Those who headquarter their political campaigns in big, beautiful, branded glass towers should think twice before tossing around stones. But that’s never stopped President Donald Trump before, which is why his breathtakingly brazen bid to turn the basis of his impending impeachment into a cornerstone of his re-election campaign is so very Trump: a staggering mix of shamelessness, greed and hubris.
Trump stands on the brink of impeachment because he has used and is using his official position to press foreign governments for political favors. His official justification for this abuse is risible: He is on a fearless hunt to stamp out “CORRUPTION,” as he tweeted with characteristic bravado.
But, as it happens, the focus of Trump’s investigation is coincidentally the Democratic front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden and his black sheep son, Hunter. Specifically, Team Trump — including, notably, his family — is professing deep concern that, with the elder Biden’s help, the younger profited from his father’s office. And the swamp, as they sloganeered in 2016, must be drained.
To be clear on two important points: Hunter Biden certainly seems to have capitalized on his famous last name in distasteful ways, as is often par for the Trump-branded course both in official Washington and at any one of a number of worldwide Trump properties. But there is no evidence that his father engaged in unethical behavior for him. As Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post’s fact-checker, put it: “Trump can keep using the word ‘corruption’ but every fact-check we’ve done on this matter in the two weeks finds he has no evidence to tag Joe Biden with this word.”
There is, however, abundant reason to tag Donald Trump with it. He is, after all, the first president to refuse to divest himself of his business interests (which happen to be sprawling) before taking office; he passed control off to his sons instead of putting it into blind trust. While president, Trump remains open for business 24/7 at home and abroad: His company does business in more than 30 countries, according to the money-in-politics group the Center for Responsive Politics.
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The Trump administration’s decision to change U.S. policy and back a military incursion into Syria by Turkey (home to Trump Towers Istanbul) illustrates one problem with this. As Politico’s Ryan Lizza put it: “It is crazy that a president is making national security decisions like the one tonight when he has lucrative business relationships at stake in the country that will benefit.” What prompted Trump to change our policy? We don’t know; but we do know that he is a walking open pocket available for interests both foreign and domestic to line.
Drain the swamp? Trump has gilded it, branded it with his name and it is now a very profitable Trump property.
One of the horrors of the age of Trump is the extent to which his carnival of corruption is so overwhelming that it has quickly become normalized. Sure, there are periodic reports about how the president’s downtown D.C. hotel has become the epicenter of the aforementioned swamp. But trying to quantify Trump’s monetizing of the presidency can be like trying to count snowflakes in a blizzard. One tally: The watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has enumerated 2,310 conflicts of interest thus far in Trump’s tenure, including spending nearly one-third of his presidency at Trump-branded properties and at least 111 officials from 65 foreign governments doing the same.
The fact that the Trump campaign now seems to be deploying Trump’s children — who, as the people nominally running his company in his nominal absence from it are literally profiting from his public office daily — as spokespeople for his mirror-universe ethics crusade can only be seen as next-level trolling. Eric Trump, for his part, took to the pages of The Hill last week to vent his spleen about the Bidens, flailing for gravitas by quoting “the great Marcus Aurelius from The Gladiator” before attributing “all of my work ethic, character, integrity, and moral fiber to my father.” (Three things upon which modern Caligula’s younger son might wish to meditate: First, Marcus Aurelius was great because of history, not Hollywood; second, the movie doesn’t have a “the” in its title; and third, while his observation about his moral fiber is undoubtedly true, it’s really not something about which to brag.)
The elder Trump son, Donald “I love it” Trump Jr., went on Fox News to complain that if he had profited from China the way Hunter Biden has, it would be treated as a major scandal. Donald Sr. also famously mentioned China last week — inviting them to investigate the Bidens literally 30 seconds after threatening to respond with “tremendous power” if the People’s Republic doesn’t “do what we want” in his (destructive) trade war.
The Chinese may be intractable on trade, but they do know how to play ball with Trump Inc. The Communist regime resolved a decadelong trademark dispute in the president’s favor in the early months of his tenure in office, shortly after he reaffirmed his commitment to a “one-China” policy, in a propitious bit of timing. And they haven’t stopped: The Chinese government granted the president and his daughter Ivanka at least 34 trademarks last year and at least another five this year. (Those last to Ivanka’s fashion brand, which no longer even exists.) The trademarks have run the gamut from handbags to voting machines to escort services.
So yes, please, Don Jr., lecture us about the uproar that would occur if your family was benefiting in China from its Oval Office connections.
And, in addition to deploying the Trump children to decry corruption, the Trump campaign is already running an ad trying to tag Biden with the issue.
If all of this seems startlingly hypocritical, it’s also classically Trump: He has a documented history of projecting, accusing his critics of his own worst traits and faults. The man who would go on to tell more than 12,000 lies in office, recall, tagged a rival as “Lyin’ Ted”; the self-described “very stable genius” who defended the “fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville, Virginia; suggested Hillary Clinton was not “all there,” was “very unstable” and was a “bigot.” He responded to audio of his own words bragging about sexual assault by accusing Bill Clinton of worse; and Republicans let him do it because he was a star.
They still do. He accused Robert Mueller of conducting a witch hunt before sending his attorney general on a global tour in search of the witches who must have spurred the investigation into Trump’s campaign. This behavior dates at least as far back as his Atlantic City days, when he would loudly worry about mob influence while working with mafia-tainted partners.
Bill Clinton, the last impeached president, earned a reputation for political jujitsu — being able to co-opt his opponents’ issues to further his own political priorities. Trump employs a darker art, impugning his critics and adversaries with his own sins, mortal and venal.
He’s so brazen about it that one sometimes can’t quite believe it. But the truth is he is just as bad as he would have you believe his enemies seem to be, or worse. He’d have you believe it’s a feature, not an impeachable offense. It’s the con-in-chief’s big grift; don’t buy it.