From Shining City to “Shithole?”

(The words of this post’s title comprise my cynical reference to a noteworthy quip from Donald Trump; they are not the words of Dr. Kendzior)

Over the past five years in three different blogs, I have been exploring and documenting my journey through life as a white, advantaged Boomer, using my non-scientific sample of one to try and understand—among other things—what the hell happened to the American Dream; or, how did we go from being on the verge of being the country that John Winthrop had prophesied (We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us) to being on the verge of becoming a fully fledged shithole?

A few days ago, I was handed a copy of Sarah Kendzior’s Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, and my exploration — insofar as the journey from shining city to shithole is concerned — is over. Had I read the book when it first came out, I would have been even more prepared than I thought I was for the Trump Insurrection. If even more Americans had read this book than the multitude that made it a huge bestseller, perhaps the Insurrection might have been less deadly, and it is this, perhaps, unlikely “perhaps” that has inspired this post.

I want to assert that this post is not a paid endorsement or advertisement for Kendzior’s book, which was published in April of 2020. I have never monetized this blog and never intend to do so; I am sharing my unsolicited endorsement of Hiding in Plain Sight because I believe its well-documented revelations and assertions comprise a work of true journalistic, anthropological, and political brilliance.

If you haven’t read the book, regardless of your personal political proclivities, you owe it to yourself to do so, especially if you are of my generation. And if you have read it — perhaps when Hiding in Plain Sight first came out — you might want to read it again in light of the Trump Insurrection, but this time with a highlighter in hand, which is what I intend to do during my second reading (I ordered a copy of my own, which arrives today!).

I’m going to offer two excerpts as literary appetizers; the first (pp 60-62) is particularly germane to every white, advantaged Boomer:

From 1946 until 1974 — the first twenty-eight years of Trump’s life — the US economy experienced a period of unparalleled stability and prosperity. This was the era in which “The American Dream” — once thought to be a permanent condition of American life, now increasingly recognized as a historical blip — seemed feasible. The American Dream included having a steady job and getting a raise, owning a home, not needing an advanced degree for a career, and if you did, being able to afford one without being saddled with decades of debt.

It was an era when President Harry Truman, then regarded as a moderate Democrat, could put forward an economic “Fair Deal” advocating a widened social safety net that resembles the platform of representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is today maligned as a dangerous radical. It was an era when President Dwight Eisenhower could rail against the military-industrial complex and say things like “This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children” and be thought of as a patriotic, sensible member of the Republican Party.

It was an era of morality in plans and in speeches, and immorality in laws and practice. The civil rights movement combated laws denying black Americans their basic rights as whites pursued their precious ambitions. The antiwar movement exposed the rapacious military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned. Journalistic exposés and hearings brought down corrupt actors like Richard Nixon, despite the efforts of future Trump lackeys like Stone to save him.

Economic stability helped make these social movements possible. It gave freedom and fluidity to everyday American life. You could tune in, drop out, and drop back in. You could work, uncredentialed, in a job, and cover the basic cost of living. You could move from place to place and reinvent yourself each time. Meanwhile, regulations curbed the rich from buying politicians and policies like they had in the Gilded Age. This is not to say that 1946 to 1974 was a paradise: especially in the 1960s, it was a time of trauma and hardship on both an individual and structural level, particularly for Americans of color. But it was a time of possibility. It was a time when progress seemed propelled forward — with sacrifice and loss, but onward nonetheless. The lessons of that era were that good ultimately won over evil, that the strength and persistence of the everyday American mattered.

By the mid-1970s, this mind-set had begun to change…

The second excerpt (pp 56-57), which follows, is from a speech that Robert Mueller, then the head of the FBI, gave to the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City in January of 2011. It addresses a major theme of Hiding in Plain Sight, which is a phenomenon about which each of us must become more aware because in the presence of our collective innocence, the collective avoidance of the media, and the relative disregard over the past ten years of federal law enforcement, this phenomenon has become the driving impetus of governance in our current world; these are Mueller’s words:

The playing field has changed. We have seen a shift from regional families with a clear structure, to flat, fluid networks with global reach. These international enterprises are more anonymous and more sophisticated. Rather than running discrete operations, on their own turf, they are running multi-national, multi-billion dollar schemes from start to finish.

We are investigating groups in Asia, Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East. And we are seeing cross-pollination between groups that historically have not worked together. Criminals who may never meet, but who share one thing in common: greed.

They may be former members of nation-state governments, security services, or the military. These individulas know who and what to target, and how best to do it. They are capitalists and entrepreneurs. But they are also master criminals who move easily between the licit and illicit worlds. And in some cases, these organizations are as forward-leaning as Fortune 500 companies.

This is not “The Sopranos,” with six guys sitting in a diner, shaking down a local business owner for 50 dollars a week. These criminal enterprises are making billions of dollars from human trafficking, health care fraud, computer intrusions, and copyright infringement. They are cornering the market on natural gas, oil, and precious metals, and selling to the highest bidder.

These crimes are not easily categorized. Nor can the damage, the dollar loss, or the ripple effects be easily calculated. It is much like a Venn diagram, where one crime intersects with another, in different jurisdictions, and with different groups.

How does this impact you? You may not recognize the source, but you will feel the effects. You might pay more for a gallon of gas. You might pay more for a luxury car from overseas. You will pay more for health care, mortgages, clothes, and food.

Yet we are concerned with more than just the financial impact. These groups may infiltrate our businesses. They may provide logistical support to hostile foreign powers. They may try to manipulate those at the highest levels of government. Indeed, these so-called “iron triangles” of organized criminals, corrupt government officials, and business leaders pose a significant national security threat …

Last year, we set up two units, called Threat Focus Cells, to target Eurasian organized crime. The first focuses on the Semion Mogilevich Organization; the second on the Brother’s Circle enterprise.

For those of you not familiar with either group, their memberships are large, their reach is global, and their scope of operations is broad, from weapons and drug trafficking to high-stakes fraud and global prostitution. If left unchecked, the resulting impact to our economy and our security will be significant.

In light of the content of Mueller’s speech, and coupled with the fact that in the 1980s, members of the Semion Mogilevich Organization had taken up residence in Trump Tower, as well as revelations about Mogilevich-Maxwell-Epstein-Trump links (and many, many more such links), an essential reason to read Hiding in Plain Sight is to formulate the answers to these questions: 1) Just how deeply entwined are the interests of Donald Trump with the interests of the worldwide organized crime operations Mueller described? and 2) Why the hell hasn’t our Federal Justice Department done anything significant about the matter in the past ten years, including the years during the Obama Administration that followed Mueller’s warnings?

As a Boomer, my days are numbered, but Boomers have children and grandchildren that they love, and the world we’re bequeathing them is nothing like the world in which we grew up, when many of us believed that our country was a shining beacon on a hill that the people of the world looked to for guidance. I tremble to think what it is that our descendants are inheriting.

Related posts from Growing Up Boomer:

The Rule of Law and Tinkerbell

You’re Poking the Wrong Guy

The Foundational Cause of Our American Discontent

Public Education and Eating the Rich

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(The featured images are from a photo of the hard copy cover of Hiding in Plain Sight; no copyright infringement is intended nor is there an intent on the part of the blogger to monetize the use of the images in this post.)