As former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s trial trundles on, increasingly amusing details are emerging. Yesterday, we learned that Manafort owned a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich. Today, it looks like it’s time to argue about the definition of the term “oligarch.”
According to reports, the judge on Manafort’s case, T.S. Ellis, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, ordered both sides to stop using the word today.
Ellis said the term is typically used to describe members of despotic regimes. But under the prosecution’s use of the term in court, Ellis said George Soros and Charles or David Koch would both be described as oligarchs – people who have a lot of money.
“We’re not going to have a case tried that he associated with despicable people and, therefore, he’s despicable,” the judge said regarding Manafort. “That’s not the American way.”
Ellis urged lawyers for both sides to avoid using the term and instead told them to say “he financed it.”
But prosecutor Greg Andres noted that the term “oligarch” is not used to describe American businessmen.
“Ukrainian businessmen are referred to as oligarchs,” he said. “Those are the facts.”
Ellis then asked prosecutors to submit a brief on why they believe they should be able to use the term.
But what does it really mean to be an oligarch? One widely publicized 2014 study concluded that the US was actually an oligarchy, run in the interests of the super-rich. Other economists later disputed those claims, but did admit that “the rich and middle are effective at blocking policies that the poor want.” No big deal.
In any case, when people wield as much power as the Kochs or George Soros, it’s hard to see a meaningful difference between them and a Russian oil magnate. And it’s pretty silly to debate that rich Eastern Europeans are often referred to as oligarchs. Ellis, we’re waiting on you—let us know when you figure out what we’re allowed to call the rich dudes who run the world.