Ethics & Public Policy Center

Since When Does Trump Care About Corruption?

Published in The Bulwark on September 24, 2019


Yes, it’s appalling that a president of the United States would attempt to pressure a foreign country to dig up dirt on a political opponent. Yes, that would amount to colluding with a foreign power to influence an American election. But that’s the secondary outrage about the whistleblower story.

The primary one is this: A president of the United States is expected to conduct foreign policy based upon his best judgment about the welfare of the country. We may not like his views. We may even think they border on suicidal. Many Republicans felt that way about Barack Obama’s foreign policy judgments. But the baseline standard is that he is acting out of sincere concern for the nation he represents – not to augment his personal fortune, kneecap a rival politician, or line the pockets of his cronies.

Ukraine is a nation of 44 million with the misfortune to neighbor Russia (population 144 million). Millions of Ukrainians have been murdered (see the Holodomor) by Russian regimes (Czarist and Soviet). In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, which was Ukrainian territory, and Russia has provided troops, arms and support to rebels in the eastern half of Ukraine ever since. The war gets very little coverage here, except when Russia downs civilian airliners, but it has taken nearly 4500 lives.

If there is a particle of evidence that President Trump has considered the strategic and/or moral case for aiding or not aiding Ukraine, we’ve yet to see it.

We do know that Congress appropriated aid to Ukraine in 2014 and that President Trump suspended it for some reason. (The aid was resumed this month following a congressional outcry.)

The Trump team asks us to believe that the Trump administration’s concern was with corruption – specifically involving Joe Biden’ son, Hunter. Is there any other example of this administration expressing dissatisfaction with corruption?

Where was concern about corruption in the Philippines? In Egypt? In Turkey? In Russia? In Saudi Arabia? On the contrary, Trump has gone out of his way to excuse corruption – and worse – on the part of all of those nations. Trump praised the Philippines’ Duterte for his war on drugs, though that war has included the extra-judicial killings of thousands. He lauded Egypt’s al-Sisi (president till 2034), overlooking widely-reported human rights abuses. He suggested that we lacked moral standing to criticize Turkish president Erdogan’s handling of a coup attempt. “When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger.” Challenged to justify his kind words for Vladimir Putin, whom the interviewer described as “a killer,” Trump was phlegmatic: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” And when it became undeniable that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman had ordered Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi to be chopped up into small pieces, President Trump noted that the Saudis have promised to buy a lot of American military equipment. (He did not add that they have also spent a pretty penny at Trump properties.)

No, fighting corruption abroad does not seem to be a priority for this administration.

Trump is the master of projection. It is he who attempts to rig elections (see the canceling of primaries in several states), but he claims to be the victim of rigging. It is he who uses power corruptly and then accuses others of doing so.

Trump is probably the most corrupt chief executive we’ve seen in our lifetimes. And a measure of this corruption is his need to portray everyone else as tainted. When an (admittedly human and flawed) FBI director makes notes about Trump’s grossly inappropriate conduct, the Trump team must declare James Comey to be the problematic one. When the press criticizes Trump’s self-dealing (see, for just one example, the Prestwick airport story), they are the corrupt ones. When career civil servants in the intelligence community raise objections to anything this administration does, they are denounced as the “deep state.” When a whistleblower steps forward (in the statutory way) to bring attention to grotesque distortions of foreign policy, he/she is the problem. In fact, “corrupt” is one of Trump’s favorite epithets.

Republicans who continue to cover for Trump don’t seem to realize that by elevating a deeply corrupt person, they have abetted the delegitimization of the entire American system. To insist that Trump is pure, everyone else must be the villain. In just three years, nearly every institution in America has been defamed in service to the malignance at the top.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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