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Tomgram: Nomi Prins, In Donald Trump's Washington, The House Always Wins

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It drove me crazy throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton (with all those high-priced consultants and aides) just kept pounding away at Donald Trump's personality, which his many followers adored, and those unreleased tax returns of his, even though Americans have always loved hucksters capable of outwitting the government. That was so apparent to the candidate that he didn't hesitate to brag about not paying taxes, adding, "That makes me smart." As I wrote at the time, "I guarantee you that Trump senses he's deep in the Mississippi of American politics with such statements and that a surprising number of voters will admire him for it (whether they admit it or not). After all, he beat the system, even if they didn't."

Unlike her predecessor, Barack Obama, who, in the 2012 campaign, nailed Mitt Romney as a "vulture capitalist," Clinton ignored the obvious path to taking Trump down. His promise to make America great again was simple enough: I'm a successful businessman, he told voters. If you elect me president, I'll treat this country the same way I treated my businesses and we'll sail to success. As it happened, however, he had driven a number of his businesses down in classic fashion, especially his five casinos in Atlantic City. They all went bankrupt.

This was hardly a secret. In June 2016, for instance, New York Times journalists Russ Buettner and Charles Bagli offered a vivid anatomy lesson in the Trump version of bankruptcy and who took the fall for him. ("The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.") It was such a simple formula really that it's almost a miracle Clinton and her advisers ignored it most of the time. And we're now seeing it in action in the White House. He's already treating this country like one of his businesses and if it goes "bankrupt," the American people, like those investors of yore, will be the ones left holding the bag.

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All available signs indicate that Trump and his family are intent on milking the presidency for every last nickel it might offer. Already, they've turned his properties into payback magnets for potential, actual, or hoped-for government favors. Take a recent decision by the National Mining Association (NMA), as reported by Lee Fang and Nick Surgey at the Intercept. Its member companies have already benefited enormously from Trump's arrival in the White House, thanks to the instant easing of environmental regulations and the opening of public lands to mining and other resource exploitation. Now, they're planning to hold a private conference and drop a chunk of change at the pricey new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue not far from the White House. There, they will be addressed by none other than Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

And those NMA members are typical of the swamp creatures emerging from the drains, whether on Pennsylvania Avenue or at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida -- to feast on and celebrate the rewards of the moment. TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents' Bankers, catches the mood of this Trumpian moment perfectly in her latest look at an administration that really should be thought of as a scam operation. Tom

The White House as Donald Trump's New Casino
Yes, He Is Running America Like One of His Businesses
By Nomi Prins

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During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, "In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There's never been a case like this."

Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It's in the American ethos to disdain "the man" -- especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: "We're a very powerful company -- country."

Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) -- including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company -- he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag. We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were "creative" in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes "makes me smart."

To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he's running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that's being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It's focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

We, as citizens, already bear the brunt of 89% of U.S. tax revenues today. If adopted, the new tax structure would simply throw yet more of the government's bill in our laps. Against this backdrop, the math of middle-class tax relief doesn't work out -- not unless you were to cut $4.3 trillion from the overall budget for just the kinds of items non-billionaires count on like Medicaid, education, housing assistance, and job training.

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Or put another way, Trump's West Wing is now advocating the very policy he railed against in the election campaign when he was still championing the everyday man. By promoting tax reform for mega-corporations and the moguls who run them, he's neglecting the "forgotten" white working class that sent him to the Oval Office to "drain the swamp."

Since entering the White House, he's also begun to isolate our country from the global economy, essentially pushing other nations to engage in more trade with each other, not the United States. Whether physically shoving aside the leader of Montenegro, engaging in tweet-storms with the President of Mexico over his "big, fat, beautiful wall," or hanging up on the prime minister of Australia, Trump has seemingly forgotten that diplomacy and trade matter to the actual American economy. His version of "America First" has taken aim at immigrants, multinational trade agreements, regulations, and the U.N. Calvin Coolidge acted in a somewhat similar (if far less flamboyant) manner and you remember where that led: to the devastating crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

What's In a Shell?

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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