George Pyle: Why ‘our Mussolini’ can’t afford to lose

(Carolyn Kaster | AP) President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Washington.

“The peaceful transfer of power is a thing of beauty. One moment Barack Obama is leader of the Free World. A moment later it’s Angela Merkel.”

— George Takei, on Twitter, 12:15 p.m., Jan 20, 2017

It was, maybe, 30 years ago that a friend of mine ran for a seat in the Missouri Legislature on a platform that nearly made up in honesty what it lacked in almost everything else.

“I need the job.”

He lost. But nobody ever asked to see his tax returns.

Americans now have confirmation of a widely held theory as to why the president of the United States not only wanted that gig in the first place, but also why he may be willing to lie, cheat, abuse his power and basically become just what Utah’s Rep. Chris Stewart called him four years ago — “our Mussolini” — in order to hang on to it.

Because he needs the job. And the immunity from prosecution that comes with it.

Throughout this administration, there has been no secret that the president’s personal business dealings and his official position were intermingled in a way that, if it isn’t flat unconstitutional, ought to be illegal. The most obvious examples were the millions spent by the federal government to put up at his resorts platoons of Secret Service agents and other hangers-on, profiting business ventures that, The New York Times has now established, were sinkholes of cash.

Thanks to The Times finally uncovering the income tax returns that the president, alone among officeholders and candidates at that level, has steadfastly refused to make public, we now know that he is not only a giant failure as a businessman, but he also is up to his comb-over in debt. Which may well be more important than the fact he has paid little or no federal income taxes over the past dozen years.

There is a reason why professional sports leagues have been so worried about players, coaches and referees gambling — even if they never bet against their own team. If an athlete or manager gets as deeply in hock to the bookmakers as our president is to various banks and financiers, he will then be pressured to throw games, shave point spreads, or turn over inside information as a way of getting them off his back.

What we are looking at now, even more than before, is a White House where decisions on trade, contracting, environmental regulations, health care policy, even matters of war and peace, are based not on national interests or party platforms, or even on who has made public record campaign contributions, but on the interests of those individuals, institutions, even nations, to which the debtor in chief owes money.

The president is dropping broad hints that he might not accept the verdict of the electorate if he is voted out of office in a little more than a month. He is ramping up to challenge returns, void mail-in ballots and hijack the process of choosing presidential electors in some states. He is literally disassembling the machinery of the U.S. Postal Service. He is supported by gangs of armed yahoos (don’t honor them by calling them “militias”) to intimidate voters and local officials, which is right out of the fascist playbook.

He is about as forthright as he ever gets in saying that the reason he cannot possibly wait until after the election to name a new justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is that the final call in the election may be, as it was in 2000, up to that tribunal.

Right now the only way to salvage our democracy is with a whole lot of democracy. Voting, in numbers never before seen, as soon as people have their ballots in hand, painstakingly filled out and signed and returned well before Election Day.

And a few million people prepared to march in the streets wouldn’t hurt.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle is the editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.