If Donald Trump, his family and associates are hopelessly compromised by foreign influence and “dark money” — beholden to Russian oligarchs and underwritten by Vladimir Putin — surely they are not alone.
With the White House unraveling amid various investigations into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — and the potential cover-up as per the Senate testimony of former FBI Director James Comey — the current president could emerge as perhaps the most corrupt, traitorous, and treasonous leader in U.S. history. That the president reportedly revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during their closed-door meeting in the Oval Office, in which only Russian media were allowed, only reinforces the supposition that President Trump owes Vladimir Putin a great deal of money.
If Donald Trump, his family and associates are hopelessly compromised by foreign influence and “dark money” — beholden to Russian oligarchs and underwritten by Vladimir Putin — surely they are not alone. The American political system sanctions legalized bribery and encourages unlimited funding from anonymous and undemocratic sources, domestic and foreign, placing the integrity of American democracy into question. Trump is but a symptom of a contagion in the body politic, and a proper investigation should begin to determine how many elected officials are similarly compromised by foreign financial interests.
With its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court turned corporations into people and money into free speech, sanctioning corruption, bribery, and unlimited corporate funding in the name of the First Amendment. In his dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens warned of “the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending” which a majority of the high court eviscerated.
“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt,” Stevens wrote. “It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
The Trump administration is a prime example of Stevens’ dire prediction made a reality, a corporate coup as much as the intelligence community concludes the election was a Russian coup of sorts. Those who fund the politicians determine the policies, which in this case involve massive wealth redistribution to the wealthy, and the dismantling of the administrative state. This White House resembles a banana republic dictatorship straight from central casting, as the president flaunts his conflicts of interest through his business arrangements in countries such as Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. The president’s children and son-in-law mix business with government and treat the West Wing as their corporate headquarters, operating as an aspiring mafia state and manipulating the levers of power for personal gain. His cabinet is a billionaires’ club, with policies serving their interests, and reflecting the millions of dollars they contributed to the Trump presidential campaign.
Among the president’s more prominent financial backers is Robert Mercer, the white supremacist hedge fund manager who bankrolls Breitbart News and Marine LePen of the National Front Party in France, and gave us Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. Another is the DeVos family, a major GOP donor. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who was recently rejected by the graduating class of Bethune-Cookman University, would dismantle and privatize public education. DeVos’ brother, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, reportedly established a backchannel between the Trump administration and Russia. Trump is also deeply entwined with the Murdoch media empire, posing questions over conflicts of interest. Wilbur Ross, his commerce secretary, presided over business dealings with a Putin-affiliated Russian businessman.
That some lawmakers block investigations of the president and refuse hold him accountable suggests that they are themselves similarly entangled. It would be useful for the public to know if a given senator or representative in Congress has received dark money from a Russian oligarch’s money laundering scheme, or a drug cartel, or some organized crime syndicate. While such activity may be unethical, unlawful and impeachable, it also deprives citizens of true representative government, as their votes cannot compete with the financial influence of an anonymous billionaire — unaccountable and with undue influence over the electoral process.A president who receives funding from murky sources and whose conduct screams for impeachment is a threat to democracy. That so many Republicans on Capitol Hill are enabling his corruption and authoritarianism and failing to hold him accountable suggests that others have as much to hide, and as much to protect from the disinfectant of sunlight as Donald Trump.
It is possible that some lawmakers fear Trump, though an approval rating spiraling downwards toward 30 percent provides little intimidation. Perhaps they fear the Republican base and hope to push their unpopular agenda before impeaching him — though support for Trump among white voters without a college education has plummeted — and they might concern themselves more with the angry constituents at town hall meetings. Still others might simply admire his authoritarianism, blatant displays of graft, and mob boss proclivities. At least some GOP lawmakers share more in common with their leader than they care to admit.
In Citizens United, the Supreme Court gave Trump its blessing. That blessing is a curse for voters who must endure harmful policies purchased by American plutocrats and Russian oligarchs. Dark money is funneled into Congress and state legislatures, creating a rigged system, a swamp that must be drained. The nightmare of the Trump administration is evidence that the country must stop the sale of U.S. elections, regardless of how many politicians or which political parties are brought down in the process.