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George Washington’s ignored example
Tom Purcell
Tom Purcell

Have I benefited from nepotism and cronyism? Sure. But at least I feel guilty about it.

Nepotism, says, is “patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics.”

The concept is alive and well in Washington, D.C. 

The Hill reports Chelsea Clinton reaped a $9 million stock gain since 2011 by sitting on a corporate board controlled by her mother’s rich friend, Barry Diller. 

Corporate board members are supposed to be chosen for experience and skills. Since the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform law, they must meet stringent requirements. 

Perhaps Chelsea’s academic achievement and Wall Street work experience meet those requirements. But it’s also true that her mother, who was secretary of State when Chelsea was appointed, is good friends with the media mogul who runs the company that made Chelsea rich. 

That’s how things work in Washington, where children of the rich and powerful become rich and powerful because their parents have influence - and it has nothing to do with political party. 

The Trump White House is full of family members holding positions of power. 

No small number of children of Trump friends and supporters, reports The Daily Beast, have found their way into cushy government jobs and appointments. 

If only President Trump and other political leaders followed the example set by our first president. 

George Washington was rightly concerned about appointing people to positions of power based on merit, not family connections. 

“When American colonists revolted against Great Britain, they were rebelling against a system of government fueled by inherited power and nepotism,” reports Smithsonian Magazine. 

Washington knew his actions would set the tone for future presidents. 

“He marked out a firm line while still president-elect in the spring of 1789,” the magazine says. “He would ‘discharge the duties of the office with that impartiality and zeal for the public good, which ought never to suffer connections of blood or friendship to intermingle,’ he told a friend.” 

Washington told another friend that he “would not be in the remotest degree influenced, in making nominations, by motives arising from the ties of amity or blood.” 

Washington’s concern makes me feel guilty about gains I’ve enjoyed that directly resulted from my parents’ nepotism. 

They didn’t hold political office, but weren’t without influence and power. 

My father worked for “the phone company” - now Verizon - and for many years sometimes “borrowed” its black electrical tape. We came to call it “Purcell duct tape.” We used it for everything: bicycle repairs, sticking fliers on the refrigerator, makeshift bandages, etc. 

I benefited personally from more than $100 worth of “free” tape - tape that my family never had to pay for - over two decades. 

My mother had influence. Her friendship with one of the St. Germaine Catholic School lunch ladies got me an extra slice, free of charge, on more than one Pizza Friday.

Another good friend of hers approved my VFW Post 6664 membership without the usual, proper vetting process. To make amends, I’ll donate $100 to a local charity and admit what happened to the VFW board. 

I’ll do that because I feel guilty about benefiting from nepotism. But our political leaders, increasingly unfamiliar with the concept of shame, will happily continue their nepotism - so long as we let them.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at