I recall with embarrassment the news reporting of that trip. Asian leaders did greet him with elaborate, glittery celebrations and flattered him far in excess of the normal for our presidents. Respect, you say? No. They just know how it works on his ego. He seems clueless of how they’re playing to his cartoonish insecurities for their advantage. Such extensive trips in the past, unlike this massive photo-op, were normally undertaken only after careful diplomacy had developed clear talking points with substantive and definite goals.
There’s been precious little evidence of advancing U.S. interests. Trump did speak glowingly, though, of his lavish treatment and bragged about his stamina for the 12 whole days (unparalleled, of course). Evidently the trip did little more than showcase the vacuous validation he thrives on.
At home, the U.S president’s thirst for flattery leads him to Fox News, the National Inquirer and the likes of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Unfortunately it isn’t just adulation they offer. Some have been welcomed, along with prominent and blatant lobbyists, to the White House as advisors and cabinet members. The alligators don’t even need the swamp. They’re walking around openly.
One incident in Asia was worst of all. Our president and Philippine strongman President Rodrigo Duterte were leaving the stage after a press conference amounting to little more than effusive mutual praise, brief because the media were allowed not a single question. Reporters, as they will, called out questions, prompting Duterte to turn and warn them they could be killed. Then added that any who behaved well would not be. Our president of the United States, grinning broadly, patted Duterte on the back, audibly chuckling. To put it as mildly as I can, I take that as rather stark evidence of Trump’s own autocratic inclination.
He has expressed admiration for Duterte’s “governing style,” which includes authorizing police and ordinary citizens to execute anyone suspected of drug involvement. Duterte himself has joined the hunt and thousands have been slaughtered without due process. Whenever Trump is asked why he doesn’t raise issues of civil liberties violations with heads of state in countries guilty of such, he replies that he does it “privately.” Highly unlikely, I’d bet, with the likes of Duterte.
Watchful citizens of both parties are asking, as they should, why Trump will not condemn Putin for Russia’s extensive tinkering with our own elections. The Senate imposed additional sanctions in retaliation, but Trump shows little interest in implementation. It fits also that he also doesn’t call out dictatorial actions of Turkey’s Erdogan or the Saudis, or, for that matter, domestic Nazis or sexual predators (Republican ones, anyway).
The answers for why Trump is unwilling to confront autocratic leaders, and often flatters them, are probably to be found in his hidden business records. A recent “On Assignment with Richard Engle” episode outlined in detail the Trump organization’s first foray into licensing the Trump “brand” to a foreign high-rise building, an Ivanka idea. They teamed up with Panamanian developers to build the sumptuous Trump Ocean Club resort. For use of Trump’s name, the Trump family receives a hefty percentage of profits with the right to determine tiniest details, which Ivanka did from inception, down to paint colors.
But her market-value suggestion for pricing the condominiums was challenged by the promoter who claimed he could get far more. And he did, many times over. Apparently when suspicion grew that the Trump resort had fast become a front for money laundering, primarily for drug cartel money and much of it Russian, the Trumps withdrew from hands-on involvement in marketing. But significantly there was no effort to separate the brand from the laundered money profits. The illegal enterprise has now been exposed with many principals convicted or indicted, but not the Trumps.
Engle asked his informants if Trump knew the business was deeply into money laundering and both said no. Asked if Trump inquired, they said no. Asked if they thought Trump had wanted to know, they said “Would you?” He preserved deniability while profiting from dirty money. Engle reported that of the hundred or so places in the world the Trump organization has chosen or investigated for Trump-brand businesses, at least half are in countries with notably lax regulation and rampant corruption.
Robert Mueller’s investigations obviously worry the president, his children, and the Kushner son-in-law. If Engle’s own investigations are any measure, it’s no wonder. There seems to be good reason why most American and European banks will not lend to them. Good reason, too, why, after Engle’s report, current owners of the Panama enterprise are moving to strip Trump’s now toxic name from the building and remove his management staff.
Unlike our president, we, all of us, should want to know the whole truth.
Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a retired language arts teacher.