Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Imagine you worked for a shady supposed billionaire who ran his family enterprises like a mob boss. Imagine that you did immoral and even illegal things for this self-styled Don as he as ran a sleazy campaign for public office. Then imagine that once the fuzz caught on and starting investigating you, your exposed tycoon of an employer left you high and dry and forced you to raid your kids’ college fund to cover your ongoing legal expenses. What would you do?

This is the choice facing many of those who have loyally served in Donald Trump’s orbit, including former campaign adviser Michael Caputo. Now, no one is shedding many tears for the likes of Mr. Caputo as they face the karma coming due to them. But it’s interesting to note the selfish and short-sighted choices being made by Capo Don Trump as he leaves his lieutenants hanging in the wind.

The first rule of running an effective criminal enterprise is to take care of your own. If you don’t, your henchmen will turn on you, either by supplanting you within the organization or by ratting you out to the cops. If your personality is such that you do not earn loyalty from your crew, you must at least buy that loyalty. If they come under legal scrutiny you cover their legal fees. If they go to jail or suffer worse, you take care of their families. That’s how keep your organization afloat, and yourself out of jail. This is all second nature to anyone who has ever casually studied organized crime or even just watched a mafia movie.

But Donald Trump does none of these things. Trump expects loyalty from his people, but he shows them none in return. Certainly, he has the power of presidential pardon and showed his willingness to use it in the case Joe Arpaio, but no president can use his pardon power in order to obstruct a justice investigation against himself. Moreover, most of Trump’s lieutenants will want a future in public service unblemished by a criminal conviction even if they ultimately do receive a tainted pardon.

Donald Trump does not cover the legal bills of his loyal staff. He does not retain them in the organization once he grows angry at or tired of them. He does not ensure their continued survival or their political destruction if he fires them.

All of this creates the perfect incentive for his lieutenants to flip on him and rat him out. And why not? There’s no advantage to be gained from continued loyalty, nor is there any reason to fear a boss who is politically and legally compromised.

Perhaps Trump believes that his hands are clean, and that neither he nor his family has anything to fear from an investigation into his campaign or his business practices. Perhaps he truly thinks he is above the law, prepared to slash and burn his way out of any trouble with firings and pardons. Perhaps he believes in his own personal magnetism and bully pulpit so strongly that he believes no one would ever betray him. Perhaps he’s simply so shortsightedly selfish that he can’t bring himself to part with a single dime on behalf of his people even if it’s to save his own skin.

Who knows? But one thing is for certain. It doesn’t pay to work for Don Trump.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.