It's a surprise the White House didn't give away one of those oversized checks.
In front of all the cameras Monday, a grinning Sean Spicer handed over three months of Trump's salary to a forest ranger in an olive green uniform. The purposely public donation to the National Park Service honored one of the president's campaign pledges, simultaneously earning him some political capital. The whole thing only cost Trump $78,333.
While no one can begrudge his generosity, nobody should be fooled by this populist advertising stunt. In light of the many ethical questions surrounding his young presidency, there's little to celebrate in this ostentatious act of charity.
This president is not the first to forgo a salary. As the Great Depression began, President Hoover quietly donated his salary to various charities or giving it away to his staff. And later President Kennedy sent his paycheck to scholarships like the United Negro College Fund. But Trump's just buying cover.
Ostensibly Trump has no connection to his old empire, he placed his company in a trust managed by his two sons. But that parchment barrier is hardly a firewall. As ProPublica recently reported, the president can draw money from his accounts whenever he pleases. Of course that very important story goes unnoticed compared to Trump's showy donation. It shouldn't.
A hallmark of good government has been that money, special interest, and politics don't mix. It's why conservatives rightly screamed when the Clintons turned the Lincoln bedroom into an Airbnb and the State Department into a clearinghouse. They should be just as angry at the pay to play scheme the Trump family runs at Mar-a-Lago.
There's no denying that all of this is as terribly cynical. But the swamp Trump promised to clean up is nothing short of criminal. There are carve-outs and revolving doors and host of other clichés to document the D.C., racket. Trump's check doesn't change any of that. Hell, it's not even enough to buy half a membership to his exclusive country clubs.
Things don't need to stay this way, though. Trump can quickly escape his cynics and build a legacy. Both Hoover and Kennedy were rich and generous. But Trump could quickly eclipse his predecessors by severing his businesses ties because he has much more to lose. It'd be nothing short of magnanimous.
As Trump's popularity continues to plummet, the White House should reconsider his relationship with his businesses. By truly setting aside his business empire, the president would earn more political capital than any oversized check could purchase.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.