Trump bor­rows cor­rup­tion page from Fumo

The Times-Tribune - - OP-ED - WILL BUNCH is a colum­nist for The Philadel­phia In­quirer. WILL BUNCH

Say this about Pres­i­dent Trump — he’s a man who doesn’t even know the mean­ing of the word “ex­tor­tion.” I mean, what else can you say about an al­leged-bil­lion­aire turned-high­est-fed­eral-of­fi­cial-in-t he-land who fails to see any kind of eth­i­cal prob­lem in the pres­i­dent and his reg­u­la­tors de­cid­ing whether to give gov­ern­ment ap­proval on a lu­cra­tive busi­ness deal while de­mand­ing a gi­gan­tic pay­ment to the U.S. Trea­sury?

“I want a big chunk of that money to go to the United States gov­ern­ment be­cause we made it pos­si­ble,” Trump said last week in talk­ing about a scheme to al­low the con­tro­ver­sial Chi­nese-based phone app Tiktok to keep oper­at­ing in the U.S. by part­ner­ing with an Amer­i­can com­pany. “And the lawyers come back to me and they say there is no way of do­ing that be­cause no­body has ever heard of that be­fore.”

You could prob­a­bly wipe out taxes on the mid­dle class if the FDA de­manded a large check ev­ery time Pfizer or John­son & John­son wanted a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous new drug ap­proved, or when gov­ern­ment safety ex­perts need to OK Boe­ing’s new jet. And pre­sum­ably those de­ci­sions would be made in the in­ter­est of public safety, not to boost a pres­i­dent run­ning for re­elec­tion, right? Any­way, those pesky lawyers forced The Don­ald to come up with Plan B.

Sun­day, as ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Or­a­cle and Tiktok’s par­ent com­pany Bytedance neared a cli­max, the pres­i­dent claimed the par­tic­i­pants would also be con­tribut­ing $5 bil­lion (yes, with a “b”!) to form a non­profit that would sup­port Trump’s brand-new pet cause — “pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion” that would teach Amer­ica’s school­child­ren only about the na­tion’s great­ness and skip the messy parts about slav­ery or worker ex­ploita­tion.

The gov­ern­ment’s be­lea­guered lawyers prob­a­bly never heard of this one, ei­ther. But not so long ago, the then­most pow­er­ful fig­ure in Philadel­phia’s Demo­cratic ma­chine, a state se­na­tor named Vince Fumo, had the same bril­liant idea.

Fumo and his al­lies were closely tied to a non­profit called the Cit­i­zens Al­liance for Bet­ter Neigh­bor­hoods. One of the group’s big­gest donors was the elec­tric util­ity PECO, which wrote a whop­ping $17 mil­lion check right around the time it wanted Fumo to change his stand on dereg­u­la­tion. Four years later, fed­eral prose­cu­tors charged and con­victed the se­na­tor on al­le­ga­tions that he mis­used $1 mil­lion of the non­profit’s cash. Fumo ul­ti­mately spent four years in a fed­eral prison in Ken­tucky for fraud.

Just imag­ine the kind of perks that Trump and his cronies could reap from this new $5 bil­lion slush fund, which pre­sum­ably would ex­ist even if the pres­i­dent loses the elec­tion. It al­most makes you for­get that Trump’s idea isn’t just po­ten­tially cor­rupt, but also an­other dic­ta­tor move.

Trump’s “pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion” idea — which in­cludes a 1776 Com­mis­sion that would cre­ate a “pro-amer­i­can cur­ricu­lum” to coun­ter­act ef­forts like the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning 1619 Project that il­lu­mi­nate our slave-own­ing past — bor­rows heav­ily from the world’s worst dic­ta­tors, es­pe­cially Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. Xi is now shov­ing “pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion” down the throats of Hong Kong.

As polls con­tinue to show

Trump in dan­ger of los­ing, the pres­i­dent seems to be em­brac­ing what one might call fast-ca­sual fas­cism, whether it’s bizarrely declar­ing U.S. cities like New York and Seat­tle “an­ar­chist ju­ris­dic­tions” or crush­ing science from the CDC. But a $5 bil­lion scam that bor­rows equally from Xi Jin­ping and Vince Fumo may be his worst idea yet. Hope­fully, this new­est con from the peo­ple who gave us Trump Univer­sity will never get off the ground.

Ge­or­gia Sen. Kelly Lo­ef­fler (of in­sider trad­ing fame) is a multi-mil­lion­aire in­vest­ment banker, mar­ried to the owner of the New York Stock Ex­change, who gave a lot of money to politi­cians and got ap­pointed to her seat on Capi­tol Hill. Now, she’s in a dog­fight to keep her new job and des­per­ate to prove her right-wing bona fides against a Trump­ist can­di­date on her right flank. That ex­plains her bizarre new TV ad claim­ing she’s more con­ser­va­tive than At­tila the Hun, as the bar­bar­ian is por­trayed by an ac­tor who barks an or­der to “elim­i­nate lib­eral scribes.”

Hi­lar­i­ous, right? When I saw the Lo­ef­fler ad on Mon­day, I couldn’t help but think about the late Ralph Mcgill, who was editor of her adopted home state’s At­lanta Con­sti­tu­tion from 1945 un­til his death in 1969. Mcgill wasn’t a flam­ing lib­eral, but he was a voice of rea­son in the Deep South when seg­re­ga­tion, which he op­posed, was still seen by whites as “our way of life.” For hold­ing tem­per­ate views on civil rights for Black South­ern­ers, white peo­ple fre­quently threat­ened to, well, elim­i­nate this par­tic­u­lar scribe. They burned crosses on his front lawn, and fired shots into his home.

In 1958, when po­lit­i­cal rhetoric was at a fever pitch, Mcgill learned of a bomb­ing at At­lanta’s largest syn­a­gogue and went into his of­fice to write an ed­i­to­rial. The anti-semitic at­tack, he wrote, “is a har­vest. It is the crop of things sown. It is not pos­si­ble to preach law­less­ness and re­strict it ... ” Mcgill added, “let it be un­der­stood that when lead­er­ship in high places in any de­gree fails to sup­port con­sti­tuted author­ity, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law into their hands...’”

He won a Pulitzer Prize for that ed­i­to­rial, then later won the Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, and his mod­er­a­tion ar­guably played a role in help­ing At­lanta be­come the lead­ing me­trop­o­lis of the South — a place where reck­less, ig­no­rant in­grates like Kelly Lo­ef­fler could make their for­tune. As long as dem­a­gogues like her can con­tinue, if I may be al­lowed to bor­row Mcgill’s time­less words, to preach law­less­ness, to open the gates to all those who wish to take the law into their hands, the South — and Amer­ica — will re­main haunted by an­cient demons. In­stead of is­su­ing fat­was against “lib­eral scribes,” maybe Lo­ef­fler should stop and read the one who tried to save the soul of At­lanta.


Former state Sen. Vin­cent Fumo leaves the fed­eral court­house in Philadel­phia on July 14, 2009, af­ter be­ing sen­tenced to 55 months in prison for us­ing his public of­fice for po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal gain.

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