With all eyes turned towards Trump’s horrendous treatment of women, a central aspect of his character is being ignored. Donald Trump is a kleptocrat. His first goal is to put public money into his own pockets.
This is easy to spot this once you know what you’re looking for. He more than tripled the rent for his Trump Tower campaign office once he started paying his bills with public donations instead of with his own money. He pays his family and his own businesses millions of dollars for services that every other campaign outsources. He seems to be starting Trump TV and, in a particularly telling moment, Ivanka Trump tweeted an advertisement for the $138 version of the dress she was wearing, while giving her speech during the Republican National Convention. The convention was America’s longest infomercial.
Kleptocratic leaders have no civic duty; they are uninterested in the common good. Instead, they aim to make themselves richer, creating regimes built on tyranny, lies, and corruption. Vladimir Putin is probably the most successful kleptocrat in modern times. He is thought to be worth around $200 Billion, making him possibly the richest man in the world. He is alleged to have diverted money from infrastructure projects, schools, and others public goods, investing it in property, secret bank accounts, and hedge funds. Of course, he couldn’t do this alone. It is likely that the $50 Billion earmarked for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was distributed amongst Russian officials and business leaders. This may be why the winter games in Sochi were the most expensive games ever, 25% more expensive than the much larger 2008 games in Beijing. It is also why Trump’s friendship with Putin is so revealing. Putin’s gains enrich Trump and vice versa. A kleptocracy is crony capitalism on steroids; it is nation building for private gain.
Putin becomes all the more relevant now that Slate has uncovered a possible direct link between Trump’s private server and a Russian bank. If this server does exist, then it further confirms my analysis.
If it is true that Trump is a kleptocrat, then all arguments concerning his conflict-of-interest disappear. The Democrats claim that Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns hides his complex business interests and that these interests will make it harder for him to make decisions as president. Their argument is that he may want to act one way, but will be tempted to act differently because American action could negatively affect his fortune. But this becomes unconvincing once his real motives are revealed; there is no evidence that Trump will ever be tempted to act in the interest of the United States in the first place. Instead, he will simply consider the national interest his own personal bottom line, asking not “What is good for the country?” but “What is good for me?” This would explain also his alleged refusal to pay taxes, his manipulation of his foundation, and his exploitation of every grant, loophole, and subsidy. Trump was right during the debate; in this respect he has been a smart businessman. But he has been one who has completely rejected any concern for the public good. People don’t develop a sense of civic duty simply because they run for president.
Trump’s motivation is more than the usual politicians’ self-interest. True, much can be made of the roles of fundraising and keeping one’s job in congressional life, and any high-level politician can be criticized for hubris. In fact, if we are being honest, we must admit that there is something off about anyone who wants to be president, who wants the responsibility of being the “decider” that arbitrates which diseases get funding, which disaster gets priority, and which soldiers live and die. But hubris does not begin to describe Trump’s solipsism, and every president before him has worked hard to balance his ego with civic duty. They all had America’s interest at heart as they understood it. Trump will not.
Trump’s White House will be the command center for the most individually-tailored redistribution of wealth in American history. It will be the epicenter of the transfer of public money into one family’s private hands. Yes, Trump is a demagogue. Yes, he is a perverse attention-seeker. Yes, he is a bigoted bully, a narcissist, and a misogynist who brags about sexual assault. And yes, he is, in some narrow sense, a good businessman. No person is just one thing. But all of these other qualities are subsumed under his most basic aim, to enrich himself and his family.
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Note: I have always tried to make it clear that this blog is the opinion of a person, not an institution. However, because IPPL is a non-partisan organization, I wish to emphasize that this particular post is very-much the opinion of Jack Weinstein and not of IPPL or UND.
Update: This blog entry was updated on November 1 to include the paragraphs about Slate.com‘s revelations