Keeping it Classy

Trump and friends. Copenhagen, April 2016.

If there is one thing the Trump brand invariably conveys it is class. From this ineluctable truth it is possible to read the underlying (and heretofore secret) history of the executive order that the running dogs of the mainstream media (and practically anyone with better than a fourth-grade education) have had the temerity to dub a Muslim ban.

The nattering nabobs of negativity of the Fourth Estate have pointed out that the so-called ban seemed not to apply to states from which people who had committed actual acts of terrorism in this country had come, noting also that those countries excluded from the order were also those in which the president had major business interests. So much for that.

What these reports signally fail to recognize is the powerful civilizing influence that exposure to the Trump brand must certainly have. One might hold the view that the salutary effects of spending time at a high end hotel, sipping mimosas beside a limpid blue swimming pool, and basking in the cachet that comes with a Trump monogrammed bathrobe would be of limited use in restricting impulses toward acts of anti-American violence.

But (so must go the thinking in the ever optimistic confines of the Trump White House) you would be wrong. Apparently, even the prospect of such homely comforts viewed from afar, nay, even the very possibility that one might someday aspire to the succor of such luxury is enough to turn the most wild-eyed zealot toward a life of peaceable moderation fit to be sheltered at the bosom of this nation (presumably after proper screening of course).

Such is the salubrious power of the Trump brand that to hawk it in the context of official activities can hardly be viewed as in some way a contravention of the nation’s ethics laws. No indeed, for this brand has now received the imprimatur of the American electorate (or at least 24% percent of it). Its promotion can no longer be viewed as contrary to the interests of the nation because it is not one with that nation. Its interests are our interests. Its successes, ours. It’s failings…well, should it ever have one we’ll get back to you.

Of the many changes that Trump and his cohort of merry bunglers have wrought on this country in the first 19 days of their administration (and one uses this term with due caution) the intermingling of the intermingling of American political affairs with the private fortunes of the people governing it is at least the most squalid, if perhaps not the most immediately catastrophic.

Size matters. San Francisco, August 2016.

Sadly (and this too will not be news to any reasonably perceptive adult), the idea that the corridors of power might be a venue for personal enrichment is hardly a new one. In the long stretch of human history there is no truth so universally recognized as that which notes that the on book remuneration of public officials pales in comparison with the reward to be had from graft, bribery, and extortion carried out under the color of authority.

This is a long-standing feature of the American polity. The political system of this country has long been awash in cash, exchanged with a nudge and a wink to shore up the hardly plausible proposition that it is not the purchase price of political influence. And thus there was a hardly a hiccup when it was reported in the wake of Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as Secretary of Education that her family had made campaign contributions amounting to more than a quarter million dollars to members of the committee reviewing her candidacy. In post-Citizens United America, that is just par for the course.

Donald Trump has set out is stall on the basis of a reputation for thinking outside the box. We will here put aside the matter of his being a garden variety real estate speculator rather than some knight errant of entrepreneurial creative destruction. Suffice to say, in his governmental activities, as in his business dealings, his thinking is very much inside the box. And that box is packed to the gunwales with cash.

So it was that when Nordstrom decided to discontinue hawking Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, the predictable response was yet another in the seemingly interminable series of grumpy, juvenile missives issuing from the presidential Twitter account. Why, why, the bleating presidential id seemed to ask, should Nordstrom put their own corporate bottom line about the interests of a young woman who, in addition to her other positive qualities, is apparently the moral compass of the leader of the free world?

One shudders to think precisely to what depredations the institutions of the country (and the world at large) might be subject without the moderating influence that Ms. Trump apparently exerts upon her father. However that may be, it is clear that Nordstrom’s decision was made not on the basis of some sort of inexplicable political animus but rather in light of cold-eyed calculations of the kind that the debtor-in-chief seems singularly incapable of making.

It is also clear that this decision was made some time ago and thus also that the response that it generated was merely yet another expression of the intense paranoia that is the defining characteristic of this administration from top to bottom.

Not ironic. Las Vegas, February 2016.

To be clear, there are worse things going on than the blurring of public institutions and private commerce in American government. Its current manifestations are more open, more entirely shameless, but as a phenomenon, it is not new. Nor is it more worrisome than, for instance, the ban on Muslims from states unfavored by Trump family interests entering the United States. The order in itself is almost certainly unconstitutional.

The ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the ban (and the overtly anti-Muslim chatter that preceded it) constituted a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14the Amendment is certainly but a momentary stopping point as the matter wends its way inexorably toward adjudication by the Supreme Court.

Worse yet, the deliberations of the court were made the subject of a revilement of the judiciary that even the president’s own nominee for the Supreme Court described as “demoralizing.” Still, the fact that the leadership of the ruling party is willing blithely to overlook the wholesale melding of the government of the nation with Trump family enterprise is alarming nonetheless.

It is alarming because it is the sort of institutional transformation that sets precedent. The experience of other states around the world (Russian being a prime example but by no means the only one) in which the extraction of profit has become melded directly with the institutions of the state should give us pause about this. Clearly there is, and has been for at least half a century, a prominent faction on the far right of the Republican Party that wishes to see the government cut to the bone and replaced with private enterprise.

But what we are seeing now is the election of a business dynasty to a position of competitive advantage, and it is hard to believe that the free market neurotics of the Republican right can be ignorant of, or blind to, the dangers associated with such a development. Frederick the Great is supposed to have designated himself “the first servant of the state.” Donald Trump is in the process of designating himself the first CEO, and that is hardly a promising development.

Photographs courtesy of Kristof Trolle, Torbak Hopper, and Gage Skidmore. Published under a Creative Commons license.