The number one political scandal in Washington, D.C., continues to be President Trump’s campaign and cabinet’s association with Russia. A steady trickle of salacious, but ultimately inconclusive, headlines has dominated the D.C. press ever since the election. Each new testimony and new detail, however minor, is treated like a bombshell. But even if the worst possible scenario between Trump and Russia is confirmed, it will still be among the least of his crimes.
Last week, while the nation fixated on the testimony of fired FBI Director James Comey, House Republicans voted to repeal key provisions of the post-financial crisis Dodd-Frank Act. The GOP’s changes would allow banks to resume risky trading, free brokers to direct their investment of workers’ retirement funds to maximize corporate profit, and do away with the government’s authority to liquidate too-big-to-fail banks on the verge of collapse. Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin wants Wall Street regulations loosened even further.
Trump’s current attitude toward Wall Street couldn’t be further removed from his campaign catchphrase of “drain the swamp.” But he has also completely reneged on his promise to “have insurance for everybody” that is “far less expensive and far better.” Instead, under the cloak of secrecy, Republicans are crafting a healthcare bill that will throw millions off their insurance and raise rates for sick people.
On domestic policy, Trump is doing everything he can to turn against the American working class. On foreign policy, he is just as bad, if not worse. During the campaign, Trump oscillated between condemning Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness and pledging to become a war criminal himself. To the surprise of few, it’s war criminal Trump who has assumed the Oval Office.
Trump has increased the use of drone strikes fourfold. His bombing campaigns to date have killed hundreds of civilians. He is continuing to arm, perhaps to the tune of $110 billion, Saudi Arabia, among the planet’s worst human rights violators and a leading exporter of the extremist Wahhabi version of Islam that motivates groups like ISIS. The Kingdom will use its weapons, in large part, to perpetuate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, perhaps the worst on the globe.
One upside of destabilization for Trump and his allies, including Secretary of State and former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, will be an increase in the price of oil. From his embrace of coal miners in Appalachia to his coziness with Vladimir Putin, the one consistent theme of Trump’s presidency is oil imperialism. He has been a vocal opponent of the scientific consensus on climate change and appears determined to set the US back decades in its energy infrastructure.
By pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, Trump sent a clear signal to the entire world that the US will not take the fight against climate change seriously. He has indicated a strong desire to gut the EPA and slash federal funding for climate science research. Trump’s refusal to address climate change could precipitate perhaps the biggest crime against humanity in the history of the species – what Naomi Klein refers to as “planetary arson.”
If all that wasn’t bad enough, there are also Trump’s myriad white-collar crimes. Recently Forbes reported that Trump and his son Eric funneled money from a kids cancer charity into revenue for the Trump Organization. Shortly after the election Trump paid out a $25 million settlement to Americans who were defrauded by Trump University. Now Trump is being sued over his multinational business ties as he uses the office of the presidency to promote his family’s brand and increase his personal wealth.
Any of these would be a far better cause to seize on than the Russia collusion narrative. Even if the most serious possible allegations about Russian collusion are confirmed, it’s not clear how the lives of any American citizens will be improved. At best the end result might be Trump’s impeachment, but a strong GOP majority would remain intact and continue to pursue the same militaristic, deregulatory, anti-environment policies.
We already know the Trump family has extensive business ties to Russian investors and oligarchs. We know that multiple members of Trump’s administration had undocumented meetings with Russian diplomats. We know Russia engaged in a campaign of misinformation, aimed at tilting the election in Trump’s favor, and now, thanks to NSA leaker Reality Winner, we know that Russia attempted to hack voting systems directly. Unseemly as it all is, none of it is sufficient evidence of a formal conspiracy, which may be all but impossible to prove.
Undoubtedly, if proven, it would be a major crime. Congress should protect the integrity of the investigation. But exhausting so much political energy and so much of the nation’s limited attention span on something that may turn out to be a non-issue could cost Democrats what little remains of their political clout. A better strategy is to hammer Trump on the areas where he’s harming ordinary people, and to offer productive alternatives. There is more than enough material to work with.