Back in 2010, I wrote an article for TomDispatch.com in which I compared the U.S. government and its corporate handlers to a kleptocracy. Here’s what I wrote:
What drives America today is, in fact, business — just as was true in the days of Calvin Coolidge. But it’s not the fair-minded “free enterprise” system touted in those freshly revised Texas guidelines for American history textbooks; rather, it’s a rigged system of crony capitalism that increasingly ends in what, if we were looking at some other country, we would recognize as an unabashed kleptocracy.
That’s what we’re witnessing right now with Trump and his family: crony capitalism. Unabashed kleptocracy. It’s nothing new, except now it’s being done openly and unapologetically by the president-elect, who claims the law of the land says he can’t have conflicts of interest, because as president he’s exempted from those laws.
Recall the saying that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. Trump is both tragedy and farce, but more than anything, he’s a tragedy for our democracy.
Here’s more of what I wrote back in 2010. It’s prescient, I think, and I’m not proud to say that:
An old Roman maxim enjoins us to “let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” Within our kleptocracy, the prevailing attitude is an insouciant “We’ll get ours, though the heavens fall.” This mindset marks the decline of our polity. A spirit of shared sacrifice, dismissed as hopelessly naïve, has been replaced by a form of tribalized privatization in which insiders find ways to profit no matter what.
Tom Engelhardt documents Trump’s opportunistic greed in his latest introduction to Nick Turse’s humorously painful article on the farce that is Trump. Here’s what Engelhardt has to say about Trump’s emerging kleptocracy:
Trump is a family man in every sense of the word. His business is a family business. No matter what anyone tells you, there’s no more way to separate him from his brand, with his kids running it, than there is to separate a shark from the ocean or Ivanka from her line of jewelry. There’s no way this administration can be anything but a walking, talking conflict of interest of a kind never before seen or even imagined in this country. It’s easy, in fact, to guarantee one thing: that foreign business and political interests will have a field day when it comes to applying pressure to the new American president.
Truer words were never written. Imagine placing Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko (he of cinematic “Wall Street” infamy) in charge of America, and that’s Trump, except Trump seems to have even fewer scruples.
Anyway, the intrepid Nick Turse journeyed to Trump Tower in Manhattan to survey the farce that is the Trump transition team. I urge you to read his article in full, but here’s his conclusion:
Descending the switchback escalators [in the Trump Tower], I found myself gazing at the lobby where a scrum of reporters stood waiting for golden elevator doors to open, potentially disgorging a Trump family member or some other person hoping to serve at the pleasure of the next president. Behind me water cascaded several stories down a pink marble wall, an overblown monument to a bygone age of excess. Ahead of me, glass cases filled with Trump/Pence 2016 T-shirts, colognes with the monikers “Empire” and “Success,” the iconic red “Make America Great Again” one-size-fits-all baseball cap, stuffed animals, and other tchotchkes stood next to an overflowing gilded garbage can. Heading for the door, I thought about all of this and Joe [a secret service agent] and his commando-chic colleague and Trump’s deserted private-public park, and the army of cops, the metal barricades, and the circus that awaited me on the street. I felt I’d truly been given some hint of the future, a whisper of what awaits. I also felt certain I’d be returning to Trump Tower — and soon.
Circus, indeed. Trump has mastered that, but will he provide the bread as well to complete the bread and circuses pairing? And will the people be satisfied with empty spectacle and a few crumbs of bread as Trump takes America for a kleptocratic ride?
It was said about the Emperor Nero that he fiddled while Rome burned. Instead of fiddling, Trump, one assumes, will make deals and sell trinkets, all for his personal profit, even as American democracy burns.
Welcome to kleptocracy in the open, America. As the inferno rages, remember this happy fact: For only $10,000 you too can wear Ivanka’s bracelet!