Protest in front of the Trump Hotel DC, a.k.a. the Old Post Office, August 22, 2020.

Trump Underground

Donald Trump is a criminal, just not in the spy-game fever dream you’ve imagined.

The real trick to making sense of Trump lies in understanding the black market. You know who gets this dual mentality? Vladimir “Panama Papers” Putin. The chaotic narrative of Trump’s actions gains some coherence when you frame his dealings as either legitimate or on the side. It’s a kind of double-speak Russians are familiar with.

Once known primarily for fraud, including allegations of money laundering and labor trafficking, Trump has leveled upwards in the gangster world. As president, his social set now includes mercenary billionairesbanking oligarchs and oil tycoons. Men who considered him small fry just months ago are knocking down Mar-a-Lago’s door.

Some have likened this presidency to “House of Cards,” but Trump can’t hold a candle to Frank Underwood’s brilliant maneuvering. As has been noted before, Trump is a Batman villain rampaging through a Gotham with no Batman. He’s the Queens construction boss with a short fuse, mob ties, a penchant for stiffing workers and a predatory appetite for women. Bankrupt morally and financially, he becomes a reality star and ultimately President. Next step, attempted global domination.

Is it any wonder that Americans jumped at the mention of Trump Escorts being trademarked in China? Never mind the Trump lawyer’s reasonable statement that it was done to circumvent notorious Chinese piracy. On some level, however, we were hoping for a new twist in the drama, for some kind of evidence that our president is a glorified pimp.

After all, human trafficking, defined by the use of force or coercion to extract labor, including sex work, is the second-most lucrative transnational crime after drugs. Trafficking often occurs when migrants are forced from their homes in search of opportunities elsewhere, whether due to poverty, violence or increasing geopolitical and environmental instability. Long before he was president, Trump had a track record of intimidating vulnerable immigrants, his wives included.

Trump has previously capitalized on women through beauty pageants and his modeling agency, which is alleged to have trafficked women into the country on incorrect visas, subsequently taking their passports and withholding wages. Boasting about spying on underage women doesn’t help his case. Meanwhile, whether the sensational Steele dossier is true or not, one thing it did reveal is how comfortably Putin and Trump laugh when characterizing Russian prostitutes as one of Russia’s great natural resources.

Trump stinks of corruption. Even if we don’t know what he is up to exactly, we do know something about his scene. The tourism industry has come under increased scrutiny over its unique position with regard to human trafficking. Hotels, not pizza parlors, are known hot spots for many forms of trafficking. Victims range from the construction workers who build them and the house keepers who clean them to the sex workers who service men in them.

To use the earlier example of China, the 2016 Global Study on Sexual Exploitation of Children in Travel and Tourism says that increased business travel in East Asia has increased the likelihood of children being sexually exploited. “Corporate culture in these [East Asian] countries often calls for after-hours “meetings” characterized by alcohol and sex to cement social and business relations.” The study further notes that some Chinese men value sex with children because virginity brings youthfulness and good fortune in business.

More generally, the 2016 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Reportnotes that like many countries, criminal syndicates and local gangs run trafficking networks in China. Meanwhile, the One Child Policy and cultural gender bias has created a lopsided number of male children. Women from poorer regions and neighboring countries have been trafficked in to make up the difference.

Some international hotel chains like Marriott International and Wyndham Hotels have taken note of the larger problem and partnered with anti-trafficking groups ECPAT-USA and Polaris to create the Code, a specific set of practices and guidelines for the tourism industry to combat the sexual exploitation of children. The new training guidelines were implemented by Marriott in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics and has gained traction since.

As for Trump, there has been no sign of his hotels’ participation in these tourism initiatives. Trump may have left Atlantic City for the White House, but he’ll never be better than Trump Taj Mahal.

Take for instance Vice’s report from Dubai about Trump paying migrant workers poorly, keeping them in squalor while they build his new golf course. The New Yorker’s investigation into Trump Tower Baku opens up the possibilities that Trump was in bed with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard through a partnership with the Mammadov family, paid for in cash and personally supervised by his daughter Ivanka.

As president, Trump continues to exploit workers while paying lip service to human trafficking and sexual assault. His current reign of terror against undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is reminiscent of the time Trump threatened to deport the undocumented Polish workers who cleared the land for Trump Tower. Mexican and Central American construction workers are still victims of trafficking here in America.

Trump has preyed on vulnerable communities his whole life, as the repeated labor violations and discriminatory practices show. As President, he’s vowed to fight the epidemic of human trafficking though he openly promotes policies which exacerbate its root causes. Banning refugees, closing our borders, and stirring up global and environmental chaos benefits the criminal underground, as Trump well knows.

Time to face it — we’ve put a thug in the Oval Office because we’re racist snobs about crime and who constitutes a “criminal.” When Trump strikes, his tailored suit doesn’t in any way mean that he hurts people less; it just helps conceal who he actually is. If you don’t believe me, ask the Russians.