As I tried over the last year or two to understand the world of Trump, one thing I tried hard to get my head around was the stark and often comical pattern of Trump Organization loyalists’ strict public subservience to Trump. They’re not just loyal. Dignity jettisoning protestations and affirmative declarations seem to be part of the deal. What I heard or read again and again is that there’s a pretty clear if perhaps unspoken deal in the Trump universe. If you work for Trump as one of his people – not the thousands who must work for various Trump businesses but the high level, visible retainers – you get to enjoy the lifestyle. But the price is total loyalty, total self-abnegation and whatever loss of dignity is required to serve Trump.
Many people seem to be happy with that bargain.
Every administration has its share of small-bore scandals, profligate spending, and minor corruption. Obama’s was the exception, among both Democratic and Republican administrations. But we’ve seen enough now I think to recognize a distinct problem in the Trump administration. We now have multiple cabinet secretaries using private chartered jets and military jets in what seems to be an unprecedented way. We also have at least two cabinet secretaries having government-funded security details which seem wildly out of proportion to any real threat. (My strong suspicion is they just don’t want to have to deal with protestors or see them.) In so many words, that deal I mentioned from the Trump Organization – give up your dignity and you get to live the lifestyle – seems to have been ported over to the new Trump Organization, what we used to know as the US government.
Perhaps it’s something slightly different. Perhaps it’s as simple as these folks see President Trump’s fairly spendthrift use of government resources for his own use and that’s just setting the tone for everyone else. But of course, Presidents are different. Good or bad, that didn’t start with Trump. I cringe as much as anyone at seeing the President’s constant government financed trips to Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster. But they are his estates. He likes to go to them. And the President basically can’t not spend a lot of money and bring a lot of people basically anywhere he chooses to go. It’s in the nature of the system we have. The hyper-security, the mobile White House apparatus.
I’m not saying it’s okay. But it’s different. When Tom Price takes extremely expensive chartered jets that only the very rich use for private travel, there’s no government justification. It’s just OPM (other people’s money). Who wouldn’t want to take a private jet if someone else is picking up the tab? Betsy DeVos is apparently traveling on a private jet too. But it’s hers. Why shouldn’t Tom Price get to?
We see some of this in the choreography of the Trump presidency. It has become a standard photo opportunity in the Trump era to see Trump seated at his desk in the Oval Office with top appointees standing to either side. The President usually has something like that at a bill signing. But no one signs something standing up. It’s sort of natural. But I sit, you stand is a clear visual message of power and hierarchy we’ve seldom seen before even with the more imperial presidents. Not this often and not when there’s not a bill signing. You’ll look in vain for anything like it with Obama and mainly for Bush too.
Trump’s election, by bizarre ironies and paradoxes and nonsenses, is an affirmation of early 21st century plutocracy. The big folks get everything: the private jets, the personal retainers and security details, everything nice. That’s part of the Trump package. And it seems to be being taken up as one of the privileges of many or most or all top-level Trump appointees.