If you think Donald Trump is wrecking the republic and wonder why so many Americans can’t see that he is, you may be asking the wrong question. What if they see the same thing you do and happen to like what they see?
The manipulation of values to evade taxes was central to one of the most important financial events in Donald Trump’s life. In an episode never before revealed, Mr. Trump and his siblings gained ownership of most of their father’s empire on Nov. 22, 1997, a year and a half before Fred Trump’s death. Critical to the complex transaction was the value put on the real estate. The lower its value, the lower the gift taxes. The Trumps dodged hundreds of millions in gift taxes by submitting tax returns that grossly undervalued the properties, claiming they were worth just $41.4 million.
The same set of buildings would be sold off over the next decade for more than 16 times that amount.
The most overt fraud was All County Building Supply & Maintenance, a company formed by the Trump family in 1992. All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.
For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.
And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power.
Among people who said they voted for Trump in the general election, 35 percent had household incomes under $50,000 per year (the figure was also 35 percent among non-Hispanic whites), almost exactly the percentage in NBC’s March 2016 survey. Trump’s voters weren’t overwhelmingly poor. In the general election, like the primary, about two thirds of Trump supporters came from the better-off half of the economy.
This brought to mind comments sent to James Fallows by Joseph Britt, a Wisconsin Republican:
The Republican Party supported a war hero and veteran legislator for President in 2008. It backed a legitimate businessman and successful governor in 2012. This year, it fell in behind Trump. About as many Republicans voted for Trump as for Romney four years earlier. The great majority of these were not distressed working-class voters. They weren’t threatened by minorities or by globalization. They were — are — people who have lived easy lives, never wanting for anything save the most garish accoutrements of great wealth.
They knew Donald Trump was ignorant and dishonest, and it didn’t matter to them. They knew he was a sex predator who fathered children by various women, and it didn’t matter. Cheating on his taxes, cheating on his wives, consumer fraud, the bogus charity, the sponsorship of the Russian intelligence services, the anti-Semitic associates, cheating contractors who had done work for him, the picking on individuals before massive rallies, the insufferable racism, the continual running down of America — none of that mattered.
No, the only thing that mattered to Republicans of means once Trump was nominated by the Republican Party was that he had been nominated by the Republican Party. Loyalty to party took precedence over loyalty to American democracy, its mission, and traditions. What counted — all that counted — was that Trump had been chosen to lead Our Team.
What a pathetic thing is decadence. Millions of Republicans as comfortable and secure as any people who have ever lived, who owe everything to the historic miracle that is the United States, chose to go along with a presidential candidacy shot through with moral degeneracy and contempt for the public good. They had other choices in the primaries; they were warned by their own former leaders what Trump represented. They voted for him anyway, hoping to give their team a win in the game, the shallow entertainment that is all they think of politics.
If the controversy over the firing of James Comey, the F.B.I. director, has done anything, it has confirmed my decision on Nov. 9 to leave the Republican Party after a lifetime as a loyal member.
While the president has the authority to fire the F.B.I. director, to do so under these circumstances and for these reasons is a gross violation of the trust citizens place in the president to ensure that the laws “be faithfully executed.” If this is not a prima facie case of obstruction of justice — an impeachable offense — it’s hard to know what is.
Republicans would understand this and say so if these actions were taken by President Hillary Clinton. But when it comes to President Trump, they have checked their principles at the Oval Office door.
Are there even three principled Republicans left who will put their devotion to the Republic above their fealty to the Republican Party?
Signs point to no. If Trump bragging about serial sexual assault wasn’t enough to keep them from supporting him, legal abuses of power seem unlikely to do so.
But the real heart of anti-anti-Trumpism is the delight in the frustration and anger of his opponents. Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to hold him either to promises or tangible achievements, because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish.
In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.
A desire for transgression is all that’s left of the American right.
The second [mirage] is that Trumpcare is a health-care bill. It’s not. It’s a trillion dollar tax cut for the top 2 percent that’s paid for with a trillion dollars of health-care cuts for the poor and middle class. Or, as Trump would call it, “something terrific.” He just left out that that’s only for people making $200,000 or more.
Messaging isn’t the same thing as governing. Activity doesn’t always reflect accomplishment. But they often look similar from a distance, and Trump’s presidency so far amounts to a bet that most of the public can’t tell the difference.
“My fear is that this is probably the first time in my memory that it seems we have the same kind of people on both sides — in the Kremlin and in the White House. The same people. It’s probably why they like each other. It’s not a matter of policy, but it’s that they feel that they are alike. They care less for democracy and values, and more for personal success, however that is defined.”
Mr. Trump understands that attacking the media is the reddest of meat for his base, which has been conditioned to reject reporting from news sites outside of the conservative media ecosystem.
For years, as a conservative radio talk show host, I played a role in that conditioning by hammering the mainstream media for its bias and double standards. But the price turned out to be far higher than I imagined. The cumulative effect of the attacks was to delegitimize those outlets and essentially destroy much of the right’s immunity to false information. We thought we were creating a savvier, more skeptical audience. Instead, we opened the door for President Trump, who found an audience that could be easily misled.