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Thursday, September 22, 2016

TRUMP: the CON MAN (Part I)

“The only thing we have to fear is FEAR itself!” A classic phrase from our Depression-tested and World War-embattled President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who made it clear that fear is one of the strongest motivators of the human spirit, and if we give in to it, we then have much to fear.  Right now, in this somewhat tumultuous time, I fear that too many of our citizens are caving in to exaggerated fears, and unwilling or unable to realize that a modicum of fear may be reasonable in some circumstances, but it is all-consuming in far too many instances. 
Some of the more reasonable fears are quite obvious – fear of unemployment, fear of not having enough to live on, fear of a life more daunting than expected  But there are many exaggerated fears as well – that some virus will spread like wildfire across our nation; that Muslims will institute Sharia Law in this country, that ISIS will attack us ‘right here in River City’; that the Russians will decide to invade or that N. Korea will start shooting missiles at the United States; that  a lone wolf terrorist will attack my particular home or neighborhood, that non-white people get all the breaks; that foreigners are taking away all the jobs and that we are all being ripped off every day by government. 

Both reasonable and exaggerated fears are currently gripping the hearts and souls of many of our countrymen and women.  That grip is so forceful that, for all practical purposes, rationality and common sense, hopefulness and charitableness have been thrown to the winds.  Instead, we find many simply wanting to allay their fears by trusting their present and their future to a self-aggrandizing con man who is using them to further his own ambitions, his own fortune, his own status within the billionaire class.  I fear they are pawns in a grand scheme to win the Presidency for a bigot, a liar, a cheater, a presumed “strong man.”   

That strong man is nothing but an actor in a fictional world, a con man attracting followers who are angry at their circumstances and therefore easily beguiled and fascinated by a “bad boy,” often described as a narcissist who uses others to get his way and to promote himself.  It’s easy to do – all you need is to mix together the ingredients of public fears and frustration with the characteristics of supposed success, doses of unreality, bravado, some nastiness and bullying, some outrageous concepts/proposals, and the supposed” strength” to stand up to everybody who wants to bring America down or to destroy what we have.  The ingredients mixed together give Donald Trump the ability to convince certain voters that he is the one person who can “fix it all.” Just such a smokescreen gives him the bravado to state that he knows more about how to destroy ISIS than the current generals do.  His unreality show provides him the cover to declare that he is the great deal maker and that he will remake several of the treaties and agreements that are already in effect to the benefit of this country.  His followers have granted him the ability to say that HE will make America Great Again!  

This is called the “cult of the authoritarian leader.”  It is not new; it is ancient and it is modern.  The cult of a leader who mimics “der fuehrer” is not outmoded.  All of the ingredients are there; it’s just that people refuse, or are without the capacity to recognize, that the same tactics that brought other fabricated dictatorial ultra-right-wing leaders to power are very much in our midst, and are being perpetrated upon the voters to win them over and to inspire their backing for the rise of a strongman leader and the demise of many of the principles of democracy. 

All of which leads me to ask one question of Donald Trump fans:

Q #1:  Just what do you expect to get out of his presidency?  I believe that many of the following are close to the answer. 

They expect a President who will:

  • know what to do about the economy so that jobs are brought back to America, plus preventing jobs from being lost overseas
  • inspire creation of an ‘atmosphere’ in which jobs will be created so that everyone who wants can end up making a living wage and enjoy the American Dream of affording a decent standard of living
  • keep foreigners out of this country so they do not take jobs that should be available to American citizens
  • negotiate (and re-negotiate) trade agreements that lead to advantages for American workers
  • not involve the US in foreign wars that are “none of our business” but simultaneously
  • rid us of the threat of ISIS by bombing the hell out of them
  • promote the superiority of rich and successful Americans; especially of white Americans
  •  undo the wrong direction which this country has taken by getting government off our backs:
    • repeal Obamacare
    • lower taxes, including those on the rich and corporations that keep our economy sluggish
    • reduce regulations that are detrimental to a free economy and are unnecessary burdens for state and local governments
    • get rid of entitlements like food stamps, Medicaid -- abolish them or let states run their own programs
    • allow personal accounts for Social Security so we can invest our own money
  • put America first in all things
  • re-establish Law & Order especially in the inner cities; re-introduce “stop and frisk” as a strategy
  • strengthen our military beyond belief so that we can remind others that we have the strongest and most heavily-armed nation in all the world
  • make America Great again!
So, if these are followers’ expectations of Donald Trump as President, then the question becomes:

Q #2:    What will Donald Trump actually provide the average follower when it gets right down to the nitty-gritty of doing something as President that actually puts into practice what he claims he will do while a candidate?  Well, sorry to say, I believe he will do just enough to maintain the support of about half of those who support him now.  This would mean about a 25% approval rating by the end of his imagined first term.  Here’s why I can predict such an outcome. 

