Wednesday, January 22, 2020

President Trump is engaged in graft that does not meet the moral standards of one of the most corrupt participants in the most corrupt political organization in U.S. history.

UPDATED: 02-02-2020
Trumpany Hall
 Trumpany Hall - Trump Tower New York / Trump Hotel D.C. / Mar-a-Lago Florida 
As the Kabuki Theater of the Senate Impeachment Trial plays out on our screens, let's reflect on what what transpired in this White House over the course of this administration.

We often hear the phrase "All politicians lie." It's probably true.  But does quantity matter? Do the dozens of Obama lies during his presidency justify the thousands of lies by Donald Trump three years into his first term? Does the qualitative nature of the lie matter? Are all lies equal? Is this really the hill that President Trump, his administration and GOP accomplices want to die on? If "all politicians lie", does it not matter how many lies or what kind of lie?
“We do that [quid pro quo] all the time ... That’s why we held up the money … I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.” - Mick Mulvaney
 Since there is always going to be "political influence in foreign policy", does it matter if the quid pro quo is pressure in the service of United States policy objectives or if it is extortion in the service of the President's personal political benefit? Does motivation matter. Does corrupt intent matter? Is it all the same to Trump apologists when "everyone does it".

So how do we sort out the spectrum of corrumption and graft in Washington DC? How do we distinguish the unseemly legal graft of selling access for political contributions, from the illegal corruption of extorting foreign governments for personal political gain? Where do we rank the conflict of interest of President Trump when he shapes domestic and foreign policy to generate financial profit for the Trump family, Trump friends, Trump Administration cronies, Trump Company and President Donald Trump himself? How do we sort it out?

For guidance, we might look to the wit and wisdom of George Washington Plunkitt.

At the turn of 20th century, George Washington Plunkitt was a Senator in New York and one of the most corrupt members of the most corrupt political machine in United States history - New York's Tammany Hall. He is famous for (among other things) writing his own epitaph - "He Seen His Opportunities and He Took 'Em."

Yet - George Washington Plunkitt was not without a moral compass. He made a clear distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. This distinction was a moral line in the sand that he would not cross. He forthrightly defended this distinction in a series of public speeches, later compiled into a short book with a long title: "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics, Delivered by Ex-Senator George Washington Plunkitt, the Tammany Philosopher, from his Rostrum—the New York County Courthouse Bootblack Stand." 

The first chapter entitled "Honest Graft and Dishonest Graft" encapsulates Plunkitt's philosophy on sorting what graft is acceptable and what is not. He articulates (in a manner of speaking) this recurring theme throughout the book:

Plunkitt on Honest Graft:
"... supposin' it's a new bridge they're goin' to build. I get tipped off and I buy as much property as I can that has to be taken for approaches. I sell at my own price later on and drop some more money in the bank. Wouldn't you? It's just like lookin' ahead in Wall Street or in the coffee or cotton market. It's honest graft, and I'm lookin' for it every day in the year." 
"Every good man looks after his friends, and any man who doesn't isn't likely to be popular. If I have a good thing to hand out in private life, I give it to a friend—Why shouldn't I do the same in public life?" 
"Another kind of honest graft. Tammany has raised a good many salaries. There was an awful howl by the reformers, but don't you know that Tammany gains ten votes for every one it lost by salary raisin'?"  
"I acknowledge that you can't keep an organization together without patronage. Men ain't in politics for nothin'. They want to get somethin' out of it."
Plunkitt on Dishonest Graft:
"I've not gone in for dishonest graft—blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc." - Chapter 1 
"They didn't draw a distinction between dishonest and honest graft, but they saw that some Tammany men grew rich, and supposed they had been robbin' the city treasury or levyin' blackmail on disorderly houses, or workin' in with the gamblers and lawbreakers." - Chapter 1 
"The difference between a looter and a practical politician is the difference between the Philadelphia Republican gang and Tammany Hall. Steffens seems to think they're both about the same; but he's all wrong. The Philadelphia crowd runs up against the penal code. Tammany don't." - Chapter 7
Plunkitt on The Difference:
"Everybody is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin' rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two." 
"There's the biggest kind of a difference between political looters and politicians who make a fortune out of politics by keepin' their eyes wide open. The looter goes in for himself alone without considerin' his organization or his city. The politician looks after his own interests, the organization's interests, and the city's interests all at the same time. See the distinction? ... I made my pile in politics, but, at the same time, 1 served the organization and got more big improvements for New York City than any other livin' man. And I never monkeyed with the penal code." 
Plunkitt's Razor
There you have it. Plunkitt's criteria for honest graft is: Do nothing illegal (monkey with the penal code); serve your party's interest (the organization); and serve your constituent's interest (the city and country). If you do those things, and you learn about money making opportunities along the way, grab it with both hands! As a hardworking public servant, you are entitled to that money. Go for it!

Trump and "Honest Graft"
I don't think there's any quibble about whether President Trump is a proponent of Plunkitt's "Honest Graft". Perhaps the best case for Trump's perspective on"Honest Graft" can best be summarized in the President's twitter feed:

Trump, like Plunkitt, makes the case that he "looks after his own interests, the party's interests, and the city's [USA] interests all at the same time ..." Since Trump claims he did such a great job for the party and country, and done "nothing wrong" no one should care if he pursues some "honest graft" on the side. "Just get over it."

