The threat of 'Trump change'


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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Donald Trump surprised himself and the world by being elected president of the US in 2017. He then surprised the world by selecting his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband Jerold as senior advisors. The surprise was because neither of these individuals had any experience in public service. Or any service at all.

The media and other concerned groups had good reason to ask how President Trump intended to divest himself of his considerable assets while he occupied the office of president. Under Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the US Constitution, the president would be restricted from receiving gifts, emoluments, offices or titles from foreign states without consent of Congress. Also known as the emoluments clause, it was designed to shield the US against “corrupting foreign influences”. In Federalist No 22, Alexander Hamilton stated, “...One of the weak sides of republics among their numerous advantages is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.”

Well, just as how he refused to reveal his tax returns, he was vague about how he would handle this matter going forward. And the family hit the ground running, doing what they do best, hustling. Jerold's sister was already in China promising US visas to anyone who did business with her family. His father, now out of prison, was seeking financing to pay a $500,000 sum outstanding on a heavily leveraged real estate albatross around the family's neck, located at 666 Fifth Avenue. The family was in trouble. So he decided to hit on Qatar.

Qatar is a US ally. It houses 10,000 US troops and is the operating base of the US Central Command in that part of the globe. It is a wealthy country. Qatar turned down this loan request. What happened next shocked everyone. Hours after his secretary of state had praised Qatar, Trump stated, “...The nation of Qatar has unfortunately been a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level...” Jerold, it is said, was very instrumental in this about-face.

Following this, the New York State Department of Finance started asking questions about the Kuschner family and some financial institutions. It seemed the family no longer had problems. Jerold had received two hefty loans from equity giant Apollo Global Management and Citicorp after meeting with their CEOs in the White House. The Apollo representative claimed he was visiting to give advice on infrastructure. It's just coincidence that he had tens of millions personally at stake in the tax overhaul being considered at that time. Citigroup was also trying to get government to relax its oversight on the banking industry — the regulations Barack Obama put in, to prevent banks from engaging in the recklessness and corruption that resulted in the last recession.

I would never knowingly impugn the ethics of the US first family. But maybe it's just coincidence that Apollo emerged as a beneficiary of the tax cut package the White House brags about. And the Obama regulations have all but disappeared.

Apollo made US$184 million available to the Kruchners. That's three times the size of Apollo's average property loans. They got US$325 million from Citicorp. Together, that's what they needed, plus a little “Trump” change.

I distinctly recall October 16, 2016 when Trump was cussing out China for stealing all sorts of things, including jobs, from America. Recently, China was in trouble for cheating on sanctions with Iran and North Korea. The giant conglomerate ZTE was sanctioned by the US, cancelling sales of certain parts for the phones they manufactured. Investigators expressed reservations about the phones which they suspected could be used as pocket-sized surveillance systems and undermine US security. These sanctions received bipartisan approval. This was a national security issue. Then, out of the blue, again, President Trump intervened with a troubling tweet: “President Xi of China and I are working together to give massive phone company ZTE a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

In what may not be related, shortly after this announcement Agence France-Presse news service announced that China had committed $500 million to an Indonesian development that included Trump hotels and golf courses.

The invisible fence barring this kind of activity from involving American presidents has not been known to have suffered breach until now.

The emoluments clause was specifically crafted so citizens would not have to guess at the president's motivations. That's why Trump was frequently asked whether he planned to put his business in a blind trust. He responded like this: “ sons, Don and Eric, are going to run the company. They are going to run it in a very professional manner. They are not going to discuss it with me...”

I lift my hat to these boys. Visiting your father every day and not discussing the empire he spent 50 years building is the height of professionalism on their part, and so presidential of him. Harvard Professor Larry Tribe described this statement as, “...A totally fraudulent runaround, cleverly designed to dazzle and deceive, but solves none of the serious ethical and legal issues...”

The framers of the constitution were, no doubt, seized of the possibility that when one abandons policy and strategy one is susceptible to bribery. And if one is susceptible to bribery, one is susceptible to blackmail.

The serious among us may be worrying about the fate of countries that have no money. What will be required of them? Should they consult the US to find out how they should vote at the UN, or who should be their trading partners, lest they be punished?

Are these the first signs that democracy is being undermined by global capitalism?

Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send comments to the Observer or

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