Trump’s Corruption

Trump’s Corruption

[9/6/2020: This is a work in progress that may or may not progress.
Right now our main article on this topic is another work in progress:
Trump’s Threat to Democracy]

A1. “How Trump Corrupted the American Presidency in Every Imaginable Way”
by Alex Shultz & Jay Willis in GQ on November 1, 2019
The article is a timeline of Donald Trump’s corruption, beginning January 1, 2017 and ending on October 17, 2019 (a couple weeks before the article’s publication date).
By my count, there are 69 entries.

The first entry is January 1, 2017, when Trump’s private resort Mar-a-Lago doubles its membership fees to $200,000. Below we’ve assembled information about Mar-a-Lago from two other sources.

From Republic Report (nonprofit investigating corruption in the US government):
“Mar-a-Lago Secret Service Scandal Shows Depth of Trump Corruption” by David Halpin on March 6, 2020

Mar-a-Lago Secret Service Scandal Shows Depth of Trump Corruption

The author lodges three complaints against Trump’s use of his own resorts:

a) As of March 2020, Trump had visited a Trump-branded property nearly one-third of his days in office.
b) Trump is charging the government a lot per room. [And if he wanted a retreat that the US taxpayers have already purchased for their presidents and that other presidents have used for their R&R, and which he could also use, if he had concerns about profiteering from his presidency, he could go to Camp David.]
c) The administration has lied and concealed the facts about what they charge US government staff.
Eric Trump (to Yahoo Finance on October 17, 2019 []: “’If my father travels, they stay at our properties for free — meaning, like, cost for housekeeping…. So everywhere that he goes, if he stays at one of his places, the government actually spends, meaning it saves a fortune because if they were to go to a hotel across the street, they’d be charging them $500 a night, whereas, you know we charge them, like $50.’”

“Newly-obtained government records show that Donald Trump’s company has charged the U.S. Secret Service at least $628,000 for rooms, at rates as high as $650 per night, at his Florida and New Jersey properties since 2017.”
It goes on to state that the actual total is likely higher, as the government has refused to release more recent records, and that other members of the government staff (besides the Secret Service) stay there with Trump (it is apparently unknown whether or not the US government pays for them as well).

On November 19, 2019, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released a timeline about Mar-a-Lago.
They list sixteen dates.

Here’s an example of using the presidency to advertise his private business:
{Q April 2018: Trump golfed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Golf Club in Palm Beach, and then in official remarks, promoted Mar-a-Lago as a venue for yet another visit with Abe saying “It’s just a special place. And somehow it makes people feel good, and that’s good for a relationship.” /Q}

Security Concerns:
{Q April 2019: Mar-a-Lago required that Secret Service defer to Mar-a-Lago staffers and allow in some visitors who are not on a pre-approved list. This issue was exposed when a woman from China entered Mar-a-Lago with four cell phones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive reportedly containing computer malware. Her visit to Mar-a-Lago raised serious security and espionage concerns, as well as questions of the records being kept about visitors to the resort. /Q}

Special Government Privileges for Mar-a-Lago Members:
{Q February 2017: Mar-a-Lago members appear to have been invited on tours of Air Force One. /Q}
{Q August 2019: CREW obtained damning records of the influence of Trump’s paying members at Mar-a-Lago over the Department of Veterans Affairs. 300 pages of emails showed the outsized influence of Ike Perlmutter, Marc Sherman and Bruce Moskowitz, and the VA staffers being forced to go to great lengths to accommodate the Mar-a-Lago members, who had no qualifications beyond the club membership to be working with the VA. /Q}

So that’s a quick investigation of the first item in the GQ article’s list of 69.
It gives you a little sense of the difficulty facing minds that would navigate the Trump presidency’s corruption. There’s a great deal to sift through, analyze and process.

