There's nothing at all wrong with sitting presidents taking a break from the White House and going on vacation. Presidential respites, especially in August when Congress isn't in session, have been common for generations, and there's generally no point in criticizing a chief executive for enjoying a little R&R.
But as is often the case with the current president, Donald Trump's circumstances are a little different. The Washington Post noted over the weekend:
President Trump, who knocked his predecessor's work ethic and said he probably wouldn't take vacations as president, has settled in for 17 days here at his secluded golf club in New Jersey's fox-hunt and horse country. [...]"This is a not a vacation -- meetings and calls!" he wrote [on Twitter on Saturday], as part of a string of tweets on varied topics, including a U.N. Security Council vote earlier in the day.
First, only Donald Trump would go on vacation and then declare to the world, "This is not a vacation." There's no real point in getting into a semantics debate, but when a 71-year-old man gets away from the office for more than two weeks, goes to a resort, watches TV, and plays golf, it certainly looks like a vacation.
Yes, by all appearances, Trump will still have some "meetings" and take "calls," but that's because no modern president can truly unplug for 17 days. The responsibilities of the office, even under Trump, are simply too great. That doesn't mean, however, that he's working his fingers to the bone.
Second, Trump may not have realized what he was saying while running a campaign he didn't expect to win, but let's not forget that this guy did run on an anti-vacation platform. "I would rarely leave the White House because there's so much work to be done," Trump told voters at one point. "I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off. You don't have time to take time off."
I don't blame Trump for taking a break, but I do blame Trump for vowing before the election that he wouldn't take breaks.
Third, this is a president who whined incessantly about Barack Obama's vacations, insisting that the Democrat had a poor "work ethic" because of his occasional breaks. When Obama left the White House for a holiday break in 2013 -- during which he had plenty of "meetings" and "calls" -- Trump complained about the "17-day vacation."
But even if we put all of that aside, we're still left with a lingering ethics mess: Trump's vacation is at a golf resort he owns in Bedminster, N.J. It's a familiar problem by now, but we're still confronted with the reality of a president spending public money at a private facility he profits from, and that property benefits from the free publicity that comes with a presidential visit.