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“Already Waist-Deep In Stench”: The Most Corrupt Candidate Ever Is Donald Trump

Before his message was overshadowed by a scandal about his use of a white-supremacist image — a mistake that could happen to any candidate, really, so long as that candidate had inspired a massive following among neo-Nazis — Donald Trump was trying to make a point about Hillary Clinton’s corruption. She is the “most corrupt candidate ever,” he claims. Corruption is indeed a plausible line of attack against Clinton — or, at least, it would be, if the opposing candidate was anybody other than Donald Trump, who may actually be the most corrupt presidential candidate ever.

It should be conceded that the evidence against Clinton is fairly damning. After Bill Clinton left the presidency, the former First Couple intermingled career and personal interests in ways that, at minimum, exposed them to a high risk of contamination. The Clinton Foundation was not only a charitable endeavor but a vehicle for Bill Clinton to enjoy the comforts and exercise the quasi-official power of an active figure on the world stage. Donors to the foundation included many of the same businesses and individuals who paid the Clintons for private speeches, and who had an interest in cultivating close ties with a secretary of State and potential future president. Some of those figures had business interests that aligned with Russian strategic goals rather than American ones. The Clintons failed to promptly disclose all of their foundation donors and, on at least one occasion, appointed an apparently unqualified donor to a State Department board.

The evidence of Clinton corruption is circumstantial rather than direct. If they wanted to stay above reproach, they could have rigorously disclosed every dollar that passed through their personal and professional accounts, and made it plain that neither donating to their foundation nor hiring them for speeches would purchase any special treatment whatsoever — indeed, they bent over backward to demonstrate that they could not be bought. Instead, they profited from the ambiguity.

The case against Hillary Clinton is that her administration might be corrupted around the margins — in its minor appointments or pardons and in the relative ease in which some donors get their calls returned — but that the basic contours of her administration would be a continuation of the non-corrupt center-left program of the Obama administration. The case against Trump is qualitatively different. Trump is flamboyantly corrupt in ways that run to the very core of his identity and prospective governing choices.

This is all the more remarkable given that Trump’s complete lack of experience in public office ought to provide him with the opportunity, which most novice candidates have, for a clean-slate résumé. Instead, he is already waist-deep in stench. Trump has not merely intermingled campaigning with his business interests; the two are one and the same. His entire political career seems to be an outgrowth of his efforts to build his personal brand, which Trump has endlessly used the campaign as a platform to promote. He has devoted speeches to attacking the judge in the fraud suit against his “university,” instructed surrogates to do the same, and promised to relaunch the enterprise if elected. He celebrated the Brexit vote, which drove down the value of the pound, as helpful for driving visitors to his Scottish golf course. This sort of behavior is not an appearance of a conflict of interest but the definition of one.

Trump appears to be genuinely unaware, even at the conceptual level, that his business interests might complicate his ability to govern in the public interest. During the primary, when a debate moderator asked if he would put his holdings in a blind trust, Trump comically replied that he would, while defining a “blind trust” to mean his children would run his business for him, which is the opposite of a blind trust. Even if Trump wanted to distance himself from his business interests, the nature of his holdings would make it virtually impossible, as The Wall Street Journal explains today. A traditionally rich person could place their wealth in third-party hands without knowing what they were invested in; Trump’s business is his personal brand, making divestment impossible. “Trump’s empire would pose unprecedented conflicts of interest due to the size of its holdings, privately held nature of the family-run business, and concentration in one industry,” Richard Painter, the Bush administration’s ethics lawyer, tells the Journal.

Trump’s entire business career reeks, beginning with his early associations with organized crime and proceeding through a career of swindling. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” reports David Cay Johnston. Trump is not merely comfortable doing business with criminals and thugs — his habits of manipulating bankruptcy laws and swindling his partners have left him reliant upon, let us say, unconventional sources of investment, many of whom are the scum of the Earth. Franklin Foer lays out impressive circumstantial evidence that Trump may well be a puppet of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump shares a web of financial ties that help explain their shared worldview. Whatever we might think of Clinton, we can be confident she is not controlled by the Kremlin. And the failures of disclosure or record-keeping in her operations pale beside Trump’s defiant refusal to disclose his tax returns.

