Donald Trump entered the Republican Party into "international arrangements of oligarchies"

America's democracy crisis is much bigger than any one person or group of people

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 24, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump behind bars (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump behind bars (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Today's Republican Party is a de facto criminal organization.

It has engaged in and otherwise supports a range of criminal activity including a coup, seditious conspiracy, political violence and terrorism. Today's Republican Party also supports and has participated in fraud, corruption, self-dealing and other conflicts of interest, and corporate crime on a massive scale. It gives aid, comfort and material support to individuals and organizations that are engaged in criminal and other questionable behavior that violate both the letter and spirit of the law. And never to be overlooked or forgotten, the Republican Party and its leaders and agents on the federal, state, and local levels, both facilitated and directly engaged in acts of democide by sabotaging the country's response to the COVID pandemic. These actions led to the unnecessary deaths of more than one million people in the United States.

The Republican Party crime organization and its boss Donald Trump do not operate in isolation: they are part of a global right-wing political crime operation.

Donald Trump is the head of the Republican Party crime organization. In that role, he and the other senior leaders of the Republican Party have both directly engaged in criminal and quasi-legal acts while also directly commanding their followers and other agents to engage in such behavior. Here are but a few of the most prominent examples:

Trump himself is the first president in American history to attempt a coup against the American people and their democracy in order to remain in power.

He is the first president to be impeached twice.

He is the first former president to be criminally indicted and arrested.

He is being investigated for a range of serious crimes including election theft, election fraud, and stealing top secret documents.

He has been found liable in civil court for sexually assaulting E. Jean Carroll (she is one of dozens of women who have credibly accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and/or rape).

During his decades of public life, Trump has been credibly accused of repeatedly engaging in real estate and financial fraud. Trump and his inner circle also used the White House and presidency to personally enrich themselves at the literal expense of the American people and the nation.    

Donald Trump's consigliere Rudy Giuliani was a key figure in the coup attempt on Jan. 6. Fueled by a reported addiction to Viagra, Giuliani is now being sued for allegedly sexually assaulting one of his female employees. As part of that lawsuit, it is also alleged that Giuliani and Trump were selling presidential pardons for 2 million dollars each. The lawsuit summarizes that Giuliani engaged in "unlawful abuses of power, wide-ranging sexual assault and harassment, wage theft, and other misconduct." 

The fabulist and pathological liar Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., has finally been charged with committing a litany of crimes including several serious felonies. Yet the Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, are still refusing to vote to expel Santos from Congress.

There are dozens of Republicans in Congress who supported and/or directly participated in Trump's Jan. 6 coup attempt. They have not been criminally charged or otherwise held accountable. Per the 14th Amendment, those Republicans and any other members of Congress who participated in a coup or other act of insurrection or rebellion against the United States government should be removed from office. These Republican fascists are undeterred and are continuing to work to kill the country's multiracial democracy from within its highest legislative body.

And as revealed by ProPublica, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is manifestly and grossly corrupt. He has received millions of dollars in direct money, "favors", gifts, and other compensation from right-wing plutocrat, megadonor and political operative (and apparent Nazi fetishist) Harlan Crow and others who had interests before the Supreme Court. Beyond a mere "conflict of interest," Thomas did not recluse himself or otherwise make it known (until after the fact, if ever) that he was receiving money and other favors from those individuals and groups whose cases he would be deciding. In essence, Thomas (and the other right-wing members of the Supreme Court who are similarly compromised) were involved in an influence-peddling operation where the country's most important laws were being rigged by immensely powerful right-wing interests who literally bought themselves a Supreme Court Justice(s).

Clarence Thomas's wife was also a key figure in Trump's Jan. 6 coup plot. If the coup had gone according to plan, Thomas and the other right-wing Supreme Court justices would have played a decisive role in making the coup "legal" and keeping Donald Trump in power.

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Neofascism and other forms of authoritarianism are exercises in corrupt power. The rule of law (and equality and fairness in its application) is one of the foundations of a healthy democracy. As the Republican Party and "conservative" movement have embraced fascism and other forms of illiberal politics they have, quite predictably, become increasingly criminal and corrupt.

Beyond the specific criminal and quasi-legal actions of the Republican Party and its leaders, such behavior has encouraged a societal climate where antisocial behavior by members of the MAGA movement and "red state" America – including right-wing political violence and vigilantism – is increasingly encouraged and rewarded.

In all, America's democracy crisis is much bigger than any one person or group of people. It is a cultural and societal problem where the legitimacy of democracy and its institutions, the country's democratic culture, and the rule of law, the common good and the general welfare are increasingly imperiled.

Unfortunately, and in keeping with a larger pattern of failures to properly adapt to the realities of the Age of Trump and ascendant neofascism, the country's news media and responsible political class are focused in on individual personalities, villains and heroes, instead of the larger systemic and institutional problems. Moreover, the very nature of the 24/7 news media and its profit-motivated and largely superficial coverage of important issues lends itself to a narrative that emphasizes good guys and bad guys, the villain and controversy of the day, and of course "horse race", "bothsides", "objectivity", "fairness" and other frameworks that normalize the Republican fascists and MAGA movement and their war on democracy and human rights and decency.

As I have explained in previous essays here at Salon, Donald Trump does not really matter. Likewise, Ron DeSantis and the other leaders of the Republican Party and neofascist movement do not really matter. Justice Clarence Thomas does not really matter. George Santos most certainly does not really matter.


