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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Silly bean beef raises serious themes about Trump presidency

The president's daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump's tweeted

The president's daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump's tweeted photo of herself, holding up a can of Goya beans, raises questions of ethics violations. Credit: AFP via Getty Images

This tempest over beans may amount to one of Donald Trump's sillier exhibitions. But it also underlines what the president does and does not take seriously as his term of office unspools.

Goya CEO Robert Unanue hailed Trump at the White House. So some of those insulted by the president's past remarks and policies affecting Latinos called for a boycott of the food company. Then Ivanka Trump, the White House daughter-adviser, posted a photo of herself, in the manner of Vanna White, displaying a can of Goya beans with a caption parroting a company slogan.

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics' conflict-of-interest guidelines say clearly that "executive branch employees may not use their Government positions to suggest that the agency or any part of the executive branch endorses an organization (including a nonprofit organization), product, service, or person."

But the Trump administration gets away with never taking that sort of thing seriously. Counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act numerous times by denouncing Democratic candidates while in her official capacity, according to Trump's own monitor. Conway reacted with disdain, and Trump backed her up. That's to be expected from a president who calls official news conferences to make campaign speeches from the Rose Garden.

Canceling the line between his public and private interests is a Trump trademark. He used foreign policy to pressure Ukraine into a campaign project for him, won't distance himself from his businesses, voices contempt for the Constitution's "emoluments" clause, has foreign dignitaries booked at his hotels and gets the Justice Department to fight legal subpoenas of his taxes and company records.

In this week's episode, Trump posted a photo of himself seated behind Goya products arranged on the Resolute Desk. He wore the same salesman's smile from behind a taco bowl in his famous 2016 Cinco de Mayo photo.

That inane display also was prompted by Trump's Latino animus. That year, Trump, without evidence, accused a judge presiding over the Trump University fraud case of being biased strictly because of his Mexican descent.

As is commonly the case with Trump's other kin, Ivanka Trump has served again as a prop and a mouthpiece, bringing nothing to the table that needed to be taken seriously.

The president does take some economic protests to heart. For example, he called for boycotting the NFL for tolerating player dissent during the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." That demand came and went with little lasting impact.

Brands of beans may not seize the public imagination in a time of serious health and economic emergencies. But hyping products seems to be as much a comfort zone to Trump as the rallies he's been forced to cancel. One example is the recent hydroxychloroquine-for-coronavirus fad.

Distraction and deflection also are lasting Trump themes. The administration's light-touch response to COVID-19 raises nationwide strategic questions about safety guidelines, schools, businesses, hospitals, monetary policy, research, travel, immigration, domestic production and enforcement.

Posing for photos with products avoids those problems, if only briefly, which may be point.

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