I was speaking to friends last night at a belated birthday party and I told several of them something I’d like to share with you now. While I’ve been following the Trump era for going on three years and long been a pessimist about the depth of his corruption – both venal and otherwise – the last two weeks has made me think the situation is significantly worse than I’d imagined.
Let me refer very briefly to two points.
First, we’ve had a flurry of stories over the last week about massive loans Jared Kushner’s family company has received from entities Jared Kushner was in some way working with or meeting with in his governmental capacity. Political types are accustomed to speaking of ‘creating conflicts of interest’ or ‘creating the appearance of a conflict’. Those don’t apply here. These look like straightforward efforts to use his vast governmental power to extract hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from people who need things from the US government – which is to say, most people who can easily part with a few hundred million dollars.
The most stunning revelation ties to Kushner’s already known role recklessly allying himself with the Gulf states trying to isolate and effectively blockade Qatar. The conflict between UAE and Saudi Arabia and Qatar is complicated and its particulars don’t concern us here. But it was a high-stakes, reckless gambit which could have and still might lead to a major war between various US-allied states in the Gulf. We don’t know enough to make any firm statements yet. But we’ve seen enough in the last week to make it seem plausible that Kushner’s aggressive, enabling behavior in that crisis was tied to his efforts to get money to bail out his family company. If that is true – and I suspect it is – it would amount to a level of corruption entirely unparalleled in American history.
We had good reason to believe Kushner was trying to pull something like this off during the transition, trying to secure a major loan from a Russian state bank or other concerns in China. But those deals foundered in the face of press scrutiny. I had assumed that Kushner had been forced to keep his hand mainly away from the cookie jar at least for now. That doesn’t seem to have been the case at all.
Second point. We are back in a round of stories about Trump allies being “worried” about President Trump’s mental state, stories of his raging at various enemies, ‘frustrated’ that his 2016 campaign is being investigated while Hillary Clinton’s is not. The organizational chaos in the White House, we’re led to believe, is both being driven by the President’s moods and in turn pushing him further into anger or agitated depression. Out of the blue he launches a trade war with major US allies to sate his need to attack and lash out. There’s a simpler explanation for all of this. The legal noose is tightening around the President, his family and top advisors. He is scared and angry.
Commentators often say the President doesn’t like being questioned; he’s angry that his appointees don’t defend him; he lashes out at different staff members whom he’s ‘frustrated’ with. In other words, people look for process explanations. This is all seems like psychologizing and over-explaining to avoid the most obvious explanation: he’s scared and looking for a way out. But he can’t seem to find one. It’s all escalating. And we’ve learned over the last week that President Trump’s racket with Russia may be only one facet of his family’s political corruption. The level of apparent corruption, interlaced with numerous constitutional landmines, is beyond our national experience.