Of course the "penal code" that Plunkitt studiously avoided while enriching himself with "honest graft" has changed quite a bit in the last 120 years or so. Much of Plunkitt's "honest graft" criteria at the beginning of the 20th Century would not pass legal muster now at the beginning of the 21st Century. However, that has not stopped the President from pushing the envelope.

The examples of Trump, his family, his company, his friends and associates "seein' their opportunities and takin' them" are legion. There is too much (probably illegal and impeachable) "honest graft" and corruption by this administration to list here.The recent Politico article "How Trump fused his business empire to the presidency" offers a good, if incomplete, overview:
"The intersections between Trump Inc. and President Trump are everywhere: A Chinese state-owned company was awarded a multimillion contract to help develop a Trump golf course in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, amid a U.S.-China trade war. T-Mobile executives stayed at Trump's Washington hotel while seeking a green light from the federal government for a merger. The IRS commissioner, who refused to release Trump’s tax returns to Congress, collects rent from a pair of Trump condos in Hawaii... More than 100 officials and groups from 57 foreign countries have made visits to a Trump property, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group. Trump even invited leaders of seven countries to meet with him at Mar-a-Lago... Nearly 200 campaigns and political groups — virtually all conservative — have spent more than $8 million at Trump’s resorts and other businesses since his election in 2016, according to a report from the left-leaning consumer rights group Public Citizen released late last year. In addition, at least 285 top administration officials, more than 90 members of Congress and 47 state officials — some using taxpayer money — have made hundreds of visits, according to CREW."
Speaking of CREW - the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington are also on the case:

Trump Conflicts of Interest aka Honest Graft

It's Not Just Trump
Trumpany Hall corruption and graft (honest or not) has achieved a scale never before seen in the history of our country. But, to be fair, the pursuit of "honest graft" among our representatives in Washington is, and always has been, a decidedly bi-partisan pursuit. Hunter Biden cashing in on the family name to provide the Burisma Board with a fig leaf and facade of credibility could also be considered an unseemly but legal example of Plunkitt's "Honest Graft".

I've consulted other bipartisan examples of "Plunkitt's Razor" on this blog before. Most recently in 2011 when I managed to be outraged by the adorable "honest graft" practiced by some of our representatives, including recent Speakers of the House, who were profiting from front-running legislative decisions in the stock market. Yes, that was actually considered a 60 Minutes worthy scandal at the time. Ah, the good old days. Then Boehner and Pelosi dismissively brushed off the cute 60 Minute charges. Nothing illegal. Good for the party. Good for the country. Nothing to see here. Move along.

That was then, this is now.

Trump and "Dishonest Graft"
Let's move on from the mountain of illegal "honest graft" being ginned up every day in Trumpany Hall to the more serious Plunkitt category of corrupt activity even Plunkitt would shun - "Dishonest Graft". As a reminder, we're now talking about "robbin' the city treasury or levyin' blackmail on disorderly houses, or workin' with lawbreakers." This "dishonest graft" line in the sand that Plunkitt would not cross can be described simply as pursuing personal gain by making policy decisions, laws, and executive orders based on enriching the politicians personal interest at the expense of the public interest. 

For example - "robbin' the treasury" by arranging for military refueling stops and Vice President entourages to spend tax dollars staying at overpriced Trump properties.  Or abandoning our Kurd allies against military advice to protect a personal financial interest in a Turkish Hotel property. Or risking our security telecommunications infrastructure by changing trade policy after receiving an investment in another property.  Or "workin' with lawbreakers" like Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, David Correia, Andrey Kakushkin, Lev Parnas, and Igor Fruman, And then finally we hit the "Dishonest Graft" & Impeachment Trifecta centered around that nasty business of "levyin' blackmail on disroderly houses" like Ukraine:

TRIAL MEMORANDUM OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES IN THE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL OF PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP “President Donald J. Trump used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct.”

Which brings us to our final disheartening conclusion:

Donald Trump, the current President of the United States of America, is aggressively and continuously engaged in criminal political corruption that does not meet the moral standards of George Washington Plunkitt, one of the most corrupt 1906 political participants of Tammany Hall, the most corrupt political organization in the history of the United States.

That is all I have to say.

UPDATE: 02/02/2020

Okay, I have one more thing to say. During said Impeachment Trial Kabuki Theater, Alan Dershowitz (among other fallacious arguments widely disputed by constitutional lawyers) seemed to channel George Washington Plunkitt's defense of "Honest Graft" in defense of the President saying:

"There's the third one [motive] that is so complicated and is often misunderstood - when you have a mixed motive. The motive in which you think you are doing good for country but you are also doing good for yourself. You are doing good for me, you are doing good for thee, you are doing good and you all together put it in a bundle in which you are satisfied that you are doing absolutely the right thing." - Alan Dershowitz
Now that's really all I have to say.

Cross Posted on Medium.

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