It is altogether fair to condemn Clinton as a corrupt practitioner of the Washington cash-for-access culture. She and her husband are careless, susceptible to greed — normal politicians, in other words. Trump is the figure whose corruption stands out on a historic scale, and the notion that disdain for corruption would supply a rationale to elect him is nothing short of bizarre.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 5, 2016

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Organized Crime | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Is Trump Upset?”: It’s Because Cruz Is Schooling Him In The Art Of The Deal

Donald Trump prides himself on being able to bend arcane and unfair systems to his will.

Well, every system except one.

For years, Trump has been dogged by questions about his companies’ several bankruptcies, which are potential blemishes upon his business career.

In response, Trump has argued that there was nothing illegal, morally wrong or even shameful about restructuring debts and breaking contracts. On the contrary, these bankruptcies are a testament to his business acumen.

“I’ve used the laws of the country to my advantage,” he told Forbes.

“I have used the laws of this country just like the greatest people that you read about every day in business have used the laws of this country, the chapter laws, to do a great job for my company, for myself, for my employees, for my family, et cetera,” he echoed at the first Republican presidential debate.

And on Twitter, he argued, “Out of hundreds of deals & transactions, I have used the bankruptcy laws a few times to make deals better. Nothing personal, just business.”

He’s exercised similar rhetoric when talking about how he’s benefited from another controversial use of the law: eminent domain.

Governmental seizure of property for private commercial development, he argues, is not only good for the public and (allegedly) for the people forced out of their homes. It’s also used all the time by other prominent entrepreneurs and businesspeople, including members of the Bush family. So why not take advantage of this ripe system for himself?

Likewise, when asked why he’s donated money in the past to ideologically problematic politicians (including Hillary Clinton), he offers the same rationale: This is how the system works when you’re in business. It may not be fair or transparent, but a businessperson would be foolish not use it to his advantage.

“Maybe it’s a good system and maybe it’s not a good system, but it’s the system in which I was under and I thrived,” he boasted on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

In Trump’s world, exploiting the nation’s byzantine bankruptcy laws, or its bizarre eminent domain laws, or its opaque campaign finance rules, or any other system-rigging tools freely available to entrepreneurial types is proof not of shadiness but shrewdness — of his unwillingness to play the chump.

Which is why it’s so odd when Trump whines about Cruz behaving the exact same way.

Cruz has been quietly wooing delegates to the upcoming Republican convention, as well as the local party leaders who help select those delegates. He and his staff have traveled around California, Colorado, Arkansas, South Carolina and other states to help put sympathetic delegates in place in preparation for the possibility of a freewheeling contested election.

The upshot is, according to a Post analysis, that Cruz may already have effectively blocked Trump from the nomination should Trump prove unable to secure a majority of delegates on the first ballot.

As my colleague Marc Thiessen observed this week, Cruz is taking advantage of the peculiar, convoluted delegate system just as adeptly, and just as amorally, as Trump has taken advantage of the nation’s peculiar, convoluted bankruptcy laws.

Trump does not appear to appreciate the parallels. Instead, upon realizing Cruz’s behind-the-scenes efforts, Trump has gone apoplectic.

Having built his campaign on Twitter and free-media coverage, failed to invest much in a ground game and taken little interest until recently in how the delegate system works, Trump now indicts both a “totally unfair” system and Lyin’ Ted himself.

“It’s a rigged, disgusting dirty system,” Trump complained of a primary system whose rules have been available to him for many months.

“He’s trying to steal things because that’s the way Ted works,” Trump carped about a competitor who is cutting deals that the great dealmaker himself should envy.

There are two lessons to be gleaned from Trump’s selectively righteous indignation about unfair systems and those who exploit them.

One is that he’s a hypocrite. Obvious enough.

The other is that the main premise of his campaign — that his wiliness in the business world will translate to wiliness in politics and policy — is bunk.

Trump boasts that his whole life he’s been “greedy, greedy, greedy,” that his greed has paid off in the private sector, and that ergo he’ll be effective at being “greedy for the United States” in all its affairs. But if he can’t even figure out how to manage a primary campaign — let alone get his own children registered to vote for him — the chances that he’ll be able to seamlessly convert his monetary greed into political greed look slim.

 

By: Catherine Rampell, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 14, 2016

April 18, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is Trump The New Boss Tweed?”: Tweed’s Downfall Demonstrates Just How Fragile Trump’s Popularity May Be

George Wallace. Henry Ford. Hitler.

No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. These are just a few of the historical figures to whom critics are comparing Donald Trump.

