A simple point: Apart from all the other things people are rightly worried about, the Trump administration is going to be mind-bogglingly, often cartoonishly and comically corrupt.
All administration’s have venal corruption. A US presidential administration is large enough and has sufficient power that it is simply a matter of human nature. Indeed, even administrations run by presidents who are not themselves corrupt are often filled with corruption. Ulysses Grant and Harry Truman are good historical examples. But the break with the immediate past is going to be unusually sharp because the out-going Obama administration has been historically clean. We’ve been living in the Obama era for long enough that this historically anomalous record has started to seem like the norm. But it’s not. This is something we need to recognize both to give credit where it is due and remind ourselves that it is not the historical norm.
The Bush administration had numerous corruption scandals, though Bush himself wasn’t involved with much or maybe any personal self-enrichment if for no other reason than being born to inter-generational wealth. Though I have argued – I believe correctly – that many of the Clinton era ‘scandals’ were overblown, it too had a number of scandals. The Reagan administration huge numbers of scandals tied to abuses of power and self-enrichment and self-dealing. The Obama administration has had very, very few. I think a great deal of this is tied to the President himself and the kind of people he associates with. No drama also to a great extent means no funny business, no self-dealing. I don’t think Bill Clinton was a rule breaker but he was an inveterate rule-bender. And to a lesser extent that applies to Hillary Clinton. The endless focus on Benghazi and the largely bogus IRS scandal probably make the point most eloquently. Even looking as hard as they could, this was the best Republicans could come up with, essentially conspiracy theories and even those not tied to self-enrichment.
Which brings us to President-Elect Trump.
Trump himself is instinctively corrupt. I don’t think requires much argument. He took a substantial amount of the campaign money he raised and ran it through his own companies. He practiced textbook self-dealing with his family foundation. Many of his private businesses were no better than glitzy cons and he developed a reputation for cheating partners, even if in many cases doing so in ways that didn’t explicitly violate the law. He is placing his own children into prominent positions organizing his administration. His version of a “blind trust” is one in which his children and heirs administer his companies on his behalf while he is President. His companies are not ‘public companies’ in the corporate governance sense. But the vast majority of his companies’ activities are carried out in public – hotels, golf resorts, licensing businesses, consumer businesses. None of this can really be blind even if there were any attempt to make it so. Trump and his children are in the process of building a real life version of the cartoonishly caricatured fantasy of the Clinton Foundation he created for his followers on the campaign trail.
Trump is so thoroughly corrupt in his dealings that it is probably fair to say that he doesn’t even recognize the concept of self-dealing as being a problem in itself. They say hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue. In Trump’s case there isn’t even much hypocrisy. In every case we’ve seen him discuss it, he sees self-dealing and self-enrichment as a normal, meritorious way of doing things.
His followers almost all tend to be grifters, in many or most cases people who bet all on Trump when he seemed like a longshot because both professionally and metaphorically they had nothing to lose. Those people will want a bonanza and I suspect they’ll get it.
I should add here that if ridiculous amounts of public corruption is the worst we get from the Trump administration I will, frankly, be profoundly grateful. Profoundly grateful. I fear and expect things that are far, far worse.
I say all this not really to try to prove anything because I’m not sure there’s anything to prove. For the reasons I’ve noted above I think it all goes without saying. I say it because we’ve just lived through eight years which are something of an historical anomaly. And we’re heading into an era of unparalleled public corruption. Get ready.
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