From Russia with scorn

7. He is being outmaneuvered by America’s number-one adversary

Some people make the mistake of underestimating the man currently occupying the White House. His obvious ignorance of complex issues, combined with the striking tone-deafness caused by his narcissism and inability to feel empathy, sometimes make him seem less intelligent than he is. He’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier by a long shot, but he’s shrewd and crafty and has been very good at getting what he wants. One of the ways he has done this is by cultivating relationships with people he has thought would be useful. As a two-bit developer and petty con-man, he did that a lot, and he generally came out ahead. Or at least bankruptcy never led to his complete insolvency. As president, he has utilized the same tactics with foreign countries but with less impressive results. They have a tendency to outmaneuver him.

Russia is America’s greatest adversary. Along with its immediate predecessor, the USSR, Russia has been at odds with the U.S. for the better part of the last century. As the two largest, most powerful countries in the world, both have a strong interest in holding the top position. For all the decades of the Cold War, the two nations employed rhetoric and espionage to undercut each other while building up military arsenals, including nuclear weapons, on a scale that vastly outstripped that of all other nations. When the USSR collapsed, a brief interval of relative amity occurred. Then Vladimir Putin became dictator, Russia started flexing its muscles again, and another Cold War began.

It was in that context that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. The full extent of their interference is unknown, but interfere they did, and they did so with one aim: to get DT elected. Why? The full answer to that is unknown as well, but it unquestionably has something to do with Russia’s not wanting the U.S. to have savvy, effective leadership. They know DT is willfully ignorant on matters of history and diplomacy, they know he is susceptible to friendly overtures from authoritarian leaders such as Putin, and it is to their advantage to have someone like him in the White House. Indeed, DT has been a pushover, openly rejecting the consensus of his own intelligence experts while deciding to trust Putin.

It can hard to overstate how pathetic that is. For almost 100 years, through several wars and innumerable foreign and domestic crises, presidents from both parties have taken a strong stand in favor of American sovereignty and predominance on the global stage. They stared down Soviet dictators, one by one, never giving an inch. Republican presidents tended to be ostensibly tougher in that respect, and their rank-and-file voters approved, dismissing Democratic presidents’ diplomacy efforts as futile and dangerous. One wonders what those Republicans, many of whom are presumably still alive and well, think of a president who talks trash about NATO but places his trust in the former head of the KGB.

The sorry truth is that DT is in way over his head. Whatever skills he brought to the negotiating table as a third-rate businessman have utterly failed to prepare him for negotiations with foreign statesmen who do not have America’s best interest at heart. He is naïve to the point of cluelessness, and he is gullible, susceptible to flattery, and so enamored with his own image of himself that he can’t accept that they’re laughing at him behind his back. The American people deserve better. In fact, our national security may depend on it.

Dark secrets?

We don’t know whether DT’s connections with Russia go deeper than his bromance with Putin. We know he was in negotiations with the mayor of Moscow to develop properties there, and he may have other financial connections in Russia of which we remain in the dark. It is far from impossible that he owes a considerable amount of money to Russian interests, and that may be one of the reasons behind his refusal to make public his tax returns. If that’s true, then Russia has the sort of hold over him that would be unhealthy and unsafe for any American politician. For a U.S. president, it is unthinkable. Since there is no valid reason for him not to release his tax returns, it is reasonable to assume the worst.

Deadbeat

14. He doesn’t pay his bills

During all those years when he oversaw the building of casinos and hotels, DT used an unusual method to rake in as much money as possible: he refused to pay the people who did the actual building. This was widely covered in 2016 but quickly moved off the radar screen, displaced by scandals more recent and more lurid. Now it is getting some press once again, as his second campaign holds rallies in city after city without paying the costs associated with hosting them.

Back in the day, the pattern went something like this: DT arranged for contractors to build or renovate his properties. Although his sense of style leans heavily toward the tacky, he insisted on premium materials and high-quality craftsmanship, especially when it came to features that were readily observed. In other words, the overall effect may be tasteless, but it’s an expensive tastelessness. So, on his orders, the contractors dutifully hired the best woodworkers and metalworkers and painters, sought out the finest carpets and most luxurious appointments, and the properties were built and completed and opened for business. The contractors billed DT but he didn’t pay them, in full or in part. They sued DT. He still didn’t pay them, and he hired lawyers to get him off the hook. The lawyers billed DT but he didn’t pay them. They sued DT. He still didn’t pay them, and he hired new lawyers to get him off the hook with the old lawyers. In the meantime, bank loans came due but he didn’t pay them. He took out new loans to pay off the old loans. The new loans came due but he didn’t pay them. On on and on and on it went, mostly with him staying a step ahead of his creditors.

Of course, he wasn’t able to outrun his creditors indefinitely; six times he was forced to file for bankruptcy. Nevertheless, he emerged from each of these bankruptcies, having found new suckers willing to finance still more unprofitable schemes. Meanwhile, a whole lot of people who try to make an honest living were left in the lurch. Some were obliged to declare bankruptcy themselves. Others lost their livelihoods, settled into downward spirals of debt and despair. Careers, families, lives were destroyed, and it can be said with high confidence that DT never gave them a second thought. To sociopaths like him, people are there to be used. One wonders how many of the blue-collar workers who voted for him realize that he screwed over a whole bunch of people just like themselves. (Psst! He’s doing it again.)

