Donald Trump is an unapologetic, old-school robber baron. Who claims he wants to be president of the United States. WC has a hard time taking the Donald seriously. Even as a robber baron, he’s something of a belligerent, petulant clown. As a politician, he has a world-class case of foot-in-mouth disease with less knowledge of the substantive issues confronting a president than your average NASCAR fan.
But, in an unwitting commentary on the current crop of presidential wannabes, the Donald is reportedly leading in the polls. So WC will go along with the gag and examine Candidate Trump’s record. But first, let’s recall exactly what a robber baron is.
The term was typically applied to businessmen – and they were all men – who used what were considered to be exploitative practices to amass their wealth. The practices included exerting control over national resources, accruing high levels of government influence, paying extremely low wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors in order to create monopolies and eventually raise prices, and schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors in a manner which would eventually destroy the company for which the stock was issued and impoverish investors. The term combines the sense of criminal (“robber”) and illegitimate aristocracy (a baron is an illegitimate role in a republic).
Certainly by this definition, the Donald is a Twenty-first Century specimen of a robber baron. He has acquired competitors and even taken out racist advertisements to preserve his near-monopoly on Atlantic City gambling. He has bilked investors. He is a serial bankrupt. He has impoverished and bankrupted investors. So, yeah, a robber baron. He also possesses the opposite of charisma. Not the mere absence of charisma; the opposite is what the late Terry Pratchett called “charismain’t.”
And he would be the first president with a toupee, with all that implies about his self-image. A really bad toupee.
In February 2000, Trump was worried that American Indian-owned casinos in upstate New York proposed by the St. Mohawk Indian tribe would hurt his very profitable Atlantic City empire. In an effort to stop those new casinos, the Donald secretly created something called the New York Institute for Law and Society, an obscure special interest group that described itself as opposed to casino gambling. This “Institute” took out full page advertisements showing a grim photograph of hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia. The newspaper advertisement darkly warned that violent criminals were coming to town. “Are these the new neighbors we want?” the paid message asked. “The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented.” The Donald was billing to defame an entire American Indian tribe to protect his business interests, to engage in overt racism to protect his self-interest.
In 1989, in negotiations with the City of Palm Beach, he threatened to sell property he owned to the South Korea-based Unification Church, if the City didn’t give him what he wanted. The Donald wanted to subdivide the parcel; the City refused. The Unification Church, founded by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was viewed by many at the time as a scary cult. The Church flatly denied any interest in the property and accused Trump of using its church as a racial and religious cudgel against the City government. Once again, Trump showed he was perfectly willing to make bogus threats and malign anyone to achieve his ends. The Donald lost that one, by the way; the City refused to permit the subdivision.
Also in 1989, when a woman jogger was attacked and raped in Central Park, the Donald took out full page advertisements in the New York Times shouting, “Bring back the death penalty! Bring back our police.” Trump’s polemic contributed to the hysteria; five young Black men were wrongfully convicted. The real criminal later confessed. Trump helped create a lynch mob mentality. The wrongful conviction cost New York City $41 million in damages for the wrongful convictions, and five young men years of their lives. Remarkably, the Donald claimed he wasn’t racist, didn’t mean to be racist, and that it was all about bringing back the death penalty. Which would have killed, not just imprisoned, five innocent young men. And, let’s note, no one was killed and the death penalty wasn’t implicated.
One of the many “Trump Brand” projects that have failed was a condo project in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Those who has contracted to purchase one of Trump’s planned condos forfeited tens of thousands in deposits. A few sued. In a deposition, according to the New York Times, the Donald told one of them:
[T]he . . . home buyers who had forfeited their down payments in a building bearing his name were “very lucky” that the project failed because, he asserted, they would have lost more had the project proceeded after the financial crisis of 2008.
The deposition shows a very ugly side of the Donald: a boorish, overbearing liar and scoundrel. Willing to steal other people’s monies to protect himself.
And this piece of work, this completely unscrupulous, self-serving cad, is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination? Kind of says it all, really.