Only Donald Trump would continue sponsoring campaign-style rallies, a full month after Election Day. And only Trump’s most fervent followers, the zealots who still show up to hear him gloat at those “thank you” events, would continue to chant “Drain the swamp!” at his command — when he is so obviously emptying that swamp into the White House swimming pool.
The bad joke of 2016 is that Trump routinely perpetrates every one of the offenses charged against Hillary Clinton, whether invented or plausible, yet escapes all the blaming and shaming that fell so heavily upon her. The starkest example is the contrast between the Clinton Foundation, an enormous force for good that was falsely accused of wrongdoing in countless stories, columns, and broadcasts, and the Trump Foundation, a vainglorious vehicle for tax evasion that has confessed to unlawful self-dealing and remains barred from doing business by authorities in its home state.
But it is the Clintons’ reputation that suffered damage, even as Trump and his family remain unscathed.
During the campaign, Trump shrieked “pay for play!” to defame the Clintons over and over again, without proof. But now he is doling out top positions in government to the patrons of his campaign, his businesses, and even his foundation. To Trump, a post in his cabinet is not a commitment of trust granted on behalf of the people, but a plum to bestow on any crony who once did him a favor.
The most wanton example is designated Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, a political and financial opportunist who predicted months ago that if he raised enough campaign money, then Trump would reward him with precisely this powerful post. Imagine the outrage if Clinton had appointed someone like Mnuchin — a former top executive of Goldman Sachs who ruthlessly exploited government bailouts and crushed poor homeowners in the wake of the financial crisis — after he had raised millions of dollars for her campaign and predicted his payoff.
The hair on every pundit and anchor across America would simultaneously burst into flame.
But when those same media sages watch Trump appoint Mnuchin, they shrug and comment wryly on his Goldman pedigree. Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon is from Goldman as well, of course — and on December 9, Trump chose Gary Cohn, the Wall Street mammoth’s chief operating officer, to head the National Economic Council.
As someone observed, it’s as if Trump will be giving a speech to Goldman Sachs every time he addresses a White House meeting.
Another billionaire financial operator elevated by Trump is Wilbur Ross, a “vulture” capitalist who got to know the real estate mogul when Trump was going bust, bigly, in Atlantic City. It was Ross who gave him the most important boost of his business career. Rather than force him into a personal bankruptcy that would have destroyed his career (and saved us from his impending presidency), Ross persuaded the banks that owned Trump to let him survive.
That was a bad decision for many of Trump’s creditors, who saw their companies ruined, but years later turned out to be a good decision for Ross — who will soon wield influence over major policy decisions affecting trade and industry as Commerce secretary. Of course, Ross too made large donations to Trump’s campaign.
Then there’s Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive and failed Republican Senatorial candidate from Connecticut just appointed by Trump to run the Small Business Administration. Promoting a fake sport may not qualify her to operate an important agency. And her family company has many embarrassing moments in its past, including the unlamented XFL. McMahon has no experience in government at all, but she does possess even more important credentials: She and husband Vince donated $5 million to the Trump Foundation between 2009 and 2014, and $6 million to a Trump SuperPAC this year.
Pay for play? Hillary Clinton never did anything nearly so brazen, as Senator, secretary of state, or candidate. But for the man who can get away with everything, his crony cabinet is only the beginning.