There Is Only One Trump Scandal

Serwer, The Atlantic, May 21, 2018

myriad Trump scandals can obscure the fact that they’re all elements of one
massive tale of corruption.

Barria / Reuters
The sheer
volume of Trump scandals can seem difficult to keep track of.

the ongoing special-counsel investigation into whether the Trump campaign aided
a Russian
campaign to aid Trump’s candidacy
and defeat his Democratic rival,
Hillary Clinton; there’s the associated inquiry into whether the president
obstructed justice
when he fired former FBI Director James Comey,
whom he had asked not to investigate his former national-security adviser;
there are the president’s hush-money
payments to women
with whom he allegedly had extramarital affairs,
made through his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and facilitated
by corporate cash paid to influence the White House
; there is his
ongoing effort to interfere
with the Russia inquiry and politicize federal law enforcement
there are the foreign
governments that seem to be utilizing the president’s properties
vehicles for influencing administration policy; there’s the emerging evidence
that Trump campaign officials sought aid not only from Russia, but from
other foreign countries
, which may have affected Trump’s foreign
policy; there are the ongoing revelations of the president’s Cabinet officials’
there is the accumulating evidence that administration decisions are made at the
behest of private industry
, in particular those in which Republican
donors have significant interests
preceding wall of text may appear to some as an abridged list of the Trump
administration’s scandals, but this is an illusion created by the perception
that these are all separate affairs. Viewed as such, the various Trump scandals
can seem multifarious and overpowering, and difficult to fathom.
There are
not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption
of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using
their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the
welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption
from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.
recent developments: There’s the president’s attempt to aid the Chinese telecom
company ZTE, mere hours after the Chinese government
approved funding for a project in the vicinity of a Trump property in Indonesia
There’s the millions of dollars corporations
paid to Cohen
after the election in an attempt to influence
administration policy in their favor
. Trump’s Office of Management
and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, also the acting head of the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau, urged banks
to pay off politicians in an effort to weaken the CFPB’s powers legislatively
taking the helm of CFPB, Mulvaney has dropped a number of cases against payday
lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates, after taking
thousands from the industry as a congressman
. Environmental
Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s own mini-universe of scandals stems
from his improper
relationships with industry figures
, his misuse of
taxpayer funds
, and his attempts
to obscure the truth about both
. Trump attempted to
the Postmaster General to increase fees on Amazon in order
to punish The Washington Post, which has published many stories detailing
wrongdoing and misbehavior on the part of the Trump administration, and the
Trump campaign before that. Not long after The New York
that Trump officials may have solicited campaign help not just from Russia, but
also from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the president “demanded”
that the Justice Department launch an inquiry into whether the FBI improperly
investigated a campaign that was
eagerly soliciting international aid
to swing the election in its
In each
of these cases, the president or one of his associates was seeking to profit,
personally or financially, from their official duties and powers. When that
conduct has potentially run afoul of the law, Trump has sought to bend federal
law enforcement to his whim, the better to protect himself and his associates
from legal accountability. The president’s ongoing chastising of his own
Justice Department, and his war of words with current and former FBI officials,
stem less from any coherent ideological principle than from Trump’s desperate
need to protect himself. An authoritarian model of law enforcement, where the
president personally decides who is prosecuted and who is not based on his own
political agenda, is simply the best way for Trump to shield himself and his
inner circle from legal consequences.
president’s opponents have yet to craft a coherent narrative about the Trump
administration’s corruption, even though the only major legislative
accomplishment Trump has to his name is cutting his
own taxes
. But his supporters have, ironically, crafted an overarching
explanation to account for how the president they voted for, who came to office
promising to eliminate official corruption, has come to embody it. The “Deep
State” narrative is no more complicated than an attempt to explain the
accumulating evidence of misbehavior on the part of the administration as a
wide-ranging conspiracy to frame the president. The more evidence of wrongdoing
that comes to light, the more certain they are that the conspiracy theory is
true. In their own way, Trump supporters have recognized that Trump’s
burgeoning list of scandals is made of branches from the same twisted tree.
latest Trumptown fable, that the FBI inquiry into the Trump campaign was meant
to aid Clinton’s campaign, is as incoherent as it is absurd. The FBI properly
kept the Russia inquiry under wraps while high-ranking FBI officials defied
Justice Department rules and made public statements about two inquiries

into Clinton prior to election day. Neither of those inquiries led to
indictments or guilty pleas; the special-counsel inquiry has led to more than 20
so far. Had the FBI been motivated by a political vendetta against Trump,
leaking the fact of the inquiry on its own, even if it uncovered no malfeasance
at all, would have been enough to damage his candidacy. The essential quality
of pro-Trump punditry however, is that their perception of reality must be
warped to conform to the latest Trump proclamation, even if it contradicts
previous Trump pronouncements or established facts. Trump dictates reality, and
his supporters rush to justify whatever has been decreed. In this way, Trump
manages to corrupt not just those in his immediate orbit or inner circle, but
even those who have never met him, who endeavor to reconcile the insurmountable
gap between his words and the world as it exists.
I want to
emphasize that not everything the administration is doing that I believe is bad
is a scandal, which I am defining as official wrongdoing or corruption. The
president’s ongoing immigration policy, an attempt to displace, through
aggressive deportations of otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants, and
the cancellation
of Temporary Protected Status
and the Deferred Action for Childhood
Arrivals program, is a moral travesty but not necessarily a misuse of his
official powers. Trump’s immigration policy is a reflection of his belief that
these people from
“shithole countries”
are inferior, and therefore offer little to the
United States. He is hardly the first president to pursue such a policy on such
a basis; but a policy can be morally repugnant without being a scandal.
president’s unwavering commitment to this ethnonationalism persuades his
followers that he is incorruptible, despite his use of his own powers for
personal gain and profit. “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good
schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody
listened,” the segregationist George Wallace once said of
his rise to power
. “And then I began talking about niggers, and they
stomped the floor.” (These days, they stomp the floor for “son of a
” or “animals.”)
Any effective
persuades the mark that they’re the ones profiting.
For those
Americans unmoved by such appeals, the ongoing corruption of the official
powers of the U.S. government on behalf of ego, avarice, and impunity should
not be seen as separate stories. They are the same story, and it is the story
of the Trump presidency.