A look at three of the world’s prominent capitals reveals something disturbing. Although Russia, Turkey and the United States represent three very different cultures, Moscow, Ankara and Washington increasingly have come to share much in common.
Russia, primarily but hardly solely an Orthodox Christian nation, long has evidenced a strong penchant for autocracy. Its leadership’s ideology has covered many different ideological approaches—monarchy, communism and now kleptocracy. It’s the last trait on which I focus. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s post-communist foray into free markets has produced sparse capitalism aside from sales of oil and gas, and plentiful oligarchy. Putin’s friends and associates enjoy government contracts, cozy relationships with banks and permission to corner markets. Political and journalistic opponents face prison or death in startling numbers.
Turkey, a member of NATO, evolved from the Ottoman Empire that waned in the nineteenth century as “the sick man of Europe” then following World War One suffered its death blow. Under Kemal Ataturk, a secular government arose. Military rule slowly morphed into democracy producing a vital economy and a major geopolitical role in the Middle East. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has steadily guided the rise of Muslim influence in Turkish life accompanied by an erosion of Turkish democracy. Last July, he cracked down on a coup and imprisoned large numbers of politicians, military officers, academics, artists and journalists. This past Sunday, his constitutional referendum narrowly won. It will abandon Turkey’s parliamentary system and make Erdogan president with broad powers while negating the legislature and courts.
How does Washington fit here? How does it not? Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner maintain offices in the White House, represent the nation in meetings with foreign government officials yet still run their businesses. They represent a real threat of cronyism as witnessed by Ivanka’s company being granted three copyrights by China on the same day she had dinner with her father and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
Ivanka denied any violation of ethics. After all, she said, she didn’t apply for the patents. Her lawyers did. What could be more tone deaf? Of course, her lawyers filed the papers. Companies of almost any size hire in-house and/or outside legal counsel to perform both specialized and routine tasks. Now, Chinese businessmen—and government officials connected to them—will expect periodic favors from the White House in return for preferential treatment granted Ivanka. To deny that represents not naïveté but callous cynicism.
Can a true kleptocracy be far behind? Mr. Trump insists he will not release his tax returns since he’s being audited. Some time ago, however, the head of the IRS stated that release of his returns was fine. What then is the problem? Do Trump’s returns hide investments and/or loans from Russian companies and individuals close to the Kremlin? Would they reveal legal tax breaks Mr. Trump has taken and wishes to extend in tax-reform legislation? Does businessman Trump seek to use the presidency for financial gain? Is he okay with relatives and friends doing the same?
Three capitals. Three cultures. One dishearteningly similar approach to government of the leaders, by the leaders, for the leaders. Sadly, many of the Americans who will be hurt most are voters who giddily put Donald Trump in a position to screw them.
Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.
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