If you’ve spent time this summer on Lake Tenkiller in Cherokee County, you may have noticed a “Trumptilla” of Trump-o-bilia on a boat. I’m not talking about flying one flag, be it pirate, Jimmy Buffet, or president. This is a boat bedecked with several Trump flags, signs, MAGA hats, etc.
So, apparently that’s a thing. The Trump flotilla. Trumptilla. I have a boat. My sailboat’s Cherokee name is Kamama – meaning "butterfly" or "elephant (especially the ears)." Kamama is a good name for her because sailboats on windless lakes can but amble about. She wouldn’t be up to deliberately marching around from cove to cove with “I’m proud to be an American” playing through loudspeakers.
This week, Steve Bannon was arrested offshore for misrepresenting fundraising efforts to donors of a GoFundMe page, stealing $1 million along with two others who shared the money. One of the men bought a big fancy yacht. Huffpost found boats like that can sell for $815,000. Bannon was also arrested. He was boarding a $28 million mega-yacht named “Lady May.”
I can’t look away from the spectacle. Bannon’s arrest reminds me of childhood when there would be a cluster of boys who always got in trouble for outlandish behavior, getting away with doing crazy things. Case in point: Depending on the timing of his fraud conviction, Bannon may go free because he will be pardoned by President Donald Trump. We’re so numb to the president using his office for personal benefit that we anticipate a pardon. Roger Stone was pardoned on seven felonies.
To be fair, let’s also think about whether we’ve been seeing selective prosecution from the state of New York. We have. And there’s a reason for that. Founders of this nation were concerned that this radical new kind of governance would lapse back into the monarchies like in Europe since the Dark Ages. They wanted citizen lawmakers to gather, bringing the sense of their own land, people, geography and soil to Congress. Congress would be a middle ground between the consensus form of governments found in small groups, and the iron-fisted reign of a monarch whose life himself symbolized the embodiment of the domain: Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon.
Founding Fathers designed the presidency to execute the laws as designed by Congress. But they underestimated how political parties can interject a layer of protocol and get binary fealty from beholden lawmakers, to morph Congress into a creaky, near-broken checkmate of ideologically-charged symbolisms. The natural tendency of governments is to become more complex, whether or not laws keep up with changes.
So, for romantics believing voters are smart enough to guide America into the future, it is troubling to see the lines blurred between “What is government?” and “What is Trump?” If private donors give $25 million to build the wall, even that’s not ideal. Concerns are how to earmark a government donation, or else have a privately funded wall, on public land.
We enforce against theft of donations by prosecuting personal enrichment schemes alleged against Bannon, Kolfage, Badolato, and Shea. All donors were promised they’d be refunded if the goal couldn’t be accomplished. It remains to be seen whether Trump can pardon restitution payments to the donors. Trump waived Roger Stone’s costs. If he pardons restitution, returning the money to donors wouldn’t be necessary. The alleged fraudsters would keep a "thank you" gift of $24 million more of other people's money. We live in clever times.
Does it seem like naughty boys get by with things that you or I have too earnest a respect to ever even try?
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney, and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.