Plain venality in the Trump administration has been bad; the sleaze that weakens institutions has been worse
Promising to “drain the swamp” was a popular line in 2016. Four years on some Republicans still cheer, pointing out admiringly that President Donald Trump forgoes his $400,000 salary. Even critics concede that America continues to support sanctions on corrupt foreigners. And despite Mr Trump’s widely reported wish to scrap the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, his government still energetically applies the law against paying bribes overseas.
Yet concerns about what swamp-draining really meant surfaced early in Mr Trump’s presidency. Federal prosecutors looked into questionable spending around his inauguration. Among his first acts was to scrap a rule requiring oil and other firms to say what they paid foreigners. As for those swamp-dwelling lobbyists, he drained several directly into his cabinet.
Mr Trump’s reluctance to cut ties to his business interests, or to reveal what they were, was unlike anything seen for over a century. He concedes he owes hundreds of millions of dollars, but will not name his creditors. Deutsche Bank, a German bank, is said to have loaned him $2bn over the past two decades. He is due to refinance some of this, but nobody knows how. Unlike presidents since Gerald Ford, he has not released his personal tax returns.