This is the way the Trump presidency ends, not with a bang but with chaos, confusion and sleaze – just as it began.
President Trump has spent four years wasting the nation’s time, treasure and prestige as he turned the White House into a family profit center while demeaning Americans who make personal sacrifices without benefiting in some way as “losers” and “suckers.”
The losers and suckers he referred to were the World War I Marines who gave their lives for our freedom, a remark Trump made at a revered American cemetery in France, and, by extension, he applies to anyone who doesn’t put personal gain above service to others.
As he angrily prepares to exit the White House, Trump amplified the brazen tradition of presidential pardons – upwards of 60, so far, with more expected to come – of men and women very much like himself: grifters, tax cheats, liars, con artists, confederates in the Russia investigation, even convicted mercenary murderers. The swamp is overcrowding.
The squalid pardons suggest that crime does, in fact, pay, that lying, cheating, stealing, even murdering, are the cost of doing business in Trump’s transactional world. And the pardons further illustrate Trump’s determined effort to expunge the last traces of the Mueller investigation even though Trump can’t eliminate history books – not yet, anyway.
Trump, in short, has subordinated the rule of law to the rules of the marketplace. He placed himself above the health and well-being of the country, all the while his personal business interests translated into an extension of the presidency. He has refused to disengage from his business and he has resisted releasing his tax returns. There’s a special circle in Dante’s hell for Trump for the debased moral tone that he has set for the nation.
By contrast, what others, including Trump himself, might regard as accomplishments, exist only in the eyes of the beholders. Many historians, who usually wait for time to pass before they telescope a presidency into objective focus, have already classified Trump as the worst president in history. Majorities in current polls of voters have issued the same conclusion in the midst of the Trump-accelerated pandemic. Trump’s indifference allowed the lethal germ to spread unchecked. Bleach injection, anyone?
Without defaming the business community as a whole, Trump’s performance as president pretty much slams the door for the foreseeable future, at least, on any business person who might consider pursuing the job.
For generations, the idea of a businessman-as-president was the taproot of an American myth – government ought to be run like a business. And recall Charlie Wilson’s axiomatic, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” Forget it. Trump has corrupted the thought, as he has everyone and everything around him.
Much of Trump’s presidency existed in the ether. To chase Trump’s tweets as legitimate exercises of policy, or to allow them to evanesce into the nether sphere, was the conundrum of historians, journalists and ghost-chasers. He wasted much of America’s time and energy trying to decide what the commotion – or distractions – were about. Trump has trivialized the presidency.
Most of Trump’s tweets, as with many of his other utterances, are among the more than 23,000 lies, misstatements or other falsehoods catalogued by The Washington Post’s fact-checker during the Trump presidency.
In the end, much of the foam that Trump produced with his thumbs was little more than blather to reassure his millions of devoted followers, such as those lunkheads known as the “Proud Boys,” that civic disturbances are a detour around the law toward making America great again. Talk about suckers and losers.
When Trump first assumed the presidency, there was much palaver about rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
What the nation received for all the babble was not improved conveniences of movement from here to there. What Americans were given in return for their gas-tax dollars was a xenophobe’s dream – a wall, or at least part of one – that was less effective than the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall across the north of Great Britain. It was no wall at all. Interlopers simply went over it, under it or through it.
The wall, in theory separating Mexico from the United States, functions more as a barbaric internment camp, or a prison site, for children separated from the parents than as a barrier to entry. The wall, still incomplete and probably never to be finished, was, according to Trump, to be paid for by Mexico, but cost billions in diverted dollars from other sources such as the Pentagon budget. Much of the construction money went to a Trump crony and donor in North Dakota.
America, for much of the world, has become a punch line, a laughingstock, and to its allies a partner no longer to be trusted. A Trump handshake is a risky count-your-fingers gesture. He has tried to cozy up to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un at the same time he has backhanded Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.
As late as last week, for example, Trump, once again, rebuffed the intelligence community by refusing to acknowledge that Russia was behind the recent cyber hacks of American government agencies. And to this day, four years after the accepted fact, Trump still refuses to acknowledge that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential elections, fearing that any assent would delegitimatize his presidency.
The family enrichment
Trump’s biggest abuse of power, perhaps, has been his use of the presidency for personal enrichment.
He has regularly steered millions of dollars in government billings to his enterprises, notably to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida club, and at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. In another outrageous detour, Vice President Mike Pence, on an oversees trip, was ordered to fly hundreds of miles out of the way so he could stay at Trump’s golf club in Scotland when his actual destination was only a few miles by car.
But none has benefited more that than his Washington International Hotel, a chip shot from the White House, where conservative groups, lobbyists, Republican organizations, government officials, foreign visitors and other vendible guests feel compelled to stay, or entertain, as a prerequisite for doing business with the Trump administration.
Recently it was revealed that the Trump campaign set up a shell company, created by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner (whose father was among those pardoned by Trump for tax fraud and other crimes), through which to launder campaign funds to Trump family members and friends but to shield the recipients’ names. According to reports, $170 million was laundered through the company. (Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump, and Kimberly Guilfoyle, inamorata of Donald Trump Jr., were each paid $15,000 a month, or $180,000 a year, according to reports.)
And as a parting gesture to himself, Trump has established a political action committee that has already raised more than $200 million, much of which he can take with him for personal political use after he leaves office. Again, reference the aforementioned suckers and losers.
The PAC, “Save America,” shares some of its donations with the Republican National Committee, but most of the money – 65% – goes into Trump’s pocket, and how it comes out the public will probably never really know, once it passes through the rinse cycle.
Raising money is likely what Trump’s baseless bluster about a “rigged” and “stolen” election is about. It’s his way of strumming his base and tapping their wallets, pretty much how he beat sub-contractors out of payments when he was active in the development business.
So much for Trump’s record as president.
Trump leaves office heavily in personal debt and with a dozen investigations and civil suits hanging over his saffron-colored, double-flipped coif arrangement. Among the reasons he’s likely fighting so desperately to retain the presidency is that, once out of office, he loses presidential immunity from prosecution and the free legal services of the Justice Department.
He owes more than $400 million for which he is on the line personally. Trump’s, and Jared Kushner’s, long-time loan officer at Deutsche Bank, Rosemary Vrablic, resigned abruptly last week, as did her assistant. Vrablic had arranged a $300 million Deutsche Bank loan to Trump.
As the loans come due, mostly in 2022 – and this is just a wild thought – keep in mind the Save America PAC and the shell corporation as well as their accountancy.
And as if all of that louche life were not enough, Trump’s neighbors at Mar-a-Lago don’t even want him near them. They’re fighting to prevent him from living at the private club in his presidential afterlife under an earlier covenant in which he agreed not to use the seaside manor as a residence, even after he changed his legal residence to Florida from New York.
Trump’s legacy as president is a pauper’s bequest.