Andrea Bernstein is an investigative journalist covering corporate corruption and has followed Donald Trump’s path since the 1990s. Last year, he presented the Trump.Inc podcast and published the book American oligarchs: the Kushners, the Trumps and the marriage of power and money, on Trump’s family and business history and that of his son-in-law and former White House special adviser Jared Kushner.
In this interview, Bernstein warns that Trumpism will not end with Trump’s departure from the White House, and that the United States needs a process of national reconciliation for people to regain trust in institutions.RELATED
As someone who has covered Trump’s dealings for decades, were you surprised by his refusal to accept election defeat and the storming of the Capitol?
It shocked me, but it didn’t surprise me. What I mean is that you could predict what happened.
I recently wrote an article for the New York Review of Books It ends like this: “Everything is legal if you are the president.” Trump spent an unprecedented amount of money trying to prevent non-supporters from voting. And when voters expressed their will at the polls, he tried to alter the election results. All of this is fully consistent with the way he assumed the presidency and how he has always run his business for decades.
So none of this is surprising. However, it is quite shocking that this happens in a system where there is a basic belief in laws and democracy, even with all the problems it may have. We never had a leader who was willing to violate and destroy the things we believe in.
Do you see the end of Trumpism possible?
Seventy-four million people voted for Trump and really believe what he says. There are tens of millions of people who have filled their heads with Trump’s lies, and this is a very, very dangerous situation. Hannah Arendt, in her book The origins of totalitarianism, wrote about people who can no longer distinguish between truth and lies, and this creates fertile ground for an authoritarian or totalitarian government. I think it is terrifying that so many Americans believe Trump’s words.
When you look at the countries in the world that have had radical regimes, such as South Africa, you can see that they overthrew those governments and replaced them with others. And even in Nazi Germany, when it lost the war, there was a task of reconstruction and reconciliation. So I think something like this can happen. But it doesn’t happen if you ignore it and pretend nothing happened.
How to regain trust in institutions?
It is a problem similar to the one we face in journalism, right? Here in this country, journalists have never been dealt with before with so little respect. Trump called us “enemies of the people.” And many people now believe that it is so. So what is the answer? The answer is to keep doing good journalism and believe that if you keep doing it well, you can change things. I think it is necessary to rebuild all the institutions. The same is true in the judicial system. There is a lot of work to be done in the justice system to get people to believe again that the law is for everyone. I believe that everything can be done, but it has to be a long process and there must be a will.
Shortly after the invasion of the Capitol, some companies broke business relationships with Trump. It strikes me that Deutsche Bank was one of them, because, according to the research of its podcast Trump.IncDeutsche Bank was a fundamental piece in Trump’s business.
Deutsche Bank kept Trump alive. The last time Trump went bankrupt was in 1989-1990. He owed $ 800 million to various banks. He almost lost everything he had. And he could no longer borrow from any US bank – no major US bank would have financed Trump’s real estate companies thereafter. At that time he stopped being a real estate entrepreneur and began to sign agreements to license his brand.
He obtained a loan from Deutsche Bank for three major projects, a loan of more than $ 300 million. And, obviously, the bank knew of Trump’s history with the banks. But at the time, they wanted to break into the American market and were looking for famous clients like Donald Trump.
Now that Trump will no longer be in power, especially after the Capitol storming, Deutsche Bank is just one of Trump’s associates on the run. Trump has a big problem in commercial terms: how will he get financing and who will be his clients? Trump runs luxury resorts and hotels and luxury buildings, and the people who want these things don’t want the kind of public attention or be connected with something like the robbery on Capitol Hill. So Trump now faces a kind of fundamental disconnect with his customers, which will be a great challenge for his business.
Are there criminal cases about Trump’s business practices that could now have consequences for him?
The most serious case is that of the Manhattan district attorney. This began after Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen was convicted of paying money to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2018. After that, the Manhattan District Attorney began investigating not only to see if Trump had committed any crimes related to that payment. , but if there were other crimes committed by Trump, his companies or his partners. These crimes include bank fraud, misrepresentation before banks and the Treasury, and conspiracy to commit these serious crimes. The largest could mean 25 years in prison.
And as part of your research, the Manhattan district attorney tried to get Trump’s tax returns, who wants him to remain hidden and still in a legal battle.
Trump managed to delay the case because he argued that, as president, he cannot be the subject of a criminal investigation. But this investigation has been going on since 2018. And we know that the prosecutor is looking at specific crimes such as bank fraud, fraud against insurance companies and others.
The case is expected to advance in the coming months. This is very serious, because Trump had never been criminally denounced. He has already been investigated by prosecutors, but has never been prosecuted. He has been sued many times. He has been sanctioned with many fines, but has never had a criminal charge.
How is it possible that, in America, a billionaire repeatedly violates the law and is free?
It is due to different things. One is the entire financial structure that allowed Trump to build his business empire. Basically, it has been able to move mountains of money in secret, and this has even been encouraged by the banks. And that kind of secret flow of great fortunes is what allowed a phenomenon like Donald Trump to happen.
After the Trump era, there is an appetite for anti-corruption laws. Historically and in general, corruption occurs outside of the public eye and people do not know what happens. But Trump has made it so visible that we are in a situation where there may now be a real opportunity for change. I think a lot more people now understand the implications of corruption.
Besides, it all depends on what the Biden government is going to do. In other words, it was the tax cuts that allowed more money to flow into politics, and I think if the rich start paying more taxes, that could change. There were a few times in American history when this was like that, and I think we’re at a time when it could be that way again.
Are there plans for that in the new government?
Biden already said that wants to tax the rich more. After the success of the campaigns of Democrats Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, we saw that this option has social support.
Should we be optimistic about the future of America?
I want to be realistic about the future. But I think we are in one of those moments in American history where we can go through a positive transformation.
One of the things that led to Trumpism was the lack of sanctions for banks after the 2008 financial crisis. This created a feeling of hopelessness and skepticism among people, who simply felt cheated by the banks, and felt that the rules they did not apply to the very rich. I think now we have a chance to show that they do apply, and I hope we get it right this time. Because if we are wrong it will be a disaster.