It can be hard to remember here in the grasp of the coronavirus pandemic, and amid President Donald Trump’s persistent displays of arrogant incompetence, that this whole Trump Era is at heart one massive grift.
The most recent entry: a report that Trump financial backer and current ambassador to Great Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, made inquiries at Trump’s request into whether the British government could help grease the skids for Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland to host an upcoming British Open Championship — one of four so-called “majors” in professional golf.
Turnberry is a legit golf club. The British Open has been held there four times, the last in 2009 (won by American golfer Stewart Cink), just five years before Trump bought the place for $63 million and then sunk an additional $200 million into renovations, including adding a new course.
And it’s been struggling ever since, reporting a loss of $14 million in 2018, the last year for which it has filed a financial report.
So it’s entirely believable that Trump would poke around trying to get favors from the British government, never mind the staggering inappropriateness of it. A sitting president of the United States seeking help from a foreign government to serve his own personal interests — why, that ought to be cause for impeachment.
Trump has normalized presidential self-dealing to the point where people no longer bat an eye. On Sunday, he once again took the presidential motorcade to his Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, about 20 miles up the Potomac River from the White House. It was the 264th visit to a Trump golf course during his 1,279 days (and counting) in office, and the 127th time he has played golf.
Each visit involves a deployment of Secret Service agents and often involves aides and top government officials, so far costing taxpayers some $137 million by one estimate. And, of course, each visit is a taxpayer-funded bit of free publicity for Trump’s businesses, which include the Trump International hotel down the street from the White House, where a maskless Trump attended a fundraiser Monday.
As you may recall, Trump floated the idea of hosting a G-7 conference at the Trump National Doral golf course in Miami until public outrage — including even from some Republicans, wonder of wonders — led him to drop the idea (the coronavirus pandemic scuttled the conference anyway).
Golfing presidents are not new, of course. President Dwight Eisenhower was an avid player. In fact, Trump used to rail about President Barack Obama’s taking time out to play a few rounds and promised he wouldn’t play golf while president. The nation was shocked — shocked! — to discover that Trump didn’t fulfill that promise (still waiting on those tax returns, too).
Self-dealing has been part of Trump’s political rise from the get-go, beginning with his broken promise to self-finance his initial campaign, which was eventually replaced by him using campaign donations to pay for expenses incurred at his own properties. Then he moved on to spending tax dollars to benefit his holdings even as more political spending flows in.
So, is it so surprising that he’d be accused of using an ambassador as a personal salesman?
No, it’s not. But what’s depressing is how routine this has all become.
Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and author of six history books, is a member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board.