A2. To make information about Trump’s use of public office for private gain more accessible, The American Prospect has created an interactive map:

“Mapping Corruption: Donald Trump’s Executive Branch”

The executive summary begins with a few examples of eyebrow-raising brazenness, such as spending one-third of his presidency at his own hotels and “Ivanka Trump snags a valuable set of Chinese trademarks on the same day she dines with Xi Jinping. Kellyanne Conway hawks Ivanka’s products in TV interviews.” The Trumps have openly profiteered from Trump’s presidency. However, the authors maintain, these surface cash-ins distract public attention from worse crimes.

The Trump Administration takes the corrupting influence of money in politics to its logical conclusions, and much of the executive summary of the interactive map (we’re only discussing the executive summary in this overview) involves uberexamples of the kind of technically-not-bribery bribery that will to some degree undermine US American democracy until we enact adequate campaign finance and lobbying reforms.

Campaign/lobbying reform is needed to push our democracy in a healthier and more sustainable direction. But first we have to keep Trump from completely destroying our democracy. The complete corporate hand-over of we US citizen’s largest public good (our shared government and its resources) is just one prong of how Trump’s actions undermine democracy.

When you read the below consider whether the policy decisions are in the public interest, or even in Trump’s political interest. Who’s benefitting and why is Trump helping them?

The payday lending industry gave an “estimated $2.2 million donated by payday groups to the Trump campaign and inaugural committees during the 2016 election cycle”. The Trump administration cancelled “an Obama-era plan to protect borrowers from being sucked into long-term debt at triple-digit interest”.

Mike Hodges, CEO of Advance Financial:

{Q “I’ve gone to [Republican National Committee chair] Ronna McDaniel and said, ‘Ronna, I need help on something,’” Hodges said on an industry webinar. “She’s been able to call over to the White House and say, ‘Hey, we have one of our large givers. They need an audience.’”}

The private prison industry was in dire straits after the Obama Justice Department, in response to a series of scandals, began phasing out federal use of private prisons. They donated $575,000 to the newly elected Trump, and “a month after Inauguration Day, Sessions revoked the Obama-era guidance, by which time GEO’s stock market value had doubled, and CoreCivic’s was up 140 percent.” [GEO & CoreCivic are the Department of Homeland Security’s two biggest private prison providers.] Per the report, the private prison industry have provided Trump with “roughly $1 million in contributions to his election and re-election campaigns, at last count.”

After highlighting several examples like the above two, the executive summary of the American Prospect provides a long but “partial” list of former industry lobbyists heading agencies charged with keeping them in check (“the former coal lobbyist charged with protecting our air and water, …” etc).

The executive summary then gives several instances of various departments in the Trump administration putting their own and/or big business’s interests ahead of the interests of US citizens. At some point when an area stinks and stinks like a swamp, it is time to admit that what you are smelling is indeed a swamp.

On Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce: “before selling his stake in [shipping company] Navigator, which happens to own ‘the world’s largest fleet of natural gas carriers,’ Ross personally negotiated a deal to facilitate the export of American-produced liquefied natural gas to China. The ethics officer who signed off on Ross’s continued investment got a promotion.”

On Betsy DeVos, secretary of education has not enforced “a presidential demand for measures to ease the impact of $1.5 trillion in ballooning student debt on millions of recent college attendees and the state of the economy. DeVos, whose department would have to implement this directive, has essentially ignored it; and Trump, whose re-election prospects depend on her money and Michigan campaign ties, has done nothing to force the issue.”

On Steve Mnuchin (Goldman Sachs – see the summary for his role in the subprime collapse and his for-profit exploitation of the disaster): “as head of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and leader of the agency overseeing the IRS, Mnuchin became the administration’s point man in efforts to weaken bank regulations, obscure scrutiny of financial activities, and provide favorable tax rulings for wealthy individuals and businesses—an expanse of territory filled with opportunities for him to bestow favors on his industry cronies. In 2017, Mnuchin’s office released recommendations for tax regulations that were almost entirely lifted from a memo put out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce [a lobbying group for business interests].”

