The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino

by Nomi Prins, Daily Reckoning:

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.”

Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” — especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company — country.”

Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) — including his five Atlantic City casinoshis airline, and a mortgage company — he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag. We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.”

To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

We, as citizens, already bear the brunt of 89% of U.S. tax revenues today. If adopted, the new tax structure would simply throw yet more of the government’s bill in our laps. Against this backdrop, the math of middle-class tax relief doesn’t work out — not unless you were to cut $4.3 trillion from the overall budget for just the kinds of items non-billionaires count on like Medicaid, education, housing assistance, and job training.

Or put another way, Trump’s West Wing is now advocating the very policy he railed against in the election campaign when he was still championing the everyday man. By promoting tax reform for mega-corporations and the moguls who run them, he’s neglecting the “forgotten” white working class that sent him to the Oval Office to “drain the swamp.”

Since entering the White House, he’s also begun to isolate our country from the global economy, essentially pushing other nations to engage in more trade with each other, not the United States. Whether physically shoving aside the leader of Montenegro, engaging in tweet-storms with the President of Mexico over his “big, fat, beautiful wall,” or hanging up on the prime minister of Australia, Trump has seemingly forgotten that diplomacy and trade matter to the actual American economy. His version of “America First” has taken aim at immigrants, multinational trade agreements, regulations, and the U.N. Calvin Coolidge acted in a somewhat similar (if far less flamboyant) manner and you remember where that led: to the devastating crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

What’s In a Shell?

As a new report by Public Citizen makes clear, the glimpses we’ve gotten of inner Trumpworld from the president’s limited financial disclosures indicate that his business dealings, by design, couldn’t be more complex, shadowy, or filled with corporate subterfuge.  He excels, among other things, at using shell companies to hide the Trump Organization’s profits (and losses) in the corporate labyrinth that makes up his empire. And even though the supposedly blind trust run by his sons is designed to shield him from that imperial entity’s decision-making, it still potentially allows him maneuver room to increase his own fortune and glean profits along the way.

So, what’s in such a shell? The answer: another shell, a company that usually has no employees, no offices, and no traceable capital.  Think of such entities as financial gargoyles. They offer no real benefits to the economy, create no jobs, and do nothing to make America great again. However, they have the potential to do a great deal for the bottom lines of Donald Trump and his offspring.  

Think of the corporate shell game he’s been engaged in as his oyster.  After all, anonymous buyers now make up the majority of those gobbling up pieces of his empire. Two years prior to his presidential victory, only 4% of the companies affiliated with people buying his properties were limited-liability, or LLC corporations, which are secretive in nature. Following his victory, that number jumped to 70%.

What that means in plain English is that there’s simply no way of knowing who most of those investing in Trump properties actually are, what countries they come from, how they made their fortunes, or whether there might be any conflicts between their buy-ins to Trumpworld and the national interest of this country.

Trump Lawsuits Meet Pennsylvania Avenue

Secret as so many of his dealings may be, there’s a very public aspect to them that Donald Trump has brought directly into the White House: his pattern of being sued. He’s already been sued 134 times in federal court since he assumed the presidency. (Barack Obama had 26 suits against him and George W. Bush seven at the same moment in their presidencies.)

In other words, one of the nation’s most litigious billionaires is in the process of becoming its most litigious president. A pre-election analysis in USA Today found that Trump and his businesses had been “involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts” over the previous three decades. That volume of lawsuits was unprecedented for a presidential candidate, let alone a president.

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