Donald Trump’s modus operandi is not anywhere close to the guiding principles of justice or equality or even just plain charity for all that inform the values of this nation.  His guiding principles consist of:
  • taking full advantage of the little guy or those who are powerless to hurt him
  • engaging in practices that put his name in front of everyone so they cannot ignore it
  • always playing the system to his advantage: if the system gives you a gift – take as much as you can and then some more; if the system doesn’t have a law against it, take it to the limit. Use other people’s money whenever possible
  • always pay less than the actual cost – get it reduced anyway you can, including through the courts
  • be aggressive and assertive with everyone who has power; fawn over those who can profit you; belittle and insult anyone who is perceived as an attacker or detractor
  • take advantage of everyone who is powerless or challenged in some way
  • It’s all about profit; status; superiority; self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.  Everything else is for losers.  Real estate development is not for the faint-hearted and neither is leading a government. 
By way of illustration, let’s take a look at an interesting record accumulated by Mr. Trump  – some of the court cases that have piled up in Mr. Trump’s wake.   USA TODAY Network has an ongoing review of his empire's litigation , both by and against Donald Trump and his businesses, and claims that there are over 4,000 cases that have been filed in the past three decades.  It “includes companies that he owns and other involvements that are arms-reach arrangements in which he licenses his name or brand to other companies’ building or products.”

Generally, Trump’s cases fall into these categories: branding, politics, casinos, contract disputes, employment, his golf courses, government and taxes, media and defamation, personal injury and real estate.  The main point to be made about them, I think, is that Trump uses the law and the courts as an essential negotiation strategy or tool.  USA Today says: “Trump uses the lawsuits to negotiate throughout his business relationships. He turns to litigation to distance himself from failing projects that relied on the Trump brand. And he uses the legal system to haggle over his property bills and contracts with vendors.   Others who have filed against him generally have been attempting to right a wrong done by the Trump organization or by Trump himself.  USA Today puts it quite simply and forthrightly (any EMPHASES are mine): 

“Just since he announced his candidacy, at least 70 new cases have been filed, about evenly divided between lawsuits filed by him and his companies and those filed against them. And the records review found at least 50 civil lawsuits remained open even as he moved toward claiming the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Court documents were released in one of the most dramatic current cases, filed in California by former students accusing Trump University of fraudulent and misleading behavior. 

“The legal actions provide clues to the leadership style the billionaire businessman would bring to bear as commander in chief. He sometimes responds to even small disputes with overwhelming legal force. He doesn’t hesitate to deploy his wealth and legal firepower against adversaries with limited resources, such as homeowners. He sometimes refuses to pay real estate brokers, lawyers and other vendors. 

“As he campaigns, Trump often touts his skills as a negotiator. The analysis shows that lawsuits are one of his primary negotiating tools. He turns to litigation to distance himself from failing projects that relied on the Trump brand to secure investments. As USA TODAY previously reported, he also uses the legal system to haggle over his property tax bills. His companies have been involved in more than 100 tax disputes, and the New York State Department of Finance has obtained liens on Trump properties for unpaid tax bills at least three dozen times. 

“And despite his boasts on the campaign trail that he “never” settles lawsuits, for fear of encouraging more, he and his businesses have settled with plaintiffs in at least 100 cases reviewed by USA TODAY. Most involve people who say they were physically injured at Trump properties, with settlements that range as high as hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

“Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said in an interview that the number and tenor of the court cases is the “cost of doing business” and on par with other companies of a similar size. "I think we have far less litigation of companies of our size," he said. 

‘However, even by those measures, the number of cases in which Trump is involved is extraordinary. For comparison, USA TODAY analyzed the legal involvement for five top real-estate business executives. The analysis found Trump has been involved in more legal skirmishes than all five of the others — combined.” Let’s gather a few more relevant facts (again using information from USA TODAY): 

“A handful of the ongoing cases involve local or state government entities, with the possibility of personal legal disputes between the president of the United States and other branches of government if Trump is elected.  For instance, the Trump team has filed a lawsuit seeking a state ethics investigation of the New York attorney general. The suit was filed in response to an ongoing fraud investigation into Trump University by the attorney general, an elected state official.” 

And at a campaign rally in San Diego, Trump railed against a federal judge overseeing an ongoing lawsuit against Trump University. Trump said Judge Gonzalo Curiel "happens to be, we believe Mexican," and called him a "hater of Donald Trump" who "railroaded" him.” 

USA TODAY comment: “Trump’s history of legal actions provides clues about his style as a leader and manager. While he is quick to take credit for anything associated with his name, he is just as quick to distance himself from failures and to place responsibility on others. In one lawsuit — filed against him by condo owners who wanted their money back for a Fort Lauderdale condo that was never built — he testified in a sworn deposition: “Well, the word ‘developing,’ it doesn't mean that we're the developers.”

Now just take a moment and think about this:  if Donald Trump uses the court system as a strategy for promoting himself, an excuse for fraudulent behavior and a means for using power to charge officials with whatever, and also a tool by which he can intimidate those who owe him or sue him; if he plans to use the federal court system to harass, intimidate and bully others, including elected officials, are we not in danger of a breakdown of our entire legal system?  Are we not on the threshold of the Executive controlling the Judicial branch and using it for his own ends?  Are we not in the precarious position as citizens of being at the mercy of the central government to an extent not seen in our lifetimes?  Please indulge me for just one more piece to this nefarious scheme (find it in Part II)