MOBILE, Ala. — In an alternate universe, President Hillary Rodham Clinton may have proposed sending her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, to head a U.S. delegation attending the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
But news of the proposal would have drawn swift condemnation from Republican politicians, conservative talk show hosts and even several Democrats, who would have pointed out that the tensions on the Korean peninsula should be handled by seasoned diplomats. Clinton would surely have backed down.
Not so in our current reality. President Donald J. Trump’s decision to send his daughter, Ivanka, to head the delegation to the closing ceremony raised barely an eyebrow, though she ended up acting in a diplomatic capacity. Oh, there were reports of quiet dissent in the White House, as some aides pointed out that Ivanka, a businesswoman, has no prior experience in government or foreign policy.
But her dad has normalized practices that were regarded as dishonorable and corrupt — if not outright illegal — down through generations of the American presidency. It has become apparent to most clear-eyed observers that Trump has pimped out the presidency, turning the Oval Office into a vehicle for an oligarchy. In other words, he uses his political power to enrich himself, his extended family and his closest friends.
Still, he retains the enthusiastic support of most Republican voters. While Trump’s overall approval rating remains historically low — about 39 percent, according to Gallup — 85 percent of Republican voters approve of his performance. Many of those voters don’t believe Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and some simply don’t care if our longtime rival did intervene on Trump’s behalf.
Once upon a time, such attitudes would have been considered tantamount to treason, but that, clearly, was a different reality. In this one, Trump, as he said during the campaign, “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
From that perspective, Ivanka’s informal promotion to diplomat hardly merits more than a sideways glance. But the activities of her husband, Jared Kushner, are much more egregious. It’s been clear for some time Kushner has repeatedly lied about his contacts with foreign governments because he has been forced to amend required disclosures. According to published reports, U.S. intelligence sources say officials of several foreign powers, including China, have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Kushner to their advantage.
That is damning (and perhaps one reason that chief of staff John Kelly has denied Kushner the highest-level security clearance). The real estate business Kushner’s family controls is deep in debt, and the business has repeatedly sought foreign investment.
Kushner has already used his White House influence, apparently, to shore up the family’s holdings. According to The New York Times, the Kushner family real estate company received two loans totaling more than $500 million from Apollo Global Management and Citigroup after executives from those firms had visited with Kushner in the White House. The Times also reports: “Shortly after Kushner Companies received the loan from Apollo, the private-equity firm emerged as a beneficiary of the tax cut package that the White House championed.”
Though Kelly declined to extend Kushner’s top-level clearance, the son-in-law retains the power he needs: the ear of the president. Trump still gets briefings and will likely tell Kushner everything that’s in them. Nothing suggests the president will respect the legal limits that cordon off top-level secrets.
Meanwhile, Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues an investigation that is sure to unearth yet more disreputable practices by top members of Team Trump — and possibly by the president himself. No public information indicates Trump or members of his campaign staff coordinated with Russia in its attempts to influence the election. But plenty of evidence shows Russia intervened to diminish Clinton’s chances.
Plenty of evidence also shows several of Trump’s closest advisers had meetings with Russian officials during the campaign. Just last week, Rick Gates, who was Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators — the result of Mueller’s increased pressure.
In an alternate universe, Trump would be under fire from leading Republicans as well as Democrats, and he’d be writing his resignation speech. But not in this one.