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They are the outposts of empire. They have been or are being built in countries across the world from Indonesia to Dubai, India to Uruguay, South Korea to Qatar, the Philippines to Turkey, and in the future possibly, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. They represent a staggering imperial presence for the American commander-in-chief — oh, and just in case you’re confused, no, I’m not talking about the hundreds of U.S. military bases that dot the planet. I’m thinking about all the towers, elite golf courses, clubs, hotels, condos, and residences that already sport, or in the future will sport, those five gaudy, golden letters that spell TRUMP in countries that circle the globe. They, too, are indeed the outposts of empire, a business one that still belongs to the commander-in-chief. And keep in mind that, if you’re thinking imperially in a truly twenty-first-century American fashion, you also need to include the businesses represented by Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, both now key White House advisers.
In our present moment, it’s worth recalling what Charles Wilson, the CEO of General Motors (then the country’s largest defense contractor), so classically said back in 1953 at his Senate confirmation hearings. President Dwight Eisenhower had nominated him for secretary of defense and various senators were challenging him for refusing to sell his GM stock. (After the president requested that he do so, and he did, he was immediately confirmed.) Asked about whether he would be capable of making a decision in the national interest as secretary of defense if it had “extremely adverse” consequences for the company, he responded, “Yes, sir, I could. I cannot conceive of [such a conflict, however,] because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”
If once upon a time that was taken as a classic statement of corporate crassness, tell me that, in the shadow of the Trump White House and what are still politely referred to in the media as its “conflicts of interest,” it doesn’t now seem like a quaintly principled, almost patriotic thing to say. Or let me propose something else: read today’s account by TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents’ Bankers, of what family time’s like in the Trump Oval Office and then tell me whether Wilson’s statement doesn’t seem like the good old days to you.