with carrying those three states, with their 46 electoral votes, Trump’s margin in the Electoral College does not qualify as a “landslide,” the Fact Checker noted. It cited a tally by John Pitney of Claremont McKenna College that concluded “Trump ranks 46th out of 58 Electoral College results.”
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