Post Ideological Presidency

Yglesias at Vox has an utterly chilling discussion of why tribalist tendencies within a Trump administration would be so bad.

Many American administrations have featured acts of venal corruption, and Trump’s will likely feature more than most. The larger risk, however, is that Trump’s lack of grounding in ideological principles or party networks will create a systemically corrupt government. Such governments, Wallis writes, “are rent creating, not rent seeking, governments” that operate by “limiting access to markets and resources in order to create rents that bind the interests of the ruling coalition together.”

This is how Vladimir Putin governs Russia, and how the Mubarak/Sisi regime rules Egypt. To be a successful businessman in a systemically corrupt regime and to be a close supporter of the regime are one and the same thing.

Those who support the regime will receive favorable treatment from regulators, and those who oppose it will not. Because businesses do business with each other, the network becomes self-reinforcing. Regime-friendly banks receive a light regulatory touch while their rivals are crushed. In exchange, they offer friendly lending terms to regime-friendly businesses while choking capital to rivals. Such a system, once in place, is extremely difficult to dislodge precisely because, unlike a fascist or communist regime, it is glued together by no ideology beyond basic human greed, insecurity, and love of family.

Of course, the loot won’t flow exclusively into the pockets of the Trump family. Everyone will come to understand that you also need to hire a brother or cousin or son of the key regulators themselves to make sure that everyone is taken care of. Back in the 1970s and ’80s when the New York construction industry was mobbed up, Trump did deals with the mafia and understands how it works.

Commitment to ideological principles normally serves as a form of restraint on a presidential administration — there are some deals a Barack Obama or George W. Bush simply wouldn’t cut. But Trump has no particular ideological fixed points, and has time and again showed his willingness to be creative and make up new policy positions or rationalizations for old ones on the fly.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s