On Scott Angelle, Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: “Scott Angelle came to his Interior Department job overseeing safety and environmental enforcement after earning roughly $1.5 million on the board of an oil and gas pipeline company. Before that, he fought the BP-spill-triggered moratorium on Gulf Coast drilling while serving as Louisiana’s secretary of natural resources, a job from which he resigned when a brine company he was in charge of regulating created a giant sinkhole. Addressing an oil industry audience in 2017, Angelle gave out his cellphone number and advised his corporate listeners to communicate with him by phone in order to avoid leaving a paper trail.”

“Nancy Beck, named to head its office of chemical safety after holding a top job at an industry lobbying group, on whose behalf she had battled against an EPA proposal to halt the sale of a trio of chemicals linked to birth defects, nerve damage, and a disturbing number of deaths. Within weeks of her arrival, Beck was leading the charge against that proposal, based on the same arguments she had developed as a lobbyist, and over the protests of agency professionals who had been working on the issue.”

And so on.

Giving power to industry representatives while they fill your campaign coffers is fundamentally corrupt. Instead of bestowing power and respect upon openly demonstrated competency, cronyism and lobbyists-draft-laws favors those willing to sacrifice honesty, transparency and actual-usefulness for money, power and clubbishness.

Trump does not appear to understand or care about the essentially evil nature of putting business in charge of regulating itself. In general, it is Donald Trump’s fundamental lack of insight into what is good about the United States of America that makes him so unfit to be its president.

One might reason that lobbyists simply give money to those politicians who already support their policies and aren’t unduly influencing Trump’s policy decisions, and/or that Trump is just getting rid of bureaucratic red tape by essentially letting established powers within industries regulate themselves. The former argument weakens in instances where the money so obviously talks – such as DeVos ignoring a presidential directive that would, if implemented, be both good for the country and for Trump’s political reputation (good – but apparently not as good as all the money DeVos sends Trump’s way); or Trump helping the payday industry bilk American workers/voters. The latter argument becomes less convincing if you just stop and think about it for a second: (1) we regulate business because people invariably sympathize too much with the material interests and security of themselves and their friends/allies and not enough with everybody else’s; (2) what the established powers within an industry desire is often harmful to competition and thus the industry as a whole — to say nothing of how their wishlist effects the nation’s economy, environment, health, safety, and society.

{ Move?? The relative lack of corruption in the Obama administration and in Joe Biden’s long political career will be covered later.}

The executive summary of the interactive map of Trump’s corruption ends with a pitch for the democrats to focus on anti-corruption in the 2020 election. In this context, they touch upon Hunter Biden’s work as a lobbyist while his father was vice president. They do not let the Bidens off the hook:

“Unfortunately, voters all too often set their corruption outrage aside out of a weary sense that things will be pretty bad regardless of which way they go. That perception was one of Trump’s triumphs in the 2016 campaign; it was achieved through a combination of his ‘drain the swamp’ chants and his endless attacks on a Democratic nominee [Hillary Clinton] who had made herself conveniently vulnerable. He will no doubt deploy the same techniques again if Joe Biden is the nominee, pounding away at Hunter Biden’s high-paid corporate board gigs (emblematic, if truth be told, of small-time, bipartisan corruption that masks the much worse stuff), and ginning up whatever other scandals or pseudo-scandals come to mind. His assignment could be tougher if the Democrats end up making a different choice.”

But democratic voters did choose Biden, and so Trump has recourse to:
Look at Hunter Biden cashing in as a lobbyist while his father holds important government positions! But cannot in good faith claim that there is evidence that Joseph Biden is guilty of corruption in the Ukraine. And the general lack of corruption in the Obama Administration stands in stark contrast with Trump’s unabashedly self- and lonbyist-serving corruption of the highest office in the land.

