In the big-picture conversation around the 2016 presidential election, the major negative narratives about Donald Trump have tended to focus on his racism, his temperament, or his tendency to tell lies.
Yet there’s another important Trump trait that’s gotten some attention but really needs to get much more — he’s corrupt, and in a consistent way.
Whenever Trump has been in positions of power or authority, he has demonstrated a pattern of trying to enrich himself by abusing the trust others have placed in him — whether it’s creditors, contractors, charitable givers, Trump University students, regulators, or campaign donors.
Over the past several months — and, indeed, the past few decades — reporters have unearthed many alarming stories that show this They’ve reported on Trump’s many shady business practices. His shady charity. His shady fake university scam. His shady campaign spending. His many shady associates. And, last but by no means least, there is Trump’s refusal to release tax returns or other financial information that would shed further light on his business practices, associates, and philanthropic undertakings.
Now, sometimes Trump’s abuses of trust entail breaking the law, and sometimes they’re within the bounds of the law. And sometimes the legality of Trump’s actions isn’t yet clear — as in the case of Trump University, which will face a fraud trial shortly after the election, and with some of the controversies around the Trump Foundation.
But the common thread is that Trump screws people over to benefit himself. And despite the plethora of excellent reporting on this topic, many voters seem to be unaware of his troubling history here, and may view him primarily as a successful businessman who says some offensive things. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for instance, found that Trump had a 10-point advantage over Clinton on “being honest and straightforward.”
Indeed, he is betting his campaign on his hopes that he can frame himself as an independent outsider free of special interest influence, to contrast with Hillary Clinton, whom he has dubbed “crooked.”
But Trump’s record makes it crystal clear that he’s more interested in rapaciously extracting what money he can and doing what he wants, with little regard to laws, rules, or people who aren’t Donald Trump. Furthermore, he’s repeatedly proven willing to violate norms about what sort of behavior is acceptable and ethical.
And most importantly of all, if elected president, Trump would wield incredible power. Yet if you look at what he’s done with power in the past, suddenly this theme in his biography — his corruption — becomes among the most troubling of his many troubling qualities. There are many, many reasons to be concerned about a Trump administration’s ethics and potential to abuse power. Here are just a few.