President Donald Trump entered the White House on a platform of populist rage. He channeled ire against the perceived perfidy and corruption of a shadowy world of cosmopolitan elites. He labeled his opponent Hillary Clinton a “globalist” — an establishment apparatchik supposedly motivated more by her ties to wealthy concerns elsewhere than by true patriotic sentiment.
“We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism,” Trump declared in a campaign speech in 2016, setting the stage for his “America First” agenda. The message was effective, winning over voters who felt they had lost out in an age defined by globalization, free trade and powerful multinational corporations.
Fast-forward a year, though, and it’s worth asking whether Trump — a scion of metropolitan privilege and a jet-setting tycoon who has long basked in his private world of gilded excess — ever seriously believed any of his own populist screeds. Little he has done since coming to power suggests a meaningful interest in uplifting the working class or addressing widening social inequities. Indeed, much of the legislation that he and his Republican allies are seeking to push through suggests the exact opposite.
Now there’s even more evidence underscoring his administration’s flimsy commitment to the rhetoric that brought it to power. This past week, we’ve been confronted by a steady drip of revelations contained in the leaked trove of documents known as the “Paradise Papers.” These are about 13.4 million files obtained in part from a Bermuda-based law firm that helped corporations and wealthy individuals set up offshore companies and accounts. In many cases, the moves allowed the firm’s clients to avoid paying taxes at home. A similarly mammoth leak last year, dubbed the “Panama Papers,” prompted, among other things, the resignations of leaders in Pakistan and Iceland.
Hundreds of journalists from 96 media organizations around the world are sifting through the documents and following up on what leads they provide. That’s because the list of prominent figures implicated in these dealings is vast, ranging from the queen of England to Irish pop-legend-turned-philanthropist Bono to a string of Russian oligarchs. They cast light on the offshore schemes of the chief financier behind the election campaign of Canada’s liberal prime minister, a big donor to Britain’s Conservatives and huge U.S. corporations such as Nike and Apple.
And, significantly, they include figures intimately connected to Trump. The most startling revelation involved Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who maintained his stake in a shipping firm called Navigator Holdings after assuming public office — and even as a Russian natural gas firm called Sibur increased its business dealings with Navigator. Sibur happens to be closely connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin: Both his son-in-law and favored judo partner are owners of the company.
“The latest document leaks raise more questions about business ties between Russia and some of the most prominent members of Trump’s Cabinet,” the Washington Post’s Carol Morello noted. “The New York Times reported that the documents include references to offshore holdings by Gary Cohn, the chief economic adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There is, however, no evidence that any of the holdings were illegal.”
“I’m not embarrassed at all,” Cohn told CNBC on Tuesday. Cohn was named in the papers as an officer of 22 business entities in Bermuda, dating back to when he was a senior Goldman Sachs executive. “This is the way that the world works.”