Casino Capitalism, Trump-Style

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It drove me crazy throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton (with all those high-priced consultants and aides) just kept pounding away at Donald Trump’s personality, which his many followers adored, and those unreleased tax returns of his, even though Americans have always loved hucksters capable of outwitting the government. That was so apparent to the candidate that he didn’t hesitate to brag about not paying taxes, adding, “That makes me smart.” As I wrote at the time, “I guarantee you that Trump senses he’s deep in the Mississippi of American politics with such statements and that a surprising number of voters will admire him for it (whether they admit it or not). After all, he beat the system, even if they didn’t.”

Unlike her predecessor, Barack Obama, who, in the 2012 campaign, nailed Mitt Romney as a “vulture capitalist,” Clinton ignored the obvious path to taking Trump down. His promise to make America great again was simple enough: I’m a successful businessman, he told voters. If you elect me president, I’ll treat this country the same way I treated my businesses and we’ll sail to success. As it happened, however, he had driven a number of his businesses down in classic fashion, especially his five casinos in Atlantic City. They all went bankrupt.

This was hardly a secret. In June 2016, for instance, New York Times journalists Russ Buettner and Charles Bagli offered a vivid anatomy lesson in the Trump version of bankruptcy and who took the fall for him. (“The burden of his failures fell on investors and others who had bet on his business acumen.”) It was such a simple formula really that it’s almost a miracle Clinton and her advisers ignored it most of the time. And we’re now seeing it in action in the White House. He’s already treating this country like one of his businesses and if it goes “bankrupt,” the American people, like those investors of yore, will be the ones left holding the bag.

All available signs indicate that Trump and his family are intent on milking the presidency for every last nickel it might offer. Already, they’ve turned his properties into payback magnets for potential, actual, or hoped-for government favors. Take a recent decision by the National Mining Association (NMA), as reported by Lee Fang and Nick Surgey at the Intercept. Its member companies have already benefited enormously from Trump’s arrival in the White House, thanks to the instant easing of environmental regulations and the opening of public lands to mining and other resource exploitation. Now, they’re planning to hold a private conference and drop a chunk of change at the pricey new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue not far from the White House. There, they will be addressed by none other than Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

And those NMA members are typical of the swamp creatures emerging from the drains, whether on Pennsylvania Avenue or at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida ― to feast on and celebrate the rewards of the moment. TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents’ Bankers, catches the mood of this Trumpian moment perfectly in “The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino,” her latest look at an administration that really should be thought of as a scam operation.

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