In 2015 the city of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, was graced with a new public monument: a giant gold-plated sculpture portraying the country’s president on horseback. This may strike you as a bit excessive. But cults of personality are actually the norm in the “stans,” the Central Asian countries that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, all of which are ruled by strongmen who surround themselves with tiny cliques of wealthy crony capitalists.
Americans used to find the antics of these regimes, with their tinpot dictators, funny. But who’s laughing now?
We are, after all, about to hand over power to a man who has spent his whole adult life trying to build a cult of personality around himself; remember, his “charitable” foundation spent a lot of money buying a six-foot portrait of its founder. Meanwhile, one look at his Twitter account is enough to show that victory has done nothing to slake his thirst for ego gratification. So we can expect lots of self-aggrandizement once he’s in office. I don’t think it will go as far as gold-plated statues, but really, who knows?
Meanwhile, with only a couple of weeks until Inauguration Day, Donald Trump has done nothing substantive to reduce the unprecedented — or, as he famously wrote on Twitter, “unpresidented” — conflicts of interest created by his business empire. Pretty clearly, he never will — in fact, he’s already in effect using political office to enrich himself, with some of the most blatant examples involving foreign governments steering business to Trump hotels.
This means that Mr. Trump will be in violation of the spirit, and arguably the letter, of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars gifts or profits from foreign leaders, the instant he recites the oath of office. But who’s going to hold him accountable? Some prominent Republicans are already suggesting that, rather than enforcing the ethics laws, Congress should simply change them to accommodate the great man.
And the corruption won’t be limited to the very top: The new administration seems set to bring blatant self-dealing into the center of our political system. Abraham Lincoln may have led a team of rivals; Donald Trump seems to be assembling a team of cronies, choosing billionaires with obvious, deep conflicts of interest for many key positions in his administration.
Although many of the stans are now Turkic, the suffix "stan", meaning place, is Indo-European, and cognate to the English word "stand".