Good faith notwithstanding, Trump’s rhetoric seizes upon this minor incident to create the following opportunities for self-deception: If people are inclined to willfully hide from heaps of readily available evidence, they can enjoy agreeing with Trump that everyone is out to get him and the media is overlooking the real political criminals; while those who cannot help but notice the corrupting influence of money on Trump the businessman as well as Trump the politician, but who still want to enjoy the nearness of Trump and his more rabid fans, can shrug their shoulders and say they all do it and at least Trump’s a real man.

Either Joe Biden or Don Trump will be president of the US in 2021. We who would save US democracy must demonstrate that though Biden is imperfect, he is sane and decent and very willing to work for democratic reforms. This, along with the kind of people and ideas he will bring into the White House makes him a viable option for those who believe that the US democracy is unlikely to survive another four years of Donald Trump. Joseph Biden is also the only option. Prior to making our case for Biden, we must finish our case against Trump.
. . . . . .


We need to better demonstrate Trump’s threat to democracy: unique, willful, dangerously successful

. . . . . . .


It is so hard to think differently from those around you. In fact, none of us can do it. We can somewhat, but the dissonance is great. Disagreements are stressful and harmony is relaxing. So we choose our battles. We frame our dissents within perimeters that make them less antagonistic to the positions of our friends and associates. We let little concerns that our allies don’t share slide, while enjoying the comradery of getting worked up with them over concerns that sometimes we don’t even necessarily feel so pressingly.

In the crazily partisan climate we’ve now slogged through for like twenty or thirty years, and which has increased to unbearable levels since Trump’s been elected, critical thought becomes increasingly scary: in addition to the normal pain of risking xyz established reality (where you know what’s what and the matter is settled and needn’t trouble you), there’s the dread of losing a shared reality with those in your life.

Well, yes, there’s all that. There’s the loneliness of a world that is never as clear and obvious as either our logic or our affections and aversions: the loneliness of a world that won’t hold us like we need to be held. But we must be held! So we cling to others and we call the loves and friendships we share holy and good. But some of what we share with those closest to us are prejudices, unhelpful myths, us-vs-them, a wall around the castle of our shared specialness.

What is the way forward?
Why do I maintain that Trump represents an existential threat to US American democracy? And how is what Biden offers fundamentally different?

Before contrasting Biden with Trump, we need to flush out a little better Trump’s existential threat to our democracy. The corruption of his office for private gain and his blatant preference for cronyism over an honest effort to discover and implement policies beneficial to all stakeholders are part of how he is corroding democracy; but there’s more to tell.

He was impeached because there was evidence that he withheld aid to a foreign country to pressure that country’s leadership into digging up dirt on a political rival. The impeachment effort failed not because the evidence was wanting, but because the Republican senate chose to ignore the evidence. In this way, Trump’s acquittal, far from exonerating him, shows the depth of our current crisis: The Republican senate chose to shrug off clear presidential corruption. And for who? For a man who is not just corrupt, but also fundamentally unfit to rule.

How many iffinesses before a democracy is broken? They can’t break a democracy. It takes blatant disregard to the most fundamental elements within the democratic system


4. Should Adam Schiff be removed as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee for making up a fake phone conversation involving President Trump?
[See Analysis of Schiff’s Sept 2, 2019 summary of Trump’s July 25, 2019 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.]
o Yes
o No
o Unsure
5. Do you believe Nancy Pelosi has put her radical anti-Trump agenda ahead of doing what‘s right for the country?
[See concluding remarks.]
o Yes
o No
o Unsure
6. Do you believe mainstream media outlets should stop having proven liars like Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell on their shows?
[Schiff: See Analysis to Question #4
Swalwell: See Analysis to Swalwell’s charges of collusion between Trump and the Russian government.]
o Yes
o No
o Unsure

This essay under construction, but Bartleby and Amble are on the give-up, so we don’t know if the construction will continue or not.

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