No American President has ever had such huge conflicts of interest as Donald Trump. Ever since his election, Democrats and the press have hammered him for it. Trump will use the Presidency to enrich himself, they’ve said, and foreign governments will curry favor by offering his companies handouts. They’ve pointed to the hundreds of millions that Trump owes to foreign banks and the ways in which his business interests could shape his regulatory decisions. Just last week, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sued Trump for violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars federal officials from receiving any “present” or “emolument” from a foreign state. Trump has shrugged it all off, refusing to divest himself of his businesses and handing them over to his sons instead. He evidently thinks that his supporters won’t care. If history is any indication, he’s almost certainly right. The phenomenon of politicians who maintain popularity despite being corrupt is more common than you’d imagine: think of Silvio Berlusconi, in Italy. In the U.S., the most interesting recent example was the Ohio congressman James Traficant, who served nine terms, from 1985 to 2002. The heart of Traficant’s district was Youngstown, once known as Steeltown, U.S.A. His supporters had a lot in common with the white working-class voters who helped elect Trump, and Traficant himself was in many ways a Trump precursor. He was a populist and a fierce opponent of free trade; he even used the slogan “America First.” He was a media hound, whose outlandish behavior and stream-of-consciousness rants made him a TV favorite. He was vulgar: he talked about kicking people in the crotch and called the I.R.S. “political prostitutes” (later apologizing to “hookers” for the insult). Traficant was also crooked. Before running for Congress, while working as a sheriff, he was indicted on racketeering charges for taking bribes from the Mob. Traficant mounted his own defense in court and beat the rap, despite a signed confession and tapes on which he talked openly about taking money. In 2002, while still in Congress, he was convicted of bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion. Nevertheless, he won reëlection term after term, by margins of as much as sixty per cent. (It took expulsion by Congress to end his career.) Voters understood that Traficant was not a saint, but they saw him as one of their own. They believed he was looking out for their interests, and they liked his refusal to conform to the standards of the Washington élite. All those things mattered far more than whether he was getting a little money on the side. As Sherry Lee Linkon and John Russo wrote in their history “Steeltown, U.S.A.,” these voters harbored a belief “that individuals and groups that challenged and even violated traditional rules were the community’s best hope.” Likewise, Trump’s base, as the pollster Stanley Greenberg has written, believes that “politics has been corrupted and government has failed.” It’s not that they approve of self-dealing per se-a poll during the campaign found that ninety-nine per cent of Trump supporters cited corruption as a key issue of concern. But they’re less bothered by individual instances than by the sense that the whole system is rigged to favor élites. Trump’s apparent willingness to blow up the system matters far more to them than the possibility that he might feather his nest along the way. When a focus group of Trump voters with whom CNN meets regularly was asked about his potential conflicts of interest, their response was “Who cares?” These voters may not understand the full extent of the issues. But the example of Traficant suggests that Trump’s conflicts of interest won’t much dent his popularity. In fact, seventy-three per cent of Republicans told a Politico/Morning Consult survey that Trump’s business interests would help him do a better job. Furthermore, though voters claim that they worry about corruption, a lot depends on context. Partisanship plays a big role: Republicans cared a lot about the Clinton Foundation but gave Trump a pass. Besides, issues that the press and government reformers take very seriously often matter less to ordinary voters. A recent study of Berlusconi supporters found that the constant barrage of scandals simply increased their tolerance for corruption. The political scientist Arnold Heidenheimer draws a distinction between “black corruption”-things that just about everyone thinks are unacceptable, like outright bribery-and “gray corruption,” which appalls élites but elicits only shrugs from ordinary voters. Absent a clear quid pro quo, conflict of interest seems like a classic example of gray corruption. That doesn’t mean that ethics watchdogs should stop going after Trump. But his opponents would be unwise to place too much hope in the process. Traficant remained popular because voters felt he represented their interests, and because he was able to get them their share of pork-barrel money. As one Youngstown native said in the recent documentary “Traficant,” “He was a crook. But he was our crook.” Likewise, with Trump, the real question is whether he’ll be able to deliver the goods that his supporters expect, so that they continue to believe he’s on their side. Voters sent Trump to Washington to shake things up. Saying that he isn’t playing by the rules only affirms their faith that he’s the right guy for the job.