The Universal Notebook: The art of the self deal

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Donald Trump is running the United States of America as though it were his personal family corporation. The fact that he is allowed to get away with such flagrant self-dealing is a sign of how unprincipled this country has become.

And Maine Gov. Paul LePage is just as bad in his own way.

How Americans managed to elect Trump without requiring him to release his tax returns is beyond me. Unless and until he does so, there is no way to know what his true motivations are. Every foreign policy decision he makes is clouded by the suspicion that Russian oligarchs and investors own the U.S. president.

One of Trump’s many delusions is that Americans don’t care about his tax returns. The truth is, polls have consistently shown that close to 75 percent of Americans want Trump to release his tax returns and disclose his assets.

Trump also faces several lawsuits alleging that he is in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The emoluments clause forbids the president from receiving payments from foreign governments. The ethical and honorable thing for a businessman like Trump to have done upon assuming the presidency would have been to put his assets into a blind trust, but Trump is not an ethical and honorable man.

The most conspicuous monument to Trump’s self-dealing is the Trump International Hotel, just down the street from the White House. The terms under which the Trump Organization leases the Old Post Office from the General Services Administration state that no government official can be party to the lease, but, to no one’s surprise, with Trump as the agency’s boss, the GSA decided the obvious conflict was no problem.

On June 28, Trump used the Trump International Hotel to pull off a self-deal triple play. The Donald held a re-election fundraiser at his own hotel, thus promoting his brand, promoting his candidacy and making money all at the same time. And the fact that foreign officials book themselves into the president’s hotel every day apparently is no problem, either.

Here in Maine, it’s power, not profit, that seems to motive LePage. He came into office in 2011 promising “people before politics,” but what he failed to explain was the preamble to that bogus motto is “LePage before people.” He is the most self-aggrandizing man ever to reside in the Blaine House.

LePage’s “me first” mentality has him eager to shut down state government rather than do the will of the people. Maine people voted last November to impose a 3 percent surcharge tax on incomes in excess of $200,000 in order to raise $320 million for education and force the state to finally fund 55 percent of public education, as Mainers voted to do in 2003.

But LePage and his Republican underlings don’t care what Maine people want. They serve the rich and they’ll shut down state government, costing Maine people millions, rather than tax the wealthy.

LePage and Trump share that unbeatable combination of arrogance and ignorance. They don’t know much and you can’t tell them anything.

Take, for example, His Nib’s War on Nips. The Legislature had worked out a bipartisan approach to imposing a nickel deposit on the mini plastic liquor bottles that litter roadsides from Kittery to Fort Kent. Even the Lewiston distiller of the worst offender, Fireball cinnamon-flavored whiskey, had signed on.

But, oh no, LePage would have none of it. He vetoed the bipartisan bill. The Legislature promptly overrode his veto, as they are doing with increasing frequency. So now Boss Paul, in one of his all-too-frequent hissy fits, has ordered the state liquor agency to stop selling nips altogether. Too bad if it puts hundreds of Mainers out of work. With LePage, it’s my way or the nip-littered highway.

And we see this sort of personal power trip over and over again from LePage. After philanthropist Roxanne Quimby used her personal fortune to purchase forest land and gave it to the American people for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument along with a $20 million endowment, LePage went crying to Trump to beg him to undo the national monument designation that is now supported even by folks in northern Maine who once opposed it.

Trump sent Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Maine to scope out the Quimby land grant. Zinke took one look at the magnificent and magnanimous gift and announced that he would not scale back the monument.

These days, no one really cares what LePage thinks except LePage and a few of his flunkies. If we can just marginalize Trump in the same manner, we may be able to return to normal.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.