Last week the New York Times released a full and detailed report outlining crimes committed by a man now elevated to the United States presidency. It explained how Donald Trump’s father orchestrated various schemes to evade taxes, thus building his fortune further; it explained how Donald Trump, in particular, assisted those crimes and crafted new ones.
That the sitting president of the United States is, by all evidence, a criminal went almost unnoticed in the din of the Kavanaugh hearings. The speaker of the House said nothing. The Senate majority leader said nothing. Senators were in the midst of a pitched battle to determine whether past and present wrongdoing by one of the nation’s elites—a sexual assault and an assortment of misleading and evasive statements, respectively—deserved even a credible investigation of the charges; they chose to demur and did so giddily.
But the background news, the bit about a sitting president is a lifelong tax cheat on a scale barely imaginable to most of the rest of us, is not going away. And the voices of elite conservatism are, already, ticking off all the various reasons why this president, their president, is allowed to do those things. Last week the Wall Street Journal editorial page cleared space for Brett Kavanaugh to declare that he would be an impartial and dignified American Elite despite all those things that he said out loud in front of all of us, none of which he recanted or apologized for. This week it falls to Journal columnist Holman Jenkins, the voice of the American Business World, by the byline, to explain that there is nothing to see here. Yes, the sitting president is a tax cheat, he allows as he mocks the New York Times for tediously pointing it out. Of course, he is. That is the way of the world.
In one way excruciatingly detailed by the Times, however, Mr. Trump and his sire are nothing new under the sun. Nobody in their right mind from the compulsive accumulator class pays the punitive federal estate tax. From an early age, such people make sure their lifetime achievements are not sucked up and splattered away in 15 seconds of federal spending.
Everybody commits these crimes, the business world columnist of the Wall Street Journal insists. It is all a game. Come, let us laugh at how it doesn’t count if you don’t get caught.
The Times now finds illegal many Trump Senior dodges that in the 1990s passed IRS muster or escaped IRS notice and have been effectively rendered legal (at least for criminal purposes) by the statute of limitations. Notable is a stratagem known to the corrupt as well as those fleeing corruption since the dawn of time: over-invoicing. Father Trump created for his children a company to manage his properties and then allowed it to overbill him (and his tenants) for a variety of services and improvements.
Come, let us elites of the business world openly mock the reporters of one of the very largest newspapers in America for even reporting such a thing. Why investigate tax crimes at all, instead of investigating Dear Leader’s enemies?
We should always applaud journalistic enterprise even if the Times devotes considerable resources to a tax story that will surprise exactly no one. More interesting in their way are questions like who dumped a decade’s worth of private Trump tax documents in the paper’s lap and why doesn’t the Times devote similar energy to finding out what’s in the secret appendix of the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the strange doings of James Comey in the 2016 race?
Holman Jenkins ticks down the fascist checklist with the efficiency only a businessman could provide. Those that rule us are inevitably above the law because it would be ridiculous to expect such wealthy and important people to adhere to it in the first place. Crimes that benefit the priorities of the state, or at least the priorities of those that rule the state, are barely crimes, to begin with. Those that accuse our rulers of crimes or provide evidence of those crimes are, in fact, the malevolent ones.
And the press is the enemy. The press cannot be trusted. Who are they to report on such crimes, to begin with?
Journalists are as unlikely as the next person to adhere rigidly to the law in their driving habits, their use of pharmaceuticals, their failure to procure a valid fishing license.But as a class they do insist on rigid adherence to the law on the part of their subjects for the purpose of writing gotcha exposés.
The primary purpose of Jenkins’s defense of Trump is to declare that the estate tax is such an unworthy device that it is both expected and very nearly noble to commit crimes to evade it. Trump is a seedy, rotten man, Jenkins may hint, but worse are the reporters who dig through his dealings and find proof of his crimes. And this is the Wall Street Journal speaking, the paper of record for the business class; the mafia-styled notions that crimes you can get away with are not crimes at all is so inseparably a fixture of American upper class thought that writing it down in print is considered just another day’s advice from Business World.
We are very very close to the tipping point; we may have passed it already. The United States president stands accused of gargantuan tax frauds, a literal lifetime of criminal acts. That is not, to be sure, something Republicanism would have tolerated in any of its past modern incarnations, but at the moment it seems extremely likely that Sen. Mitch McConnell will, at this moment, work to defend Trump and attack his enemies. It seems inevitable that the Republican House, fresh off apoplectic rage directed toward the email practices of an enemy, an improper Sunday-show explanation of an attack on an American diplomatic compound, and even the faintest whiff of impropriety regarding a charity foundation founded by a former president, will throw their bodies on the gears to prevent any further information from leaking on how the leader of their party built his wealth on tax scams totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
It seems almost certain that we will now tip into the overt kleptocracy that marks the Putin government and other failed democratic efforts—a new American order in which the crimes of a Dear Leader are no longer crimes because the party declares they are not. A new system in which the party, the movement represented by the slovenly minded Jenkins and his peers, meets every revelation of corruption with the open mocking of the journalists who still dare care about it.
I do not know that the country can withstand the attacks of cheap men like Donald Trump and Holman Jenkins, men who sneer at attempts to hold elites to account because, after all, those laws were insufferable, to begin with. Or Rep. Devin Nunes, still furiously working to scuttle the investigation into Russian election hacking after it touched too deeply into the Republican presidential campaign. Or Rep. Paul Ryan, who has not yet seen an act of corruption or a debasement of prior American norms that would require the slightest moment of his attention.
Or Sen. Mitch McConnell, the man who single-handedly halted a fuller warning of corruption in a presidential election with the warning that he would fight back if anyone spoke up. The man who has never once given a damn about his country. The man who has allowed his new, tainted president free rein to mock everyday Americans, to use the presidency as means of boosting his personal wealth, to corrupt federal investigations in efforts to protect himself and his allies, who has praised journalist-murdering dictators and picked petty, sneering, self-absorbed fights with everyone else. The man who has little to say about torch-wielding, armed far-right mobs who would murder a woman in defense of a statue, but is eager to take to a microphone to shout that he and his allies will not be cowed by the “violence” of sexual assault survivors shouting at them in the halls.
The thought that that man, especially, would do anything but protect a criminal Trump from even the barest consequences for those acts is simply implausible. Mitch McConnell would sell out his entire nation for Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell already has.
We may now be exactly the kleptocracy—a fascist-adjacent mush of a thing in which one party has declared themselves the natural leaders of the nation, to an extent that the normal checks and balances are irrelevant, and opposition is irrelevant, and a free press is irrelevant, and the laws themselves are irrelevant—that experts on past such moments had warned we might become.
It depends. To build his wealth, the sitting president has been revealed to have conducted a litany of crimes. It depends on what happens next.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.