Last week America learned of a massive pay-to-play scheme where Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen sold millions of dollars’ worth of White House access to international corporations for which he did little-to-no work. It represented more than just the venal corruption of one man brazenly lining his pockets through his proximity to one of the most powerful men in the world—in fact, it was our first real insight into the systemic corruption that has already begun to overrun our government just over a year into Trump’s presidency.
But this week, Trump blew Cohen’s Essential Consultants scheme out of the water with his own flagrant favoritism for countries that are doing him lavish favors to the tune of hundreds of millions—and perhaps even billions—of dollars.
Trump’s head-scratching new “China first” policy announcement coincidentally came after the Chinese government agreed to drop a cool $500 million on a real estate development in Indonesia in which Trump’s family business has a big stake. After weeks of pushing his get-tough-on-China trade policy, Trump suddenly fretted over Chinese telecom giant ZTE ceasing operations. “Too many jobs in China lost,” he declared, instructing his Commerce Department to review the sanctions it had slapped on ZTE several weeks earlier for being a bad global actor. Six U.S. intelligence chiefs have warned ZTE is a national security risk and last month the Department of Defense yanked ZTE phones off the shelves of U.S. military bases. But sure, let’s make sure they’re open for business to U.S. consumers.
And then there’s the curious case of Qatar which, despite hosting a mission critical U.S. military base, suddenly fell out of favor last year with the Trump administration before mysteriously falling back in favor with it last month. The difference? Last year, Qatar representatives made the grave error of turning down Cohen’s advances for an upfront $1 million consulting fee while also rebuffing Jared Kushner’s push for a bail out on his family’s disastrous billion-dollar purchase of Midtown Manhattan’s 666 Fifth Avenue. But now Qatar appears poised to rescue the Kushners from the massive $1.4 billion mortgage coming due early next year. What a difference a bribe makes.
In the wake of the Essential Consultants bombshell last week, any other White House would be doing PR triage—circumspect about its every move. Not Trump—he dashed off that first ZTE tweet on Sunday as the country was still struggling to wrap its mind around what a cesspool he’s overseeing in Washington.
And yet, impervious to any sense of caution or restraint on the perception that he’s selling U.S. foreign policy for his own profit, Trump’s also a paranoid lunatic when it comes to leaks and leakers, whom he blames for getting him “the worst press.”
Working in the Trump White House, current and former West Wing aides say, has always meant navigating the personality of a mercurial president who has an inherent sense of paranoia — one extended even to those who have worked with him closely — that has been honed over decades.
“There is a certain advantage to having a certain degree of paranoia,” Mr. Trump said during an interview with the BBC in 1998. “You can be a little bit careful. You watch what’s happening behind your back.”
It’s an astonishingly selective paranoia focused solely on the actions of others and not oneself. Any sane president, who was as obsessed with bad press coverage as Trump is, might actually consider what actions he himself was taking and how they would be perceived in the context of other stories dominating headlines—like Cohen’s profligate shell company. But for Trump, the problem is purely external—the work of bad actors out to get him. The buck always—always!—stops with someone else.
So, elevate Chinese jobs over U.S. national security? Sure.
Alienate one of our most strategic partners in the Middle East for refusing Jared-poo money? Absolutely.
The pattern is unmistakable and the number of instances inexplicable. If there was ever any question, it is now perfectly obvious Trump is using the powers of the presidency to fight his own personal battles, whatever they may be. Or as John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White Counsel, put it, using “the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” (Rachel Maddow did an apt segment Friday drawing comparisons between Trump’s postal overreach and Nixon’s abuse of executive power.)
Trump isn’t just a greedy bastard—he’s a malignancy that has infected our republic and his corruption is metastasizing by the week. Meanwhile, Republicans are just letting it all happen, right out there in the open, without lifting a single finger to rein him in. As Paul Krugman wrote Friday:
Today’s Republicans have made it clear that they won’t hold Trump accountable for anything, even if it borders on treason.
All of which is to say that Trump’s corruption is only a symptom of a bigger problem: a G.O.P. that will do anything, even betray the nation, in its pursuit of partisan advantage.
But even if the people controlling Congress are useless, everyday American heroes are emerging in this drama, like Megan Brennan, the U.S. Postmaster General who has resisted Trump’s rate hike, or the three unnamed sources who detailed Trump’s furtive push to the Washington Post, or perhaps the law enforcement official who flagged missing Suspicious Activity Reports on Cohen’s bank account (even if those turn out to have been properly restricted). Behind the scenes and in sometimes anonymous ways, patriots are battling Trump’s executive overreach and its noxious underpinnings.
Every one of us has a role to play in the history we are currently living, and I am often heartened by the engagement of readers, your contributions to the dialogue, and your efforts to support the good deeds of people putting themselves at risk to expose Trump’s abuses.
As for the GOP-led Congress, the only cure is removal of every Republican possible this fall. They must be wrenched from power and eradicated for violating their oath of office if we are to survive as a constitutional republic.
UPDATE: This new NYT report that Saudi Arabia and the UAE offered Don Jr. help to elect Trump is interesting. Trump would later weirdly turn on Qatar in favor the Saudis and UAE, who also resented the Iran nuclear deal brokered by Obama. Gee. www.nytimes.com/…