In an age of billionaires, whether the voters who elected him thought that he was the one who could do what was needed in the nation’s capital or were just giving the finger to Washington, the effect was, as Donald Trump might say, of “historic significance.” His golf courses, hotels, properties of every sort are thriving and the money from them pouring into his family’s coffers. His Mar-a-Lago club doubled its membership fee after he was elected; the new Trump hotel in Washington has become a notorious hotspot for foreign diplomats eager to curry favor with the administration; and so it goes in the new America. Already three lawsuits have been filed — by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (a watchdog outfit), the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington D.C., and 200 Democratic congressional representatives — challenging the president for breaching the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Investigations of presidential obstruction of justice and possibly even abuse of power are evidently underway (to the accompaniment of voluminous tweets by you know who), and the president has been lawyering up bigly, as has Vice President Pence and just about everyone else in sight, including the president’s personal lawyer who now has a lawyer of his own. President Trump has, in fact, been filling in his roster of personal lawyers far more effectively than he’s been able to fill basic posts in his government.
And speaking of historic significance, around him is the richest crew ever to serve in a cabinet, the sort of plutocratic A-team that gives government of, by, and for the 1% genuine meaning. Now tell me, if this isn’t a classic only-in-America story, what is? Okay, maybe it’s not classic classic, not unless you go back to the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century. It’s certainly not the version of American promise that was in the high-school history books of my youth, but if it isn’t the twenty-first-century version of the American story, then what is? In a land that’s released so much plutocratic money into politics that it’s buried Washington in Koch brothers dollars, in a country where inequality has in recent years hit historic highs, Donald Trump seems to have been our own El Dorado (or perhaps El Mar-a-Lago). He’s the destination toward which this country has evidently been traveling since, in 1991, the Soviet Union imploded and the United States, in all its triumphalist glory, became the “sole superpower” on planet Earth.
If anything, Trump’s ascendancy should have been the equivalent of a klieg light illuminating our recent American journey. His rise to… well, whatever it is… has lit up the highway that brought us here in a new way and, in the spirit of his coming infrastructure program for America, it turns out to have been a private toll road that wound through a landscape of Potemkin villages en route to the Oval Office. One thing’s for sure: wherever we’ve landed, it certainly isn’t where the “end of history” crowd of the last years of the previous century thought we’d be when the historians finally stopped typing and “liberal Democracy” reigned supreme. With that in mind, join Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch regular and author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East, in considering just how, at this moment, historians should start reimagining our American age amid the rubble of our previous versions of history.