A Concern for Our Democracy
As the week wraps up and the Donald, Jr. meeting with various Russians continues to dominate the headlines it is interesting to see how many Republicans are defending the Trump family’s cozy relationship with Russia as okay. In the Saturday NY Times, Jeremy W. Peters has a story headlined with “A Reverence for Putin On the Right Provides Cover for the President,” documenting how a segment of the Republican Party has been casting the Russian leader in a positive light for a number of years, particularly contrasting him with Barack Obama who, of course, could do no right in the Right’s eyes. As Mr. Peters’s notes:
The unflattering comparisons with Mr. Obama became personal in 2014 after Mr.Putin invaded Crimea, an act of aggression that was widely condemned by the United States and its allies but praised as a display of brawn and guts by the right.
As Rush Limbaugh put it: “He’s looking like a real man.” Those on the right who have responded to Trump’s bluster (and inherent racism) believe that Putin’s defense of Christianity (vs. Muslims) and tough-guy stance is “just what America needs” on the world stage. Putin’s extreme nationalism (above all else) and his human rights abuses (particularly against gays) are seen as plusses to the Trump base, which is just fine if the Donald becomes a Putin, Jr.
But there is far more than tough-guy image, defense of Christianity and extreme nationalism that connects Trump to the Russians --- Trump’s true “religious” devotion to money. It is interesting that Donald, Jr., who has created this latest Russian brouhaha, has been quoted, again and again, as saying:
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. boasted at a real estate conference in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” (New Republic, July 13, 2017)
Craig Unger’s reporting in the July 13, 2017 New Republic actually reveals Trump’s connection to Russian money for the last 30 years --- and it’s not a pretty picture.
According to Unger’s research:
Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money. Some ran a worldwide high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower—in a unit directly below one owned by Trump. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics.
Keep in mind that “In 2015, the Taj Mahal was fined $10 million—the highest penalty ever levied by the feds against a casino—and admitted to having “willfully violated” anti-money-laundering regulations for years.” One of Trump’s big branding developments is in a place called “Sunny Isles,” Florida. Dolly Lenz, a New York real estate broker, told USA Today that she sold some 65 units in Trump World Tower to Russians. “I had contacts in Moscow looking to invest in the United States,” Lenz said. “They all wanted to meet Donald.” (New Republic)
Selling to Russians, of course, is not illegal but “Two buyers in Sunny Isles, Anatoly Golubchik and Michael Sall, were convicted for taking part in a massive international gambling and money-laundering syndicate that was run out of Trump Tower in New York. The ring, according to the FBI, was operating under the protection of the Russian mafia.” (New Republic) If you read Unger’s article, more and more comes out revealing Trump ‘s dealing with “shady” Russians.
As noted by Heather Digby Parton in the July 14, 2017 Salon:
Donald Trump used to brag about doing business with Russians. He told David Letterman back in 2013 “I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians, I know the Russians very well. They’re smart and they’re tough and they’re not looking so dumb right now.” That was around the time of the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, when Trump was tight with billionaire oligarch Aras Agalarov, also known as Putin’s builder, and his pop star son Emin, both of whom were instrumental in the “Hillary dirt” meeting with Donald Jr.
It’s interesting how that tune changed. Again, as noted in Parton’s piece:
In his first press conference as president he said, “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”
You can’t have it both ways. Yet Trump --- along with his family and associates --- proceeds as if it doesn’t matter. In the world of “the deal,” apparently, it is the bottom line that matters and the "ends justify the means" is the only creed subscribed to. So, meeting with a foreign adversary to get “dirt” on your political opponent? No problem in Trumpland.
Beyond the possible illegality, and certainly the obvious unethical behavior is an equally concerning factor that is raised by Emily Bazelon in the Sunday NY Times (July 16, 2017) magazine --- “how does a nation reckon with a leader who violates norms --- the customs and principles that guide everyone else?” In a beautifully written piece, Bazelon points out that norms “exist only as long as there’s a consensus, even unspoken, to preserve them.” (p. 10) If people in power do not defend generally agreed upon norms (meaning elected representatives) those guiding principles (which are not obvious “laws” being “broken”) can erode. So we see members of the Justice Department’s fraud division resign “citing conduct from the president” that should not be tolerated. Walter Shaub, Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, resigned before his term was up, “telling NPR, ‘the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is.” It is important for citizens to see the big picture here --- that Russia is only the tip of the iceberg regarding Trump and how he is perverting democracy in this country. His craven pursuit of material wealth (with the “blessings” of equally craven evangelists) does not respect the genuine patriotism that would recognize a Putin-led Russia as a dangerous adversary. His simplistic intelligence and unfathomable historical ignorance cannot grasp that he is supposed to be the “leader of the Free World” because his is a world of direct transactional back-scratching.
Following the money may lead to Trump’s downfall but at the moment it is a close race between his downfall and that of our democracy.