By Juan Cole / Informed Comment
Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – A New York Grand Jury empaneled by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has indicted the former president, Donald John Trump. So report Ilya Marritz, Andrea Bernstein, Bill Chappell and Vanessa Romo at NPR. I gave all three of Trump’s names because that is usually how felons are referred to in the press.
Some have complained that of all the illegal and destructive things Trump did, this indictment focuses on a relatively minor and tawdry little crime. This complaint derives from a failure to realize that everything about Trump is trivial and always has been.
Just Security has the timeline. Trump was concerned in October 2016 that Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels might go to the tabloid press for a big payout for her story about how she and Trump had sex in July 2006 at Lake Tahoe. Ms. Clifford has acted in pornography films, and Trump promised her an appearance on his Apprentice television show. Trump appears to have gone outside his home for sex in 2006 when his wife Melania was pregnant with their son, Baron. That June, he had also approached Playboy model Karen McDougal for sex, and she agreed but says she declined a proffered payment, saying “I’m not that kind of girl.” So that liaison, which continued for some time, probably falls under the heading of an affair. Trump was wary of her telling her story, too. Cifford had attempted to sell her story before, but had been thwarted when Trump threatened to sue for libel. Her story became potentially a big draw after the leaked Billy Bush tape of Trump talking about grabbing random women by their genitals.
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Trump arranged for his attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay Ms. Clifford $130,000 to tell her story only to The National Enquirer in return for her signing a non-disclosure agreement. The Enquirer, owned by a friend and backer of Trump, David Pecker, in return simply did not print the “Stormy Daniel” scandal This way of proceeding buried the story and left Ms. Clifford unable to peddle it elsewhere.
A similar deal had already been done with Karen McDougal.
Trump repaid Cohen for the expenditure in installments, either through Trump, Inc. and Alan Weisselberg or from his own private account.
NPR reports that Trump categorized the payments for tax purposes as “for legal services.” This was, of course, incorrect, unless it is a new euphemism for having sex at resorts with porn stars and then buying their silence.
It is illegal in New York to misreport on your tax statements the purpose for which money has been spent. This is a crime.
This crime was minor, but it was committed to further another crime, which was to pay hush money for the purposes of a political campaign. In New York, you get felony charges for committing one crime to further another crime.
And that is the case against Trump. Some observers think it may be a case difficult to prove in New York law.
German-American political philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “banality of evil” as the subtitle of her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. She depicted the Nazi mass murderer as a bland and ordinary bureaucrat, just trying to get ahead by blending in. He wasn’t a criminal mastermind. He wasn’t evil in a brilliant way, as Milton’s Lucifer was. He was banal, and his vapidness killed lots of people.
Trump is, of course, also banal. But more than that, he is trivial. He inherited capital from his father as well as know-how concerning the cut-throat real estate markets in the run-down neighborhoods of Queens. He parlayed those advantages into being a billionaire or at least very wealthy. But Queens real estate isn’t intrinsically interesting. Trump and his father both had slumlord tendencies, and were probably mobbed up. For all of its mystique, organized crime is also trivial. It is based on primal emotions like fear and greed in our lizard-brains, and it has no vision and builds nothing. It is parasitical. No wonder it ends up making money on garbage. Even its violence just reduces complex human beings full of aspirations to trivial garbage.
Likewise, Trump’s television show “The Apprentice” was trivial. If it had never been on television, it wouldn’t have mattered. Now that it is no longer on television, it doesn’t matter. It was just another phony “reality” show. It may well have involved a scam, as Jose Paglieri at the Daily Beast reported. Lawyers for four angry entrepreneurs looked at The Apprentice outtakes in 2021:
“lawyers for four scorned entrepreneurs know what they’re looking for: anything that shows Donald Trump and his kids knew that they were duping would-be investors by leading them to ACN, a multi-level marketing company based in North Carolina.
Trump and his kids—Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric—were the top recurring characters of The Apprentice, playing the role of business judges. During the show, the family featured ACN as a promising investment, even having celebrities compete to produce a commercial for the company’s supposedly high-tech new video chatting phone, the “Iris 5000.” In reality, the tech was a dud and the company was facing financial turmoil—but viewers weren’t told that.”
In other words, the Trumps on The Apprentice may have just been conning people. Trump is a ponzi scheme based not on invested capital but invested confidence. Trump is a set of serial shakedowns.
Trump’s presidency was trivial, having no accomplishments but one give-away of billions to his cronies in the form of a tax cut. It was so predictable. He seems to have sat around all day in his pajamas watching Fox Cable News and spewing out nonsensical tweets. He spent a third of his time playing golf, and went out on the hustings telling his 30,000 trivial lies. The evil my title is because of the real damage Trump has done. But trivial little mosquitos can give people malaria.
Trump has never been important enough to be banal. He never had the discipline for banality. His mind has all the focus of a butterfly in a hurricane. He flits from one triviality to another.
Trump’s vulgar gyrations with a sex worker whom he flimflammed with the promise of a television appearance that would never happen were trivial. This indictment is a fitting commentary on our century’s “Mr. Griffith.” Haven’t heard of “Mr. Griffith?” That’s because he was trivial.
Juan Cole, a TomDispatch regular, is the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A New Translation From the Persian and Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. His latest book is Peace Movements in Islam. His award-winning blog is Informed Comment. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).