American Kleptocracy: How to Categorize Trump and His Government

King's Law Journal, Vol. 28, No. 2, p. 201-238 (2017)

38 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2017

See all articles by Timothy K. Kuhner

Timothy K. Kuhner

University of Auckland, Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2017


Even after just one year’s worth of events, the Trump Presidency is proving extraordinarily difficult to pin down. Prominent concerns rightly center on racism, sexism, xenophobia, the rule of law, Russian election interference with collusion from within the Trump campaign itself, the obstruction of justice, the fracturing of both dominant political parties, nuclear war, and the global rise of authoritarian populism. Is there any defining element to this presidency, which so justly raises all of these concerns? President Trump’s election has proven similarly difficult to pin down, essentially for the same reason — the presence of a host of factors, all with a bearing on the result. Sorting through the evidence about Trump’s election and his presidency thus far, this article suggests, quite simply, that money and greed are at the heart of it all. Rather than a moral argument, however, this article elaborates a descriptive, legal argument from within the law of democracy that there is a corrupt system of government operating beneath all of the surface-level chaos. Trump’s personal expenditures on his election campaign, conflicts of interest, foreign emoluments, cabinet choices, and legislative proposals all suggest the emergence of a kleptocracy. This article develops kleptocracy as a legal category applicable to the United States today: a system of government that goes beyond interest-group plutocracy in order tailor law and policy to the economic interests of the political leadership itself, in this case President Trump, his family members, advisors, and cabinet members.

Keywords: Democracy, Law, Presidency, Trump, United States, Kleptocracy, Rule of Law, Politics

JEL Classification: K19, H11

Suggested Citation

Kuhner, Timothy K., American Kleptocracy: How to Categorize Trump and His Government (2017). King's Law Journal, Vol. 28, No. 2, p. 201-238 (2017), Available at SSRN:

Timothy K. Kuhner (Contact Author)

University of Auckland, Faculty of Law ( email )

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New Zealand

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