Of course, finding an exact precedent for Trump is a futile exercise. History is not a cycle that repeats itself over and over, but rather a never-ending continuum filled with intersecting layers. Think of it as less of a carousel, and more of a roller coaster that keeps adding new twists and turns, much to the discomfort of its nauseated passengers.

Still, historical comparisons are useful in examining how elements of the Trump phenomenon work. One of the most puzzling questions about Trump has been his knack for political mobilization. How has a widely panned candidate managed to gain such a substantial following? The answer lies in the strategy of another polarizing leader: William “Boss” Tweed.

Both men built a fervent political base out of a single demographic to which they did not belong. By focusing on the special interests of that neglected group, Tweed and Trump found success in a political climate that otherwise would’ve labeled them as crooks and liars.

Tweed’s Tammany Hall machine relied on securing the votes of recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. In an environment plagued by poverty and nativism, Tweed smelled opportunity. He and his colleagues created an early welfare system that supplied the immigrants with food, jobs, and housing in exchange for political support. Historian Kenneth D. Ackerman writes that Tammany Hall provided “state money for schools and hospitals, lumps of coal at Christmas, and city patronage jobs to put bread on family dinner tables.” Though the self-serving motives behind Tweed’s generosity were clear, New York’s poor continued to back him based on the simple fact that he made their lives better when other politicians just didn’t seem to care.

Tweed and his cronies used their growing power as an opportunity to embezzle thousands of dollars from public projects, most infamously through a phony renovation to the City Court House. Nevertheless, Tweed never viewed his theft as an immoral act. It was business, and he was good at it. Towards the end of his life, Tweed explained, “The fact is New York politics were always dishonest, long before my time. There never was a time you couldn’t buy the Board of Aldermen […] A politician coming forward takes things as they are.”

Sound familiar? Trump has similarly used bankruptcy laws and eminent domain — meant for “public use” — to his advantage.

Trump’s outspoken beliefs and motivations have already earned him the spite of many fellow billionaires, but he doesn’t seem to care. Instead, he has established his base among the less-educated, blue-collar voters across the country.

With promises to secure jobs at home and kick ISIS’s ass abroad, Trump has amassed a committed base of support. Based on a New York Times analysis, Trump support correlates strongly with white people who ethnically identify as “American,” those without high school degrees, and those who live in mobile homes.

Many of Trump’s supporters look to him as a paternal figure capable of redirecting America’s wealth back to its forgotten citizens. Paul Weber, an attendee of a Trump rally in Iowa, complained that recent immigrants are “getting pregnant and coming here and having babies,” allowing them to “get everything and the people that were born here can’t get everything.” Many also chalk up Trump’s personal success, multiple declarations of bankruptcy notwithstanding, as a sign that he would have better control over economic fluctuations. “I like him because he’s a businessman,” explained Trump enthusiast Linda Wilkerson. She added, “We’re in terrible financial debt. I hope he can bail us out.”

So, what can we expect from Trump based on Tweed’s trajectory? For one thing, Tweed’s subsequent downfall demonstrates just how fragile Trump’s popularity may be. He too is dependent on single group’s allegiance, and any hit to his tough-guy reputation could prove fatal. It’s just like that old saying about putting all your eggs—or Trump steaks—in one basket.

But where will this decisive blow come from? Trump’s media presence, currently one of his greatest assets, could become his undoing.

Like Trump, Tweed had a less than amicable relationship with the mainstream media. Perhaps in another world, the two men would meet in a penthouse to sip some vintage brut and scowl at caricatures of bloated bellies and bad comb overs.

Tweed was a favorite target of cartoonist Thomas Nast, nowadays most famous for his design of the modern Santa Claus. Nast portrayed Tweed as a sleazy criminal who stole funds from public projects while wearing a diamond on his shirt and a money sack over his head. The efforts of Nast and other journalists eventually exposed Tweed’s fraudulence and damaged his popularity among immigrants. He died penniless and imprisoned in 1878.

So far, Trump has dodged every media attack, somehow turning each gaffe and insult into a display of American authority. However, Trump will not be as invulnerable should he ever have the responsibility to govern. He has little to lose as an outsider candidate, but any corruption in office would reveal him as the hypocrite he is.

 

By: Dan Fitzpatrick, The National Memo, March 17, 2016

March 18, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Governing, William "Boss" Tweed | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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