Is the jig up for Trump?

The New Yorker’s Adam Davidson makes a pretty persuasive case.  And it’s not about Russia, it’s about the incredibly corrup Trump business organization which seems highly unlikely to survive the scrutiny of the Southern District of NY and the various malfeasance Trump and Cohen are going to have an increasingly difficult time hiding.  In many ways, the under-reported and under-appreciated story of 2016 is just how corrupt Trump’s business was (and is).  I especially love his analogy of reporting from the Green Zone in Iraq when it was obvious to all the journalists there that things were not going to go well despite all that the American public was hearing to the contrary.  This is an important piece, you should read all of it.  That said…

We journalists were able to use generators and satellite dishes to access outside information, and what we saw was absurd. Americans seemed convinced things were going well in Iraq. The war—and the President who launched it—were seen favorably by seventy per cent of Americans. Then came these pictures of a President touting “Mission Accomplished”—the choice of words that President Trump used in a tweet on Saturday, the morning after he ordered an air strike on Syria. On the ground, we were not prophets or political geniuses. We were sentient adults who were able to see the clear, obvious truth in front of us. The path of Iraq would be decided by those who thrived in chaos…

I thought of those earlier experiences this week as I began to feel a familiar clarity about what will unfold next in the Trump Presidency. There are lots of details and surprises to come, but the endgame of this Presidency seems as clear now as those of Iraq and the financial crisis did months before they unfolded. [emphases mine] Last week, federal investigators raided the offices of Michael Cohen, the man who has been closer than anybody to Trump’s most problematic business and personal relationships. This week, we learned that Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months—his e-mails have been read, presumably his phones have been tapped, and his meetings have been monitored. Trump has long declared a red line: Robert Mueller must not investigate his businesses, and must only look at any possible collusion with Russia. That red line is now crossed and, for Trump, in the most troubling of ways. Even if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and then had Mueller and his investigation put on ice, and even if—as is disturbingly possible—Congress did nothing, the Cohen prosecution would continue. Even if Trump pardons Cohen, the information the Feds have on him can become the basis for charges against others in the Trump Organization

However, I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality. In Azerbaijan, he did business with a likely money launderer for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, he partnered with a group that was being investigated for a possible role in the largest known bank-fraud and money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is “knee-deep in dirty politics”; there are criminal investigations of his deals in Brazil; the F.B.I. is reportedly looking into his daughter Ivanka’s role in the Trump hotel in Vancouver, for which she worked with a Malaysian family that has admitted to financial fraud. Back home, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka were investigated for financial crimes associated with the Trump hotel in SoHo—an investigation that was halted suspiciously. His Taj Mahal casino received what was then the largest fine in history for money-laundering violations…

I believe this assessment is wrong. Sure, many people have a vague sense of Trump’s shadiness, but once the full details are better known and digested, a fundamentally different narrative about Trump will become commonplace. Remember: we knew a lot about problems in Iraq in May, 2003… Sadly, things had to get much worse before Americans came to see that our occupation of Iraq was disastrous and, a few years later, that our financial system was in tatters…

Of course Trump is raging and furious and terrified. Prosecutors are now looking at his core. Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its partners around the world; he was chief consigliere and dealmaker throughout its period of expansion into global partnerships with sketchy oligarchs. He wasn’t a slick politico who showed up for a few months. He knows everything, he recorded much of it, and now prosecutors will know it, too. It seems inevitable that much will be made public. We don’t know when. We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.

I think Davidson may over-play things about with his language.  And there’s some interesting pushback from the likes of Nate Silver:

But I think Davidson’s key point is that the rampant criminality of the Trump organization will, in some form or another, bring about Trump’s political downfall.  And I think that remains a solid point.

Meanwhile, Brian Beutler builds nicely off of Davidson:

Davidson’s piece invited backlash from critics who detected in it a strain of the hubris that defined most political punditry in 2016. Journalists have identified dozens career-ending Trump scandals that turned out not to be career-ending, and at a glance, Davidson’s article reads as yet another entry in that genre…

The Russia and Cohen investigations expose Trump and his campaign and his business organization to such serious legal jeopardy that it is difficult to fathom a future in which criminality and corruption aren’t the traits that define Trump’s presidency. That’s one way to conceive of Davdison’s “end stage.” But it doesn’t mean his presidency couldn’t limp along for years, hobbled by its legal woes. A zombie presidency, but a presidency nonetheless, with many mighty instruments of power still at his disposal. What we know to a near certainty is that as the heat increases, Trump will try to enlist more and more people into “this thing of his” as his only means of political survival—and perhaps as his only means of sparing those friends of his from justice.

He will extort support from the ranks of Republican officialdom, which may already be too tainted by allegiance to Trump to credibly sever ties with its criminal leader.

Most corrosively, he will conscript more and more of his supporters into the ethical netherworld of Trumpism, convincing millions of Americans to scoff at ethics and law, and serve instead as a human-political shield around him, so that he can’t be removed from office. This process would serve to normalize his gangster ethic across large swaths of the country, among a radicalized pro-Trump cohort that will be around to poison civic life in America long after Trump has exited the stage.

And the terrifying thing about it is he might succeed. Reaching the beginning of the end doesn’t imply that justice will prevail swiftly, or even that it will prevail at all. It only implies that Trump’s path to redemption is closed and the best he can do is hang on for dear life. The end stage of Trump’s presidency is upon us, but it isn’t one in which he ultimately loses. It may turn out to be one in which we all do.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Is the jig up for Trump?

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Pretty scary. I’ve thought that if Trump had lost the election, we would have had chaos through his planned TV network and appeals to white fear of losing power. Now it looks like we will have chaos whatever happens.
    We liberals underestimated the power of fear of losing power even of those whites who aren’t really sharing in the wealth and power of the oligarchs and their hired hands.

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