Defying Donald Trump’s Kleptocracy
Posted on Jan 1, 2017
By Chris Hedges
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The final stages of capitalism, Karl Marx predicted, would be marked by global capital being unable to expand and generate profits at former levels. Capitalists would begin to consume the government along with the physical and social structures that sustained them. Democracy, social welfare, electoral participation, the common good and investment in public transportation, roads, bridges, utilities, industry, education, ecosystem protection and health care would be sacrificed to feed the mania for short-term profit. These assaults would destroy the host. This is the stage of late capitalism that Donald Trump represents.
Trump plans to oversee the last great campaign of corporate pillaging of America. It will be as crass and brazen as the fleecing of the desperate people, hoping for a miracle in the face of dead-end jobs and ruinous personal debt, who visited his casinos or shelled out thousands of dollars for the sham of Trump University. He will attempt to unleash a kleptocracy—the word comes from the Greek klépto, meaning thieves, and kratos, meaning rule, so it is literally “rule by thieves”—one that will rival the kleptocracies carried out by Suharto in Indonesia and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. It is not that Trump and his family will use the influence of government to increase their wealth, although this will certainly take place on a massive scale; it is that hundreds of billions of federal dollars will be diverted into the hands of cronies, sleazy bankers, unethical financial firms and scabrous hedge fund managers. The pillars of the liberal state will be obliterated.
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Trump is impulsive, ignorant and inept. His corruption and greed are so unfettered he may become a burden and embarrassment to his party and the nation, as well as a danger to himself. The longer he stumbles in the unfamiliar corridors of governmental power the more vulnerable he becomes. But if we are not in the streets to hold the system accountable he may be able to cling to power and inflict significant damage.
Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, has argued that Trump could be impeached under the Constitution’s emoluments clause. This clause prohibits a federal officeholder from receiving from a foreign power anything of value that could compromise the exclusive loyalty owed to the Constitution. Trump’s global businesses make him vulnerable, Tribe argues, to foreign pressure from countries where he has assets. “Trump’s continued interest in the Trump Organization and his steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers put him on a collision course with the emoluments clause,” Tribe wrote in The Guardian.
If, however, we suffer another catastrophic domestic terrorist attack or launch a new war, the political space to examine and prosecute Trump and remove him from office will disappear. The rhetoric from the Oval Office will become bloodcurdling. The security and surveillance state will go into hyperdrive. Any dissent, including mere criticism of the president, will be attacked as helping our enemies. Trump and his kleptocrats, under the familiar cover of national security and war, will transform huge sums of government money into personal assets.
The Trump transition team is busy anointing its coterie of kleptocrats. The appointment of Betsy DeVos (from a family with a net worth in excess of $5 billion) to become secretary of education means she will oversee the more than $70 billion spent annually on the Department of Education. DeVos—the sister of Eric Prince, who founded the notorious private security firm Blackwater Worldwide—has no direct experience as an educator. She promoted a series of for-profit charter schools in Michigan that make money but have had dismal academic results. She sees vouchers as an effective tool to funnel government money into schools run by the Christian right. Her goal is to indoctrinate, not educate. She calls education reform a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” Trump has already proposed using $20 billion of the department’s budget for vouchers. The American system of public education, already crippled by funding cuts, will be destroyed if Trump and DeVos succeed.
The Department of Veterans Affairs spends $152.7 billion a year on veterans’ benefits that include general health care and treatment in VA hospitals. Last week Trump publicly weighed allowing veterans to use the for-profit health care system. Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove (annual salary $2.3 million) is one of the front-runners to head the VA.
“I’ve been saying we have to take care of our vets,” Trump told reporters Wednesday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. “We are working on something to make it great for our veterans because they are treated very, very unfairly.”
“We think we have to have kind of a public-private option, because some vets love the VA,” he added. “Definitely an option on the table to have a system where potentially vets can choose either/or or all private.”
Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican (net worth $13 million), has been selected by Trump to be secretary of health and human services. He plans to abolish Obamacare. He said he expects the House to push for Medicare privatization “within the first six to eight months” of the Trump administration.
Steve Mnuchin (net worth $40 million), a former partner at Goldman Sachs and the president-elect’s choice to lead the Department of the Treasury, told Fox Business that “getting Fannie and Freddie out of government ownership” is one of the Trump administration’s top 10 priorities. This is also the stated goal of Trump’s choice for budget director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (net worth $3 million), a Republican from South Carolina.
The privatization of the government-backed mortgages would see financial institutions authorized to issue mortgage-backed securities that carry a government guarantee. If the mortgages failed under the privatization scheme, the taxpayer would foot the bill. If the mortgages succeeded, the banks would get the profit. The privatization plan amounts to the institutionalization of the 2008 government bailout for big banks. It could cost the taxpayer billions.
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