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America Has Become A Kleptocracy. Does Anybody Care?

President Donald Trump calls out as he arrives to speak at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Donald Trump calls out as he arrives to speak at the 2019 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Back in 2016, Donald Trump promised America that his background as a businessman would make him a different kind of president.

This has turned out to be true. But we should have read the fine print on that promise, or at least heeded the pattern that emerges from his multiple bankruptcies, lawsuits and fraudulent endeavors. That pattern is simple: Trump’s only true allegiance is to his bottom line.

As president, he has transformed our federal government into a bailout fund for his faltering businesses.

He has done so with astonishing ease, in plain sight, with the approval of his party and the acquiescence of both the courts and his congressional opponents, who fear holding him accountable to the Constitution would be politically risky.

The moral logic here is both stark and irrefutable. The president’s sworn duty is to work for his constituents. Period. Like his predecessors, Trump should have divested himself of his various clubs and resorts.

Not only did he retain ownership of his properties, but he immediately set about using the presidency to pad his bottom line. None of this is conjecture. It’s all a matter of public record, as galling as those campaign press conferences featuring Trump steaks and bottled water.

Donald Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. On display on the right is Trump branded water and steak. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Donald Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. On display on the right is Trump branded water and steak. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

On the very day he was sworn in as president, his inauguration committee paid the Trump Organization $1.5 million dollars for services rendered. Ever since then, foreign officials and domestic lobbyists have flocked to his D.C. hotel and his other clubs.

And how about Trump himself? He (and his presidential entourage) have spent 296 days at his various properties. You read that right. Mr. Drain-the-Swamp has spent nearly a third of his presidency patronizing his own businesses, and thus pouring millions of taxpayer dollars directly into his own pockets.

Before you try to imagine the reaction if a Democratic politician engaged in such brazen self-dealing, consider the past few weeks, in which:

*Trump’s hand-picked attorney general proposed holding his $30,000 office Christmas Party at a Trump hotel.

*Trump himself proposed hosting the G-7 summit at his failing Miami resort.

*The vice president and his entourage flew 180 miles out of their way to stay at the president’s failing Irish resort.

*News reports revealed that at least one air force maintenance crew flew hundreds of miles out of its way to stay at the president’s failing Scottish resort.

In fact, based on the $11 million worth of jet fuel the U.S. military purchased at a nearby airport, there are clear indications that our armed forces are being used to prop up this remote outpost. The resort lost $4.5 million in 2017 but enjoyed a revenue bump of $3 million last year. Naturally, the defense department has refused to turn over any documents related to these expenditures to congressional investigators.

Trump’s only true allegiance is to his bottom line.

This story — that taxpayer money is essentially being laundered through the U.S. military to benefit a sitting president — didn’t even make page one of The New York Times. It was stuck on page A16, while the front page was reserved for a story about Trump’s doctoring of a weather map.

There is no better indication of just how accepted presidential corruption has become.

The Trump regime has not turned our nation into an autocracy. It has merely exploited the monstrous cynicism that lies at the heart of modern capitalism, in which the only governing principles are the acquisition of money and the consolidation of power.

The result is a democracy that now functions more like a kleptocracy, in which politics exists primarily to serve the special interests.

It is not hard to imagine the disgust the founders would have felt for Donald Trump, and for the political and media classes who remain so enthralled by this president’s antics that they have normalized his ethics.

But I imagine they would have been even more horrified by the moral erosion of America itself, by which I mean every citizen who has actively embraced, ignored, or simply agreed to tolerate a leader whose shameless greed disgraces the office he holds.

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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