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Donald Trump, Crime and the American Dream

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Donald Trump's record $200 million inauguration on Friday is fit for the ruler of an imperial nation which has over 800 overseas military bases, commands the world seas and rules over the skies with robotic machines capable of eviscerating virtually anybody, anywhere on earth on short notice.

The inauguration will also reflect America's new Gilded Age, with the haves celebrating their good fortune, and the have nots protesting outside.

In a course I am teaching we are currently reading the book Crime and the American Dream by Steven F. Messner and Richard Rosenfeld (5th ed. Wadsworth, 2013). This is fitting because Mr. Trump embodies the values the authors say result in particularly high crime rates in U.S. society, notably hyper-materialism, and extreme individualism at the expense of community solidarity and welfare.

According to Messner and Rosenfeld, a cardinal virtue of American society - its competitive individualistic ethic - leads to great innovation but also a cardinal vice, high-crime rates resulting from lack of concern about the means adopted to achieve the prized cultural end of wealth accumulation.

Trump as we know has gained the highest office in the land because he had the money to bankroll his campaign and the stature that led people to listen to him and believe he has a Midas touch that will bring prosperity to the nation.

Trump though is a con man. He gained his wealth through unethical and sometimes unlawful means and conned people into believing he was an outsider against the system. His Cabinet consists of millionaires whose first order of business will be to undo any progressive gains made in the last eight years.

Crime is a learned behavior and Trump learned from his father Fred who, as David Cay Johnston shows in The Making of Donald Trump, was the target of a federal investigation for profiteering on tax dollars intended to help World War II veterans and partnered with Willie Tomasello, whom the New York State organized crime task force identified as an associate of the Genovese and Gambino crime families.

Donald too developed business connections with criminals including the heads of the two largest New York mafia families. His business mentor, Roy Cohn, was chief lawyer for Joseph McCarthy and then to the mafia. Trump said: "I didn't kid myself about Roy. He was no boy scout. He once told me he'd spent more than two thirds of his adult life under indictment on one charge or another."

To build Trump towers, Donald bought concrete from S & A concrete which was owned by mafia chieftans "Big Paul" Castellano and "Fat Tony" Salerno whom Trump met with before he was convicted of racketeering.

Trump has been party to over 3,500 lawsuits, some accusing him of civil fraud. He made money by employing a demolition contractor that hired immigrants who worked in violation of various labor laws, which Cohn helped cover up by allegedly paying bribes to inspectors.

Trump University has been exposed to be a "faux university" which did not employ real faculty but sales people many of whom had no experience in real estate and offered students special access to leads that were actually accessible for free on the internet.

Consumer fraud agents in Texas found that students were taught to prey upon homeowners in financial turmoil and to forget foreclosure properties, and to sell real estate without a license which is illegal in Texas. Their report said sales agents posing as faculty falsely approved continuing education credits for realtors though they were not approved, and Trump University violated Texas law in its refusal to pay taxes and in its false branding as a university.

To deflect an investigation in Florida, Trump gave $25,000 for the reelection of Attorney General Pam Bondi which led Bondi to back off from investigation. This was equivalent to paying a bribe and violated a law in which charities are forbidden from making political donations.

Johnston's book, which includes discussion of Trump's serial tax evasion, was published before the election which begs the question as to how Trump possibly could have won.

The Democrats want to blame Russian hackers whom they are clearly scapegoating, while many on the left want to blame the Democrat's turn towards neoliberalism under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and the shortcomings of Hillary Clinton which is more plausible.

An added variable, however, is that Trump embodies the values Americans are conditioned to prize; notably wealth accumulation regardless of the means pursued. Ours is a criminogenic society and we have elected a leader who is a successful white collar criminal who never got caught. He gamed the system in business to his own benefit, and then used his moral capital to make a mockery of the election process and political elite Americans have come to loathe.

Many of Trump's critics underestimate his appeal, believing the people chose a man "who shredded our values and morals," as liberal talk show host Bill Moyers put it.

However in many respects Trump is America. His bullying manner reflects an imperial nation that as Medea Benjamin recently pointed out, dropped 26,000 tons of bombs in a year it was not even engaged in any major land wars; and his shady business dealings are part and parcel of the capitalist system and the vast inequalities and corruption it produces.

Crime and the American Dream includes a revealing discussion of Richard Nixon who retained a popular following even after Watergate because people saw in him a man for whom "ideals had to yield to necessity, right to might, compassion to interest, principle to circumstance." They understood how "Nixon, or anyone, could believe himself forced on occasion to cheat a little, lie a little, find an edge, get out front of more favored competitors any way he could - as they themselves had done, or would do - in the unrelenting battles of life."

Trump's appeal is similar, though he embodies even more what many secretly aspire to in his achieving unimaginable wealth and in turn fame, the means of doing so being less important.

While noble in their cause, the anti-Trump forces face an uphill battle. For a true revolutionary movement to succeed, it would have to effectively challenge the prevailing cultural paradigm that lies at the root of the social pathologies of our society. This paradigm is seductive and accounts for many aspects of our society's success as well as its dark side, which Mr. Trump is iconic of.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012) among other works.

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