By Penny Smith
I’m on a David Cay Johnston kick at the moment, having read It’s Worse than You Think last week. I just finished The Making of Donald Trump this week.
The book is a campaign anti-Trump biography, hoping to take The Great Pretender (TGP) down a couple of notches and, simultaneously, to let a few of us in the boondocks know what this guy is really like. Written in the same journalistic fast-paced style as Worse Than, with fewer of the editorial errors that made me so uncomfortable, it is a roughly chronological glimpse into Trump’s business successes and failures. Johnston argues, convincingly, that the attributes, habits and values that led to ultimate Trump business success will likely follow him wherever he goes.
Among the items chronicled therein:
- Trump’s default position is the big lie, told repeatedly in a very loud and convincing voice and backed by threats of legal actions too expensive for you to survive;
- Rogue entrepreneurship goes back at least a couple of Trump generations, with The Great Pretender (TGP) learning inside the family the values of greed, self-promotion, and bullying;
- As a child The Donald apparently threw stones at small children in playpens (now that’s a metaphor for subsequent behaviors, isn’t it?);
- Fred Trump (TGP’s father) took part in a KKK rally in New York, marking the pubic visibility of his family’s racism. He and his son both redlined their rental units, effectively barring some minorities from some properties;
- Woody Guthrie included observations about Trump family redlining in a little-known song about “Old Man Trump;”
- The Donald skipped Vietnam with a bone spur;
- Trump never attended the Wharton School, although he has publicly hinted or flatly stated otherwise – he was an undergraduate economics major at the University of Pennsylvania, who learned very little basic economics while in college, at least if one believes his multiple sworn depositions that have been made public;
- The Trump net worth is a floating number that is almost certainly far lower than TGP tells us it is;
- The man is apparently unacquainted with the concept of empathy, has no patience for sympathy, and possesses the self-awareness of a rock, although my conclusion may be unfair to the rock;
- Trump has worked with members of various mobs, who helped him round up non-unionized, cheap, underpaid (sometimes unpaid) labor for his projects and kept some of his “enemies” in line;
- One reason Trump projects are so cheap is that he simply ignores safety regulations, imports workers and uses poor building materials (the buildings are also often “cheap” in another sense of the word — think “tacky” as a synonym);
- Trump probably cheats on his taxes and certainly pays as little as he can on both his income and his properties. He consistently inflates property values for “richest people” lists and deflates them for tax purposes;
- He is such a good businessman that the government of New Jersey once had to save him from personal bankruptcy or risk the collapse of the Atlantic City economy, which eventually collapsed anyway;
- Philanthropy looks good in magazines, so Trump has frequently cited his philanthropic contributions. Unfortunately, most of them make their way back to his pocketbook and not benevolent causes. He uses charities to get richer;
- Trump philanders, while a misogynist. Taxes are not the only thing he cheats on;
- He probably should never have been able to get a Casino license, because of both his court record and his alliances with known criminals;
- He knows very little empirically and very little in an absolute sense, is not at all curious about how the world works, does not read, is unscrupulous in almost all interactions, sometimes pretends to be someone else in calls to reporters, cheats sub-contractors on a regular basis, brags about relationships that don’t exist, is an insecure narcissist (he’s even faked awards he’s gotten and later boasted about), has a third grade vocabulary delivered in hyperbole, is a germophobe obsessed with sex, and does not have an even rudimentary grasp of basic science and mathematics; and
- Among his favorite sayings are: “I love losers, because they make me feel so good about myself;” “Get even: If somebody screws you, you screw ‘em back ten times over;” “I always get even;” and “No one reads the Bible more than I do.”
The degree of awfulness is awesome. Revenge is not the Lord’s; apparently, it is The Donald’s.
So, what does this mean to those of us who want a change at the top and at various rungs between there and the bottom of the elected political office ladder? Probably not much, since his voters appear not to care. Most of the information and anecdotes in the Johnston book I had already seen in print or heard on air prior to the 2016 election. He won in spite of them.
In a Brent Rinehart* 2015 summary of the Christian qualities of a Good Leader, one supposedly based on the lessons and word of the Bible Trump regularly reads, are the following: A good leader:
- Seeks God’s direction;
- Is modest, not arrogant;
- A peacemaker;
- Fair and just;
- Surrounds himself with honest and trustworthy counselors and listens to them;
- A good learner;
- Sensible and kind; and
- Slow to anger.
Do you see The Donald anywhere there? Yet folks who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible are perfectly happy staying with Stormy Daniels’ once-upon-a-time boyfriend.
His supporters are simply unconcerned about, indeed some even relish, his inadequacies, his bullying, his ignorance, and his foul mouth. Attacking Trump is not a route to electoral success, at least if that is all we are going to offer. Even though there is so very much material there to attack and it provides us with satisfaction to expose it, we need to hammer home a different narrative.
We must make elections about hope, not fear; about the future, not the past; about community, not individuals alone; about our grandchildren, not ourselves; about bridges, not walls. That means we need to drive home a positive message. Periodically, as the chaos in Washington DC becomes too loud to ignore, we can match that message with what they are and we hope we are not. That cannot, however, be the whole or even the core of our message.
So, it’s not so much that Trump is bad, as that he has changed a once noble political party, a party of Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, not to mention my parents (I refuse to cede them Abraham Lincoln), into a party of non-governing, selfish bullies. It is no longer a party of fairness, of conservation, of learning, of humility, of kindness, of peace, of justice. It is now a Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Koch Brothers and Donald Trump Party of political arrogance, sleaziness, and greed willing to cede our grandchildren’s future to a rapidly modernizing China in pursuit of a quick buck today. It is a party of artful con men behind green curtains telling you over and over again to pay no attention to those green curtains.
Joining the Wave is about joining a hopeful future, about programs that work for all of us, about policies that advance our country, not take it back to a con artist’s once-upon-a-time that never was. Our greatness is in process now and may flower in the future; that greatness exceeds what we were as a nation even in 1776, definitely in 1861, and obviously during such events as the Battle of Wounded Knee, the Wilmington Massacre, the Red Scare, the Japanese Internments, and the Greensboro Sit-ins. Joining the Wave means saying no to Trump and Company, to their vision of an arrogant, nativist, racist America.
Put your working boots on; we can win this thing.
* I make no claims about Brent Rinehart bono fides, other than he is an evangelical Christian with an Internet presence. However, his list was simply too good to ignore, when related to The Donald.