In an apparent attempt to fool people into thinking his first 100 days have been wildly successful, President Donald Trump is engaging in a flurry of activity this week. Evidently he hopes that will serve as a proxy for accomplishment.
He has started a trade war with Canada, chatted up astronauts and talked about sending Americans to Mars, signaled that he plans to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement and then changed his mind in that same day, offered up some talking points that he called a tax plan, piled the entire U.S. Senate into buses and summoned them to the White House for a briefing on North Korea (later described by one senator as "a dog and pony show") and jump-started the doomed Obamacare repeal zombie. And in the middle of all this he weirdly punted on his biggest campaign promise, the "big, beautiful wall." Trump may not have been productive, but he's been busy.
The tax proposal is the most interesting because it's a revealing illustration of Trump's self-serving White House grift, which carries on regardless of anything else that's happening in this administration. It's basically a blueprint for massive profits for himself and his children. Naturally enough, Trump has proposed eliminating the estate tax because it's so unfair that Ivanka and the boys should have to pay taxes on their immense windfall when their daddy passes on. But that's just the beginning, as The New York Times reported:
Beyond cutting the tax rate to 15 percent for large corporations, which now pay a rate of 35 percent, Mr. Trump also wants that rate for a broad range of firms known as pass-through entities — including hedge funds, real estate concerns like Mr. Trump’s and large partnerships — that currently pay taxes at individual rates, which top off at 39.6 percent
After presenting this wish list to the press, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that Trump had no plans to ever release his tax returns because he has been more transparent than any president before him. So they will not be voluntarily produced, period. Mnuchin also acknowledged that a scheme such as the one the administration is proposing for pass-through companies like Trump's could potentially be used as a tax shelter but assured everyone that it would not be used as a loophole, whatever that means.
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One cannot help but recall this exchange about Trump's tax returns in a presidential debate just six months ago:
Hillary Clinton: The only years that anybody's ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn't pay any federal income tax.
Donald Trump: That makes me smart.
You have to give him credit. Becoming president, refusing to divest yourself of your business or reveal your conflicts of interest and then proposing gigantic tax cuts that will directly benefit you and your family is actually pretty smart. It should be illegal, but it has never previously occurred to anyone that a president could be so shameless or that the American people simply wouldn't care.
The family is also using the presidency to advance its "brand" and fill its coffers. The Associated Press reported this week that Trump's sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have devised a new business strategy to take advantage of their dad's popularity in certain states now that the international business schemes have come under more scrutiny. Donald Trump Jr. said the plans will still go through but they'll be delayed for a few years and "there is an optical component that has to be taken into account." The New York Times reported a few days ago that this was the main reason Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have taken a leading role in the White House:
Several administration officials and people close to the family said the couple’s move against [Steve] Bannon was motivated less by interest in shaping any particular policy than by addressing what they view as an embarrassing string of failures that may damage [Ivanka's] father personally, as well as the Trump family brand.
What's the point of all this if they can't cash in on all the promises, favors, graft and payola?
As Ivanka and Jared work the angles from inside the White House, Donald Jr. and Eric are working them in Trump country, looking for properties in places where they can parlay the presidency into big bucks for the family. According to the AP:
Among the possible locations being considered: Texas, parts of the South, and perhaps the nation's capital, where the hotel would exist with the Trump luxury property in the former home of the Old Post Office not far from the White House. The company is also in the very early stages of considering a three-star hotel chain.
Experts quoted in the article said this didn't seem to present any ethical problems. In fact, one said that while "questions can be raised" about some of the company's behavior, a pitch in Trump-friendly states seems like "a reasonable business strategy." I guess there's no chance of people trying to buy favors from the government with sweetheart deals for the family business. And there's certainly no chance that the president would be in a position to offer favors to state and local leaders to ensure that certain favors would flow to the Trump organization. It's perfectly fine.
In fact, Trump is already arranging for some new development possibilities, as USA Today reported:
President Trump [signed] an executive order Wednesday calling into question the future of dozens of national monuments proclaimed by the last three presidents to set aside millions of acres from development.
Trump's executive order takes aim at 21 years of proclamations beginning in 1996.
Who knows, maybe the Trump Organization can build some three-star hotels in soon-to-be-privatized national monuments and turn them into monuments to President Trump. If the family can spread some money around to help Dad politically and make the whole gaggle even richer than they already are, Donald Trump will be successful on his own terms regardless of what the pollsters and pundits have to say about it. Who cares about the first 100 days? It's the first billion dollars that matters.