We’re now more than 100 days into the Trump administration. We made it!
The darkest fears that President Trump was inaugurating a proto-fascist movement or would literally destroy the world have not panned out. But neither has his vaunted self-presentation as a ruthless negotiator and capable businessman. He is only really good at one thing: enriching himself and his family with sleazy small-bore schemes.
When Trump first took office, and started issuing extremely aggressive anti-immigrant executive orders, it was alarming indeed. Coupled to his pro-welfare and pro-worker campaign, it seemed like he was groping towards the basic fascist formula of roaring economic populism for white people plus vicious bigotry toward immigrants and minorities.
But then he ran into a blizzard of legal headaches and massive popular outrage. And while Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are still brutalizing people across the country, and the federal bureaucracy has become even more of a hellish nightmare for immigrants, Trump appears to have rather forgotten about the immigrant question. Legal issues before a new version of the order are still pending, and are probably insurmountable due to how many times Trump loudly promised he was going to ban Muslim entry into the country. He’s also abandoned the idea of getting funding for a border wall in the upcoming spending bill.
His hazy populist views were next to go, as he stacked his administration with Wall Street goons and is still attempting to pass a bill slashing Medicaid and ObamaCare subsidies, which would yank coverage from millions of Americans. His tax "reform" plan is a gigantic giveaway to the ultra-rich. And though he did spark the beginnings of a lumber trade war with Canada (sparked by a milk pricing policy change in that country, bizarrely), he also seems to have abandoned the idea of renegotiating NAFTA after about five minutes.
He has proved to be an absolutely abysmal negotiator, as well. The signature Trump move is to make a blustery threat, and then immediately back down when his bluff is called. He did it on NAFTA, he did it on funding for his border wall, and he did it on insurer subsidies under ObamaCare. There’s a big difference between playing a tough boss on TV and actually being the head of state of the world’s most powerful nation.
But Trump is genuinely great at one thing. He’s something of a small-minded weasely genius at penny-ante schemes to enrich himself and his family. After he was elected president, he immediately doubled the membership fee to his Mar-a-Lago country club, to $200,000. He’s on track to spend eight times what Obama did on travel, and he’s got the Secret Service paying $35,000 to rent golf carts at Mar-a-Lago and $64,000 to rent elevators at Trump Tower. He refuses to release his tax returns (meaning it’s a safe bet there’s all manner of dirt in them), and pretty clearly still controls the Trump Organization, which has investments all over the globe. There are so many overt scams and conflicts of interest — any one of which would have been a howling, months-long political scandal if any other president had done it — that even political reporters can barely keep track of them all.
His daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner now get waited on hand and foot all over the globe, because they are very obviously the top members of a kinship-based complex of political corruption at the world’s apex of power. And other countries have noticed that, in addition to Trump himself being pathetically easy to manipulate, the Trumps can be bought cheap. China granted Ivanka several trademarks just after she met with President Xi Jinping; directly afterward the president announced he would not label that country a currency manipulator.
The most striking fact about all this is how Trump has almost no shame. He simply does not care that this kind of thing would normally be beneath the dignity of a small-town mayor — he and his family aren’t even trying to conceal this stuff. That’s an advantage of a sort, as normally the media relies on some indication of shame for something to be covered as a real scandal — though some of this will almost certainly backfire eventually.
The second most striking thing is how small and petty this all is. The man could very likely just write himself a $10 billion check from the U.S. Treasury, but instead he’s scamming the public for a few thousand dollars here and getting rich foreigners to invest a few tens of millions into his various properties there. It’s the mark of an extraordinarily small and dim mind. Which, I suppose, is somewhat better than a more intelligent corruption.
In any case, all that that rhetoric about returning power "back to you, the American people" has been revealed as utter claptrap. Our president’s first and last priority is using the federal government to enrich himself and his family. In today’s America, a few dozen people are going to "share in its wealth" — and most of them are named "Trump."