I can’t help but write about Trump! This time I’ve looked into other instances of celebrities that have become leader of their nations in their first elections. I can only find two cases: Sweet Micky of Haiti and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. If you know of any other, let me know, but here are the details of how they did it and what happened during their leadership:
Haiti’s “Sweet Micky”
The most recent case is that of Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. He controversially won Haiti’s 2010-2011 election to become President. Before this first foray into politics, he was famous as a singer, and was known for his crude antics on stage. His five years in office were mired in controversy. Early on, he planned to reinstate Haiti’s military which had previously been disbanded due its association with past atrocities. His Prime Minister resigned less than a year into office, Mr Martelly was accused of corruption, and he stopped mid-term Senate and municipal elections from being held. His term ended with widespread riots.
Italy’s media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi
The closest case is that of Silvio Berlusconi. He began his business career in construction and later diversified into the media, where he built Italy’s first and only commercial TV empire. In 1994, he set up his own political party, Forza Italia, to run in the general elections. His promise was to create “one million more jobs” and clean up corruption (the five leading parties were involved in financial scandals). He launched a huge advertising campaign on his TV channels and won the elections. However, within a year his government fell as his coalition partners withdrew their support following investigations into corruption.
He ran again in 2001 with his Contratto con gli Italiani (Contract with Italians). His pledge was to simplify the tax code, halve the unemployment rate, undertake a public works programme and cut crime. He had a mixed record, but spent much of his time fending off allegations of tax fraud, bribery, conflicts of interest and ties to the mafia. He lost power in 2006, only to regain it in 2008, before resigning in 2011 amidst the euro-area crisis. He faced more than 20 courts cases over the course of his career and was sentenced to 4 years in prison for tax evasion in May 2013. After receiving a general pardon, his sentence was reduced to one year’s community service. He was also found guilty of paying an underage prostitute. He was sentenced to seven years in jail and banned from public office. He has appealed the judgement.
Admittedly, two observations may not be enough to form a view on the Trump presidency. But they do show the likely challenges he will face as a novice politician. One is that he will likely have to rely on more experienced politicians despite his anti-establishment platform. Second, his business interests could conflict with his role as President and so leave him open to a number of lawsuits, which could divert his attention from governing the country. While there are Federal rules that prohibit members of Congress and the Cabinet from involving themselves in government affairs that affect their financial interests, these do not apply to the President. However, the US constitution does contain the so-called Emoluments Clause in Section 9 of Article I:
“no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State”
Legal experts view this as preventing a US President from receiving any significant benefits (via their business holdings) from foreign governments or foreign government-owned companies. Given Mr Trump’s international business empire, this could form the basis of legal challenges. So we could easily see the possibility of Trump being tied up in legal cases – much like Silvio Berlusconi was.