Living in a Kleptocracy

After four years of ripping off the taxpayer for everything from bar bills to floral arrangements, after funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to his own businesses, after 142  golf outings and counting, Donald Trump has found a new way to grab even more money on his way out of office. 

He is bombarding followers with appeals for money to support a challenge to the election results, as he files frivolous lawsuits that are dismissed in one court after another. The money raised in these appeals does not go to the rather minimal cost of filing lawsuits in the wrong courts or without any actual evidence by a legal team led by non-lawyers. Rather, it goes to pay down campaign debt, to the Republican National Committee, AND to a newly-formed “Save America” Political Action Committee (PAC). As the Associated Press reports, that’s a way to funnel the money to Trump personally:

“This is a slush fund. That’s the bottom line,” said Paul S. Ryan, a longtime campaign finance attorney with the good government group Common Cause. “Trump may just continue to string out this meritless litigation in order to fleece his own supporters of their money and use it in the coming years to pad his own lifestyle while teasing a 2024 candidacy.”

As Trump leaves office, we will learn more about the profiteering that his businesses and family members have engaged in at taxpayer expense. We will learn more about his income tax evasion and about the “consulting fees” paid to Ivanka and even paid to Donald J. Trump during his term as president 

“Last year, Trump disclosed $61,045 in “consulting fees” that are apparently related to Trump Organization projects that never materialized in his financial disclosure report covering 2018. The payments are unusual because they are the only one of their kind that Trump has reported since becoming president. And unlike his more passive forms of profit from his businesses, the use of the term ‘consulting’ seems to imply actual services rendered by the president.”

Besides all that, Trump’s firing of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other top Defense Department officials comes at the same time that he has authorized multi-billion dollar arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and a year after he fired the State Department Inspector General, who was looking into $8 billion of arms sales to the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. As Heather Cox Richardson astutely observes:

“When you remember that Trump’s strong suit has always been distraction, and that he has always used the presidency as a money-making venture, I wonder if we need to factor those characteristics in when we think about his unprecedented and dangerous refusal to admit he has lost this election.”

Merriam Webster defines a kleptocracy as “government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed.” The root comes from the Greek “klepto,” which means steal, and “kratos,” which means to rule or govern. That’s the Russian government since the collapse of the USSR. That’s also the U.S. government under the Trump clan. 

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