The Catch-22 of our time
A historian who predicted Donald Trump’s win has now suggested that he will be impeached – if the Democratic Party can regain control of Congress.
Niall Ferguson, senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, predicted in June Mr Trump had a better chance of winning the election than many observers suggested. He said that the President-elect’s business background – which won him much of the support he needed to get to the White House – will ultimately be his undoing.
Mr Trump ran a campaign as a political outsider and highlighted his business acumen to appeal to voters. As an “oligarch”, Mr Trump has already shown signs of conflating his business interests with his public duties, Mr Ferguson wrote in The Sunday Times, despite claiming his first priority was running the country and that he “didn’t care about his business”. Mr Ferguson compared the President-elect to fictional war profiteer Milo Minderbinder and said he was “a lover of conspicuous consumption, an alpha male intent on founding a dynasty.”
(Milo Minderbinder is a character in Joseph Heller's most successful novel, Catch-22. As the mess officer of Yossarian's squadron, Minderbinder is a war profiteer during World War II, "perhaps the best known of all fictional profiteers" in American literature. The Minderbinder character is a "bittersweet parody" of the American dream, both a "prophet of profit" and the "embodiment of evil" - Vestnik Kavkaza)
Mr Trump has numerous commercial ventures around the world in many countries of strategic interest to the US. He and his family – who are closely involved in both the transition team and running the Trump empire – met international business partners soon after the election.
Some aspects of the businesses have raised particular concern. Mr Trump has interests in Turkey – a country of huge regional significance – and he defended the brutal crackdown on dissent by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following the failed coup. After the President-elect’s defence of Mr Erdogan, political demands made against the brash branding of Trump Towers in Istanbul evaporated.
This has led to worries that a disregard for human rights in return for commercial favours could be a characteristic of Mr Trump’s presidency. Elsewhere, the government of the Philippines recently made Jose Antonio, a local business partner of Mr Trump, the country’s envoy to the US.
The Philippines was criticised by Barack Obama for its human rights record during a brutal drugs crackdown. The country is also in a pivotal moment in its relationship with the US and is weighing up a move to China.
Questions have been raised by observers as to what sort of foreign relations will be practised between a Trump administration and one of his active business associates from a sensitive region. Mr Ferguson claimed the President-elect was under no legal obligation to surrender control of his businesses and the case of calls for him to do so were “weak” -- even if the Mr Trump doesn’t fully cede control of his enterprise to his family, as vowed.
But Mr Ferguson continued to write that “businessmen are generally quite bad at politics”, particularly given how easy it is to collect taxes than make money through business. “The catch-22 of our time is that the oligarchs become so detached from the lives of ordinary people that, ultimately, they get ousted,” Mr Ferguson wrote. “In America that means impeachment. The Democrats have just under two years to figure out how to win back Congress.” If they were successful in this, the historian predicted, Mr Trump’s days as president “would be numbered”.