They and the other members of the American neofascist movement and larger white right are stand-ins, placeholders, symbols and signifiers, who are part of a much larger system of corrupt power. The fascist machine will replace such people with others very quickly once it is done with them. To hyper-focus on the individual malign actor is to again miss the true nature and scale of the political and societal crisis facing the United States.

In a recent edition of her newsletter, historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat explained the intersections between Trumpism, criminogenic politics, corruption, fascism and autocracy in the following way:

At the heart of strongman rule is the claim that he and his agents are above the law, above judgment, and not beholden to the truth," I wrote in Strongmen in 2020. "In Trump's America...the legal and the illegal, fact and fiction, celebrity and politics blend together until nothing means anything anymore and everything is 'a confidence game'."

When an amoral autocrat captures a political party, as former president Donald Trump did with the GOP, he remakes it in his own image. His values and methods become those of the party he controls. Individuals have worth and status only to the extent that they embrace those values and methods, no matter how criminal these may be. In this way, the autocrat and his proxies also act as corruptors: they do not just give permission to break the rules, but they also let it be known that they will reward those who do….When a criminal of the magnitude of Trump is in power, the whole window of possibility shifts at the local as well as national level, creating spaces for unscrupulous individuals to succeed.

The Republican Party crime organization and its boss Donald Trump do not operate in isolation: they are part of a global right-wing political crime operation.

Criminologist Gregg Barak, who is the author of the book "Criminology on Trump", explained to Salon that "when we discuss the lawlessness or law-violating behavior — the crimes and corruption – of "Rudy, Trump, Santos, Thomas, etc. and how today's GOP and 'conservative' movement are criminal organizations of sorts," we are referencing the autocratic tendencies or authoritarian rule within these politically and criminally similar operating environments. From a systemic or institutional analysis, the former political type of "organized crime" is more amorphous and less structured than the traditional syndicated criminal kinds. Moreover, the Trumpian and GOP forms of "racketeering" reflect the changing political economy of global capitalism and the ongoing struggle between democratic and authoritarian capitalist regimes over the past 25 years." He continues:

In short, we are talking about the international arrangements of oligarchies and kleptocracies. Oligarchs as well as kleptocrats use their power and money to buy or bribe politicians or to corrupt and/or steal from governments….

As oligarchies go, the US constitutes a multi-pyramid hybrid form of oligarchical rule as Americans enjoy many features of a constitutional democracy. Autocratically, however, especially over the past quarter of a century powerful corporations and affluent individuals have had a significantly larger and growing influence over the legislative and judicial branches of government compared to ordinary citizens due to changes primarily in the campaign finance laws where much of the fraudulent crime has been allowed to legally flourish.

Barak also detailed how Trump's political regime and business empire were and continue to be integral aspects of his international corruption operation:

As this was already occurring in the political economy of global capital when Trump became POTUS, he adapted his global business model of the Trump Organization and merged it with the business of the White House. In the process, he set in motion the modernization of corruption in the executive office and subsequently the Republican party. In less than four short years he transformed governmental corruption from previously understood as simply officials using their positions of public trust to benefit themselves and their associates to a full-spectrum executive branch organizational style of corruption. A giant favor factory, populated with agents of special interests, the private raiding of public funds, handouts to the undeserving, flows of cash, jobs, freebies, and so on.

For example, when it comes to "pay to play" or the insider culture of lobbying and favor seeking, Trump turned his hotels and resorts into the Beltway's new smoked-filled back rooms, where public and private business mix and special interests dominate. The line separating the Trump Organization from the Trump Administration as well as the post-administrative Trump apparatus at Mar-a-Lago (or where the line begins and ends between the former president and the 2024 presidential candidate's public responsibilities and his private financial interests) has never been clear. (And won't be sorted out until several lawsuits surrounding campaign fundraising are hopefully litigated.)

Here Barak offers specific examples of then-President Trump's corruption and betrayal(s) of the public interest:

Likewise, 145 foreign officials from 75 governments had visited Trump properties with officials from Turkey leading the pack. A New York Times investigation found that over 200 companies and special-interest groups and foreign governments reaped benefits from patronizing and spending monies at his various properties. With political interests at stake, sixty of those business customers found them advanced by bringing nearly $12 million into the Trump family businesses during the first two years of his presidency.

At Trump's vaunted "Winter White House," Mar-a-Lago, the former president had hosted Chinese President Xi Jingping, the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and lastly the former President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, and a slew of his Brazilian officials. The Xi visit was the most successful promotional event in the history of Mar-a-Lago and an unparalleled moneymaker for Trump.

Speaking of the Chinese, among Trump's fringe benefits were the granting of 46 foreign trademarks to his businesses from China. Until 2019 China's biggest state-controlled bank rented three floors in Trump Tower stateside, a very lucrative lease that had generated accusations of a conflict of interest for the former president. For example, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in its January 2021 report on corruption identified more than 3,700 conflicts of interest while Trump was president as a result of his decision not to divest from his business interests.

These matters of Trump's corruption and how today's Republican Party and the larger neofascist movement and right-wing operate as a de facto criminal organization are not abstract or esoteric. When such forces are able to operate with (relative) immunity in a supposed democracy, the faith and belief by the public in the legitimacy of their government is undermined and then lost. "Democratic backsliding" soon becomes full-on democratic collapse. In the United States that will likely take the form of a new Apartheid Christofascist electoral autocracy and plutocracy. Ultimately, the Age of Trump and ascendant neofascism is not "just" a political problem it is also a criminal one and the country's leaders and institutions must respond appropriately if multiracial pluralistic democracy is to be saved.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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