Thursday, April 26, 2018
Drain the swamp? Lol.
I wrote about corruption, Pruitt,Mulvaney, Trump etc etc --- for Salon this morning:
Donald Trump has a habit of stealing slogans and then insisting he made them up.The most obvious is "Make American Great Again" which he blatantly stole from the 1980 Reagan campaign. (He claims he came up with it independently.) When he called himself the "law and order" candidate, he probably didn't realize that he was lifting the slogan from Richard Nixon, who used it as one of the all-time effective racist dog whistles. Trump just knows one when he hears it. "America First" goes all the way back to the late 1930s and referred to the isolationist movement that protested any American involvement in the European war against Hitler.
Trump's not the most original guy in the world. But he does have a knack for picking up slogans that have a certain political resonance even if he's completely clueless about why. All of those make sense for a conservative candidate. But he may have gone too far when he chose "drain the swamp." That one has been in the political lexicon for centuries, most recently deployed by Nancy Pelosi back in 2006 when the Democrats ran their successful "culture of corruption" campaign. And it may very well be the one old slogan he should have left on the shelf.
When Trump started using the phrase, journalists just assumed he meant that he was saying he would root out all the lobbying and revolving door forms of legalized corruption because that's traditionally what the phrase has meant. And truthfully, when he introduced the slogan in October of 2016, he also introduced a set of ethics reforms:
Reinstate a five-year ban to prevent executive branch officials from lobbying after they leave office and prevent an executive action from lifting it.
I'm going to guess you didn't remember any of that and that's because it's pretty much the last you ever heard of them. But he didn't ever stop saying he was going to "drain the swamp" and his voters never stopped chanting it and cheering for it. And that's because it came to mean something quite different and I suspect it's what he meant all along: he was promising to drain the government swamp of political opposition, not corruption. In fact, you can say "lock her up" and "drain the swamp" in the same breath.
Introduce a similar five-year ban on former members of Congress from lobbying after ending government service.
Expand the definition of lobbyists and close loopholes that allow former government officials to label themselves as consultants and advisers.
Lifetime ban on senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.
Campaign finance reform that prevents registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in American elections and politics.
Congressional Republicans have never had the slightest appetite for cleaning up corruption. In recent years they pretty much institutionalized it. This Sunlight Foundation website which tracks Trump's overwhelming personal conflicts of interest show that since he took office it has now become a free-for-all of graft and corruption at the highest level. And his administration isn't even trying to hide it.
The White House Budget Director and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Mick Mulvaney gave a speech to a group of bankers and basically told them they had to pay to play, right out in the open. According to the Washington Post he said:
“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” said Mulvaney, who was a leading conservative in the House until President Trump tapped him to be the White House budget director, a job he still holds. “If you were a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you were a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”
He did add that he would always talk to constituents too which is nice.
Mulvaney was basically laying out the terms of a bribe. If you want favorable banking legislation, you're going to need to put up some cash. It doesn't get any starker than that. The fact that this is the man in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which he loathes and wants to shut down) is just too perfect.
That's just the latest in a string of such stories in the Trump administration and it's only bee 15 months since the inauguration. Setting aside those pertaining to the president and his family, the cabinet is setting records for corruption scandals. Starting with Trump's first HHS secretary Tom Price who spent more than $1 million of taxpayer funds on his own travel in private jet in the first few months, to Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin who tried to commandeer government aircraft for his honeymoon and is still spending vast sums on travel and expenses and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who is also dinging taxpyers for expensive travel and wanted to spend $139,000 on a couple of office doors and HUD secretary Ben Carson who is completely asleep at the wheel but nonetheless found the energy to order a $39,000 table, blame it on his wife and then belatedly admit that he was involved after all.
But for all that, there is one cabinet member who puts all the others to shame when it comes to corrupt practices. That would be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. From his bizarre requirement for a vast security detail and first class travel ostensibly for his protection and an expensive sound proof booth in his office to sweetheart deals with lobbyists and donors and excessive pay raises for his favored underlings it seems there's a new scandal every day. But his agency is efficiently deploying a wrecking ball to the environmental regulatory apparatus so he's had some protection from the GOP's wealthy owners, at least up until now.
But the word is that the bad news is starting to look like a liability even to these brazen Republicans. According to the Washington Post, a number of elected officials are starting to get uncomfortable with him. He's scheduled to appear before two House Committees today and the word is that some members of the White House are hoping he flames out:
Inside the White House, the EPA chief has lost the backing of many senior aides, including Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, and communications officials, lawyers and Cabinet affairs officials, whose calls he ignores. He is not interested in “turning the page,” as one senior administration official put it Wednesday.
The New York Times reports that Pruitt has a strategy all worked out. He's obviously learned from the master. He plans to blame everyone but himself. That's exactly what President Trump would do. And then he'd brag about his grand success at draining the swamp.
“We haven’t seen anything like this—anything like this,” says Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “If you lined [Trump’s cabinet] all up and just took a random poke, you’d be far more likely than not to hit somebody who has engaged in some corrupt practices, or practices that have violated every norm that we have about how you use taxpayer dollars.”
digby 4/26/2018 09:30:00 AM