The Trump Kleptocracy

The presidency is officially a cash grab — and a pitstop on the way to autocracy

The convictions of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen this August shined a light on the type of people Trump chooses to work with. He said he’d employ the “best people”; instead, he employed crooks.

Behind all the outrage, the Manafort and Cohen convictions show that Trump’s government is building an American kleptocracy. The Washington Post has described how kleptocracy, or “rule by thieves,” arises when a country’s elite begin to systematically steal from public funds on a vast scale.

This is where the United States is headed. Trump’s government is powered by people who want to see tax cuts for their own benefit, without a care for the cost to others. This runs from voters backing pro-tax-cut candidates to the upper echelons of the GOP that are complicit in what Fortune magazine is calling “the biggest wealth grab in modern history.”

It is far from the first time a person like Trump has run a country. History may determine it was inevitable that the United States would go the way of countries like Russia, Turkey, China, and many others, electing a leader who could facilitate transferring the country’s wealth to a small number of private individuals. The thing about kleptocracy is that it doesn’t need to break the law because those doing it are writing the law—but the outcome is the same.

Trump was helped to power by a conspiracy of billionaires, including Vladimir Putin and Robert Mercer. From this angle, you could argue that while the Russian attack on American democracy was partly political, it was mainly just about business. After all, the Russian government is a mafia gang for whom international politics is a business operation. By helping to power a man they helped make rich, they can weaken one of the main international obstacles to their own efforts to drain Russia of cash.

This presidency is but a brief window to grab as much cash as possible before being inevitably booted back out.

The extent of Trump’s kleptocracy is becoming clear now, with his second proposed tax cut for the rich. The Trump government is ramping up the national debt by $1.5 trillion over 10 years while taking hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy in tax cuts for the rich. In America, around two-thirds of all stocks and mutual funds are owned by just 5 percent of the people, and any tax-cut benefits for corporations will mainly just benefit that group. It is estimated that 34 percent of Trump’s December tax cuts benefit just the top 1 percent of the country’s rich.

Yet as he cuts taxes for a rich minority, Trump is also freezing public sector pay because there’s not enough money. As Forbes magazine observed:

President Trump has cancelled the pay increases for public sector workers that were due to take effect in January 2019. His reason for doing so? The tax cuts that his administration has introduced are set to create the largest fiscal deficit since the Great Recession. Now this largesse has to be paid for.

In effect, his tax bills have taken money out of the economy and primarily redistributed it to corporations, CEOs, and the super rich.

In the end, Trump’s entanglement with other kleptocratic regimes and the extent to which he used the presidency to enrich himself and his family will be exposed. Those around him will fall, and order will be returned. But along the way, the United States will become a poorer place, economically and socially. It will be saddled with national debts that will haunt future generations, who will be forced to repay what Trump’s government borrowed to enrich the already rich.

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