READERS with especially long memories will recall the many political or personal scandals which in recent decades have brought down or destabilised parliamentary democratic governments in England, France and Italy among other places.
Sex and greed seem to have been at the heart of most of the European scandals. It was long thought that American politicians and aristocrats might lack the élan and imagination of their European cousins in scandal-worthy behaviour.
Maybe this is not true anymore. The Trump administration in Washington is rapidly establishing itself as worthy of high honours in the department of scandal and insensitive recklessness. What may make it all even worse is the cause for much of this official misbehaviour is probably simple disregard for public service by Trump and his miscast band of cabinet miscreants and family members.
In its dogged determination to bring down Trump, the New York Times has been maintaining a running log of scandals in his administration. Where does one even begin? How about with the cheater-in-chief? Less than a year ago, he agreed to settle for $25m a class action lawsuit brought by gullible and, later, angrily disenchanted students at his eponymous Trump University. More recently, it was revealed he paid a porn actress $130,000 not to disclose her affair with him. The affair apparently occurred during Trump’s marriage to his current, third, wife.
The Times quotes an online pundit on the Trump administration: “Amid the chaos and dysfunction, it can be easy to miss that this White House is corrupt. Remarkably, unbelievably, corrupt.” Here are some examples, many courtesy of the Times.
The Times reports that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach doubled its membership fees right after he was elected. Business, especially from foreign officials and domestic lobbyists eager to curry favour with this White House, has been booming at the Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue between the president’s official residence and Capitol Hill.
Defying promises that Trump would not be involved in running his myriad business interests from the White House, son Eric Trump has been briefing his dad every three months on the family businesses. There have reportedly been family business deals done with foreign governments despite Trump’s pledge not to do so. Meanwhile, Trump has spent $30m of government money on trips to resort properties he already owns.
Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka certainly appear to have used their government positions to promote private business dealings. Kushner has apparently leveraged his access to Trump to solicit overseas investors for shaky real estate projects in the US.
Several cabinet members have also joined the indiscreet feeding frenzy at the government trough. During the recent horrific wildfire season in the western US, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke drained almost $40,000 from a wildfire preparedness fund to pay for some of his dubious flights. Other suspicious expenses are still being investigated.
Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin used taxpayer funds to pay for a European trip that included stops at Wimbledon and Westminster Abbey in addition to a river cruise for him and his wife.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a former Wall Street tycoon with, presumably, sufficient personal cash reserves to cover the expense, notoriously tried to use a government plane to fly to Europe on his honeymoon. Mnuchin reportedly racked up $800,000 worth of travel on private jets from the government fleet.
Former Secretary of Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price resigned after too many free flights on government jets.
Past Trump confidants Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn left the administration after their craven and potentially illegal collusion with foreign governments was disclosed.
More recently, Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson has reportedly not recognized the impropriety of regularly letting his son and other family members mix personal business interests with his official duties.
The director of the Centres for Disease Control, Brenda Fitzgerald, just resigned last month under a cloud of suspicion.
The Trump administration is hardly unique or unprecedented in its carelessness and venal corruption. But following the ignominious example of this president, it must rank among the most openly disdainful of the fundamental proprieties of public office and indeed of the public trust.