So what’s it going to be, America: a democratic republic, or Trumpistan? A nation governed by the rule of law, or an oversized kleptocracy, whose maximum leader uses the decayed shell of government to punish his political enemies and reward friends and family?
“Kleptocracy,” of course, means rule by thieves.
In another way of putting it, the United States government increasingly resembles a professional wrestling spectacle — all scripted feuds and melodramatic revenge plots enacted by a cast of alternately sinister and clownish figures skirting the edge of self-parody.
Consider the evidence from the last week alone:
According to The Washington Post, President Trump has personally intervened with the postmaster general in a fruitless effort to double the rates Amazon.com pays the U.S. Postal Service to ship packages. Postmaster General Megan Brennan has explained to Trump “in multiple conversations” that its deal with the online retailer is bound by contracts monitored by a regulatory commission — and a profitable deal for the post office.
Kevin Drum explains: “Everyone — everyone — knows why Trump is doing this. He hates The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, and he’s trying to exact some revenge by going after Bezos’ main business, Amazon. In any other presidency, this would be a major scandal. … With Trump, however, this bit of retribution is so trivial that it’s hardly worth noting. Of course Trump is using the presidency to settle personal scores.”
Indeed, it’s chicken feed by comparison.
Also last week, Trump tweeted the remarkable news that “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost.”
ZTE had been under U.S. sanctions for, among other violations, selling forbidden technology to North Korea and Iran.
One day later, the Chinese government announced a $500 million investment supporting a Trump Corp. hotel, theme park and (naturally) golf course development in Indonesia. During the campaign, remember, Trump pledged to divest himself from the family business, which also he vowed would make no new deals in foreign countries.
He’s broken both promises. Every dollar that goes into the Trump Corp. goes directly into the pockets of the president’s baggy, oversized suits.
Shortly after that, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced a negotiated surrender in the “trade war” against China that began with presidential bluster, tough talk and threatened tariffs against Chinese steel and aluminum.
Never mind. Not going to happen.
On its part, China promises to buy more U.S. agricultural products and to quit pirating American intellectual property whenever that’s convenient.
Also, remember when Trump had no business ties to Russia during the 2015-16 presidential campaign? None whatsoever, he insisted repeatedly. His admiration for Vladimir Putin had nothing to do with self-interest. Even the Russian dictator’s practice of having rivals jailed and journalists murdered failed to affect Trump’s admiration.
Alas, that, too, was deceptive.
It turns out that under the guidance of the ubiquitous lawyer Michael Cohen and Russian-born, mob-connected go-getter Felix Sater, the candidate signed a letter of intent to build a “Trump Tower” skyscraper in Moscow on Sept. 28, 2016 — the day of the third GOP presidential debate.
On Sept. 29, Trump appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, where he commented that “I think in terms of leadership, [Putin] is getting an ‘A,’ and our president [Obama] is not doing so well.”
If you think skyscrapers get built in Moscow without Putin’s say-so … .
Well, I expect you’ll believe just about anything, bless your heart.
New reporting now shows that Cohen and Sater kept beavering away on the project until after Trump secured the GOP nomination. A technically accurate, albeit deceptive July 26 Trump tweet — “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia” — informed the two men that their efforts had come to nothing.
Everything depends, see, on what the meaning of “have” is.
It may bear pointing out, though, that the prospect of Trump Tower Moscow was definitely still in the works on June 16 when Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner met in Trump Tower New York with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya seeking “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
So I guess it also depends upon what the meaning of “collude” is.
So now we learn through The New York Times that Donald Jr., who just can’t recall whether or not he told his father about the Veselnitskaya business, had a second Trump Tower meeting on Aug. 3, 2016, with emissaries bearing the happy news that “the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president.”
It’s never been clear if an egotistical dunce like Donald Jr. understands that it’s a serious federal crime for foreigners to be involved in American elections, much less that persons named Trump are theoretically equal before the law.
But by all means, let’s investigate the FBI.