By Matthew E. Milliken
March 4, 2016
I grew up in a bedroom community of New York City, so Donald Trump has been present in my life to one degree or another for almost as long as I can remember. (His name seems to have first appeared in The New York Times in January 1973.) After the businessman and reality-television star won seven of the 11 Republican Party primary contests on Tuesday, Trump is now in prime position to become the GOP nominee for president. I for one am terrified of what that means for the United States of America, and for the world.
That’s not just because Trump, like many of his rivals for the Republican nomination, wants to enact tax reforms that would likely either result in massive federal deficits or unprecedented government budget cuts — although that’s certainly a major part of it. (I wrote a number of posts about the GOP candidates’ tax policies back in November: see here, here, here and here.)
It’s also because Trump has been engaging in a very thinly disguised form of race-baiting. The real estate mogul, who faces the unappetizing prospect of defending against a fraud lawsuit during his general election campaign, has a habit of denigrating women, foreigners, Muslims, blacks, the Hawaiian-born president and rival Republican nomination seekers in vulgar terms, but he can barely bring himself to distance himself from white supremacists in complete, clearly delineated sentences.
It’s also because Trump is a habitual braggart. He has boasted about his intelligence quotient (“one of the highest”), his memory (“the world’s greatest”), his appendages (“My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body”), his frequent but allegedly disease-free sexual encounters (“It is a dangerous world out there. It’s scary, like Vietnam … It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider”), his ability to seduce the girlfriends and wives of other men, his stock-picking prowess, his net worth (“in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS” — capital letters those of his campaign’s press statement), his business prowess (“I did a lot of great deals, and I did them early and young. And now I’m building all over the world”), his daughter’s beauty (“If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her”), his golf courses (“I have some of the great golf courses in the world”), and his… well, pretty much his anything and everything.
About the only thing Trump avoids bragging about is his casinos having declared bankruptcy, not once, not twice, but three times. Trump Plaza Hotel also filed for bankruptcy in 1992, four years after being acquired by the man whose name it bore, by which point the venture had accumulated $550 million in debt. In the reorganization, Trump surrendered 49 percent of his stake in the Plaza Hotel and had his CEO position eliminated in all but title.
Trump is even willing to boast about a business that used to be called Trump University, which New York State forced to be renamed Trump Entrepreneur Initiative because it wasn’t licensed to award degrees. (The venture folded in 2010, despite having allegedly collected some $40 million in student fees.) During Thursday night’s Republican debate, Trump claimed that his former school had “a 98 percent approval rating, we have an A from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and people like it.” In fact, the initiative no longer has a rating, because it is no longer active; when it was, its grade ranged as high as A+ and as low as D-. (The most recent rating appears to have been the latter — the second-lowest level that the bureau awards.)
The way in which Trump defended the entrepreneur initiative seems quite telling. On Thursday night, he implied that one of the class-action plaintiffs in a California suit against the educational venture was trying to exit the case because she might lose. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reports, Tarla Makaeff wishes to attend to health problems, family issues and financial troubles — not to mention has a great aversion to being hounded by Trump and his associates:
“Subjecting herself to the intense media attention and likely barbs from Trump and his agents and followers simply would not be healthy for her,” the motion argues.
Makaeff’s lawyer said that even after Trump’s defamation suit was dismissed, her client has lived in fear of financial ruin, and that “she still has great trepidation about retaliation.”
Trump’s defamation claim, widely described as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, was resoundingly rejected; as a result, a court ordered Trump and his entrepreneur initiative to pay nearly $798,000 in legal fees. (Trump appealed the decision.) Perhaps Trump had this in mind on Feb. 26 when he said, in reference to news organizations, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
One wonders if Trump has considered the effect that loosening defamation laws might have on individuals such as, oh — to pick an example not quite at random — Donald Trump, a man who routinely bends, if not outright mutilates, the truth. Trump regularly misrepresents America’s tax rate, its unemployment rate and many other facts. PolitiFact has evaluated 105 of Trump’s claims, finding one to be true, 22 to be mostly true or half true, and 18 to be mostly false. It rates 43 of his statements, or 41 percent, as false; 21 of them, or 20 percent, are labeled pants on fire, meaning egregiously false.
I’ve assembled a long list of reasons why I dislike Trump without even digging into his weak grasp of policy issues (remember when Trump seemed completely clueless about the nuclear triad?) or his frighteningly ham-handed approach to foreign policy (which nearly 100 veteran Republican foreign policy advisors strongly rebuked this week in an open letter arguing that Trump’s policies would “make America less safe, and … would diminish our standing in the world”).
So the question is, Why exactly do Americans — or, more to the point, Republicans — embracing Trump in such large numbers? I have a theory about that, which I’ll share in an upcoming post.