Sunday, November 27, 2016

Corruption and the Trump Organization

People like to get fired up about government corruption, with partisans largely overlooking their own party's corruption while turning a burning eye on the corruption of the partisan Other.

There's been corruption since days of the founding fathers, and yours truly finds it a little hard to get worked up in about corruption in general.  Corruption, to a certain extent, is the price of doing business, and only when it is grotesquely egregious does it pose a crippling problem.

In recent decades, one can look back to the shady origins of Halliburton, née Kellogg, Brown & Root due to the mutual back-scratching of/by Lyndon B. Johnson, the President who would sign the Voting and Civil Rights Acts.  Dick Nixon, who enacted détente and created the EPA, was a crook, and Gerald Ford let him off the hook, making him corrupt by association.  During the Carter years, the Abscam scandal went down.  Ronald "Morning Again in America" Reagan presided over one of the most corrupt Pentagons of modern history, and George H.W. Bush was directly tied to the Reagan years, as his veep.  We've also recently been Whitewater'd and Clinton Foundation'd to death, scandals that most Americans shrugged off during the "boom years" of the 1990s but which have always driven the Right up the wall.  Halliburton popped back in to say "hello!" to large scale corruption again during the Bush/Cheney years.  According to Steve Bannon's organization, the Obama administration was the worst of all.  (For a less breathless take on Obama administration corruption, here's some favor-trading; pretty mild, but not non-existent).

So that's history.  Despite corruption, life went on for better or for worse under each of those administrations.  War, the economy, the environment, to name a few concerns, are far more consequential to our lives on a daily basis than corruption.

But, to the extent we care, what about potential corruption under the Trump administration?  It's looking like it could be quite a doozy, and quite blatant.  Assuming you don't have the time to read this article in its entirety, allow me to summarize for you:
  • The Trump children are sitting in on the President-elect's meetings with foreign leaders.  Given that the Trump children run the Trump Organization, and have nothing to do with official US policy, that does seem a bit dodgy, no?

  • The Trump Organization may have bribed two pension funds to excessively favor investment in Trump hotels - hotels which remain unfinished - in Brazil.  In Brazil, the President has the power to investigate, or not, charges of corruption.  You can see the potential for conflict here.

  • The Trump Organization has significant real estate interests in India, a nation where many permits are required to get any building done.  To bring a real estate project to fruition, you might rely on bribery, or you could simply be a good person to know, such as President of the United States.  Might a President with real estate interests in India might lean India's way in any potential conflict with India's long-running next door neighbor and rival, Pakistan?

  • In Turkey, the Trump Organization has real estate interests and other business ties.  Donald Trump has been especially forgiving on Turkey Prime Minister Erdogan's authoritarian crackdown on all who oppose him.  This should surprise no one, exactly, except those who really believe that Trump is going to "drain the swamp".

  • There's also a Trump Tower in the Philippines, where colorful figure Rodrigo Duterte has named a business associate of Trump's to be the special envoy to the U.S. (in total fairness, Duterte named his envoy back in October).  So once again, potential conflict of interest is alive and well.
(Incidentally, if you like bloviating strongmen, Duterte is the guy for you.  This article makes a great read.  The Donald Trump of the Philippines isn't known for bad business deals and reality television - he's known for arranging death squads to hunt down drug users.  That's one way to take a bite out of crime!)

Now, Turkey, India, and the Philippines are all allies of the United States (although it will be interesting to see what headaches Ergodan, the rightest government of Nadendra Modi and Duterte provide America and the Trump administration over the years - each really deserves their own blog post and I don't have time today) so perhaps business ties from the Trump Organization truly will be simply incidental to relations with these countries.

But these business ties might just bind the hands of the Trump admin, should there be, for instance, conflict between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea, or scuffling between Turkey and any of its neighbors, particularly Iraq or Syria, and of course, there's always India/Pakistan to worry about.

And if that proves to be the case, corruption will in fact be more consequential than simply the price of doing business.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out!

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