Trump is a distraction. Such is Noam Chomsky’s dry assessment of the guy who now occupies the Oval office and whose criminality oozes from his every pore. Chomsky, on the other hand, is a serious man and his analysis is devoid of irony. To dominate the news cycle, Trump, with the stamina of a hamster in a wheel, continues to bombard the public sphere with poisonous acts and statements, while picking fights with whomever triggers his ire. As we all know, this is a task well entrusted to the fully automated serial lying machine that happens to be the president of the United States; a political Frankenbot that runs on a simple, utterly predictable script: attack, lie, deny, counter-attack, serve self-interest . “And while this show is going on in public”, says Chomsky, “in the background, the wrecking crew is working – Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell –, the guys in the cabinet who write his executive orders. What they’re doing is systematically dismantling every aspect of government that works for the benefit of the population. This goes from workers rights, to pollution – pollution of the environment, rules for protecting consumers. I mean anything you can think of is being dismantled. And all powers are being devoted, kind of almost with fanaticism, to enrich and empower their actual constituency, which is super wealth and corporate power.”
Quite a sobering perspective on what goes on in the control room of the neo-liberal project. Still, the question nags of how a man with such an overbearing impact on global politics can be a distraction. Ok, so just consider this. With all the told and untold crimes he has perpetrated, Trump has managed to operate with impunity and stay out of the hands of the criminal justice system for over fifty years. Quite an achievement, you’d almost say, requiring magical, Houdini-like extrication skills. But no, staying out of jail is not so hard if you have the dough to settle litigations, involving charges from fraud to sexual assault and more, that could lead to criminal exposure and even indictment. And so, because no effective filters and checks where in place, the world is now stuck with a 70-year-old, who has managed to wriggle his way into the White House and whose high-profile career as a conman spells it out: ‘Consequence has no hold on me, I operate with impunity.’
That said, let’s not forget that Trump is only a distraction. This is not about Trump. This is about America. The man is the quintessential product of a corporate and political culture in which white-collar criminality has become the mainstream modus operandi. In an extremely telling New York Times article, subtitled ‘It shouldn’t take a special counsel to uncover white-collar crimes, but it does’, Jesse Eisinger writes: “Oh, the audacity of dopes. The crimes of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are notable not just for how blatant they were but also for their lack of sophistication. The two men did little to hide their lying to banks and the Internal Revenue Service.” The author raises the question of how many more white-collar criminals are currently out there, unindicted. “We don’t know because the cops aren’t on the beat. Resources have been stripped from white-collar enforcement. The F.B.I. shifted agents to work on international terror in the wake of Sept. 11. White-collar cases made up about one-tenth of the Justice Department’s cases in recent years, compared with one-fifth in the early 1990s. The I.R.S.’s criminal enforcement capabilities have been decimated by years of budget cuts and attrition.” And what’s more, no top officer from any major bank went to prison for the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression – a crisis that happened 10 years ago and that is, arguably, the biggest white-collar criminal operation in world history.
In November 2008, corporate fat cats flew into Washington on private jets, held up their hands and magically cashed in on goverment bail-outs. That day, neo-liberalism showed its naked face. Everyone could see what was at work here: socialism for multinationals, pure and unadulterated, at taxpayers’ expense. Two months later, in January 2009, the Obama administration took office, but did not hold to account those who perpetrated the financial crimes that triggered the subprime mortgage crisis, thus perpetuating and cementing the culture of white-collar impunity, fuelling justified public outrage and laying the groundwork for the ascent of Donald Trump.
This, however, is not about Trump. This is about America. Trump is a distraction.
The hamster escapes