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Trump Does Favors for His Rich Friends, Part Infinity

In which Mar-a-Lago connections pave the way for an ambassadorship

TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump arrives to speak during a "Make America Great Again" rally at Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City, Tennessee on October 1, 2018. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump during a "Make America Great Again" rally, 2018.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Though it’s unclear whether he considers it a “shithole,” President Trump seems to have taken something of an interest in South Africa. Last month, he trumpeted a white genocide conspiracy theory raised by Tucker Carlson. “I have asked Secretary of State @SecPomeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers,” he tweeted the morning after Carlson’s segment aired on Fox News. This is not actually happening though, and the nation’s government responded by making clear that it “totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.” Perhaps sensing discord, Trump is reportedly moving to solidify the bond between the two nations by appointing Lana Marks, a high-end handbag designer, to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to South Africa.

Marks, who is known for designing luxury handbags from exotic leathers like crocodile and ostrich, was born in South Africa but resides in Palm Beach, Florida. She has not lived in her home country in more than 40 years. Like Trump, Marks has both a taste for luxury and a tendency to exaggerate her accomplishments. As The Guardian points out, her biography notes that she played tennis in the French Open, though there is no record of her doing so. Her life, as she describes, it is almost cartoonishly gaudy. She explained to Business Day in 2006 that she was inspired to start designing handbags after, as the magazine put it, “she was unable to find a suitable alligator skin handbag to take on board the royal yacht Britannia, for a cruise to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s birthday.”

She has boasted about relationships with celebrities like Princess Diana, and scoffed at the idea that her company has to compete with brands like Louis Vuitton. “Mine is a much, much more upscale brand,” she said. “My customer isn’t carrying Louis Vuitton. They don’t own one.” It’s this high-end lifestyle that has kept her in Palm Beach since moving there from Bermuda in 1987. “It’s the most exclusive part of the US.,” she told Business Day. “It’s a small enclave, an island north of Miami. One-third of the world’s wealth passes through Palm Beach in season. The crème de la crème of the world lives there.”

As a staple of Palm Beach high society, it’s not surprising that Marks has ties to Mar-a-Lago, which explains the appointment.

Trump has given inappropriate preference to those who have passed through Mar-a-Lago since taking office. He’s been known to crash weddings taking place at the club, and his properties have in turn advertised the possibility of an appearance from the president. It’s one of several ways Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which stipulates that a president can not use the office for personal financial gain. In July, he came under fire for offering private tours of Air Force One to club members. Again, the fact that these club members are essentially paying Trump for the privilege of an Air Force One tour is legally dubious. A month later, ProPublica reported that Trump was allowing three Mar-a-Lago members — a doctor, an entertainment executive and a lawyer — to make key decisions for the Department of Veteran Affairs.

In other words, it’s far from shocking that Trump is naming a Palm Beach socialite with no relevant experience as an ambassador to a foreign nation. It’s also not the first time he’s handed over an ambassadorship to a crony, either. In 2017, Trump named New York Jets owner Woody Johnson ambassador to the United Kingdom. Though Johnson initially opposed Trump’s candidacy, he eventually came around and found his way into the president’s good graces.

Regardless of Johnson’s political affiliations, the Jets suffered mightily under his tenure at the helm. Though their prospects don’t look great this season either, the team’s fan base is swelling with optimism. In June, Johnson’s replacement — his brother, Christopher Wold Johnson — drafted USC quarterback Sam Darnold, who has impressed as a rookie and whom many believe to be the franchise signal caller that has eluded the team for most of its existence. No one said there couldn’t be a silver lining to Trump’s reckless appointments.

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