There were other failed ventures over the years, including a pyramid scheme involving nutritional supplements, a made-in-China clothing line, and the infamous Tr-mp University, which defrauded thousands of would-be students who wanted to learn how to succeed in real estate and had imbibed the fiction that DT knows how to do that. They paid thousands of dollars to watch infomercials and hotel-room seminars, then were refused their diplomas until they gave a favorable rating to the company that had just ripped them off. This led to numerous lawsuits. Some students got their money back (it was paid out by a business associate, not DT himself), others were out of luck. DT paid off at least one state attorney general, who promptly dropped her suit. In another suit, DT complained about the ethnic background of the judge.

Predictably, he didn’t start paying his bills after he was elected. As of six months ago, his campaign owed almost $2 million to municipalities for security reimbursement costs for MAGA rallies dating back to 2016. The chances of any of that being recouped are not good. Perhaps the president should start charging admission to those rallies, with a small cut going to the local government. Anyone willing play Russian roulette with Covid-19 at a super spreader event would probably be willing to pay for the experience.

All creditors, foreign and domestic

Since he continues to refuse to release his tax returns, we really don’t know who all DT is in debt to. Has he been repaying some of his business debts by causing the government to do favors for certain individuals? That’s unknown at this time, but if so, it certainly would constitute corruption of a kind not commonly practiced by U.S. presidents. We know he owes a lot to Deutsche Bank, but there may well be other foreign actors as well. That is a national security concern.

Whoever all his creditors are, if history repeats itself, they probably will get stiffed. In any case, routinely and deliberately stiffing people is the sort of unethical activity that presidents shouldn’t engage in. That’s one more reason to return him to civilian life, where at least he can be deposed, sued, and prosecuted, just like anyone else. In another four years, it may be too late.

One percenter wannabe

35. He thinks only “little people” should pay taxes

DT has made a profession of posing as one of the financial elite. Why that should endear him to so many unwealthy Americans is debatable, but it probably has something to do with people’s unhealthy obsession with money. Sadly, to many Americans, wealth is synonymous with success, and DT has always worn his wealth on his sleeve. Another tax cheat and con artist, Leona Helmsley, infamously proclaimed that “only little people pay taxes.” She and the 45th president clearly were cut from the same cloth.

This week’s revelations about DT’s tax liability confirm beyond any reasonable doubt what many have suspected all along: the legend is a fraud. What legend? Why, the legend about his being a fabulously wealthy, immensely successful businessman, of course. It’s a legend he has cultivated over decades. Considering the number of creditors he’s stiffed, it’s a wonder he wasn’t publicly exposed as a confidence trickster long ago. It would appear that the natural reticence of bankers combined with the shame and fear of those he swindled to create a wall of silence that shielded him. The wall wasn’t absolute, but it certainly kept the most damaging information from filtering down to most of the gullible masses who voted for him. The million dollar question now—or perhaps it would be better to call it the $750 question—is whether it will matter to more than a few of them.

It is not entirely clear why DT has gone to the trouble of faking his credentials as a member of the ultra-wealthy. Some clues can probably be found in his upbringing: the Tr-mp family was all about new money, not old, and their primary business—owning and managing apartment buildings in the outer boroughs—didn’t exactly give them entrée into the ranks of the social elite. No matter how much money DT’s father made, the New York aristocracy never considered him one of their own. As DT took on an increasingly prominent role in the family business, he engineered a number of audacious deals that put him, and by extension his family, into the limelight.

The fact that those deals weren’t entirely lucrative for the family seems to have been lost amid the glitter of his newfound celebrity. He hung out with famous models and A-list celebrities and brought them to his ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and this soon made him a celebrity in his own right. Who cared that he was playing with daddy’s money—and frequently squandering it? Evidently not daddy, who mistook celebrity for respectability and basked in the reflected glow of his son’s fame. Certainly not the New York press, who were more concerned about getting a juicy quote and a striking picture than interviewing the players behind the scenes and learning what was really going down. Some of those players, especially the bankers, realized the truth all too soon, but if they started balking, they had colleagues who were only too happy to take over the role of enabler. Remember, this was the 1980s, a time when glitzy deals were de riguere and it was bad form to ask inconvenient questions. The savings and loan crisis hadn’t happened yet. The Great Recession was decades away.

Okay, but why is DT still maintaining the pretense? Wouldn’t it have been better at some point to divest himself of his money-pit properties and turn over the running of the business to people who actually know how to turn a profit? He could have still been a celebrity, he’d have gotten to keep more money than most of us can even dream of, and those pesky Internal Revenue agents wouldn’t have kept dogging his every step. He even could have avoided entangling himself with the Russians, who after all are a bit scary. Hell, he could even have been out there on the golf cart every day.

There is no easy answer to this. My guess is that he’s been behaving this way for so long that he doesn’t know how to stop. As long as he can afford more cards, he’ll keep building his precarious house higher and higher. Trouble is, the dealer is longer just some schmuck on Wall Street. He’s got dealers in all the red states and on Capitol Hill and the federal courts.

Buy time or cut losses?

We can see now with blinding clarity that DT’s increasingly desperate efforts at reelection aren’t merely about massaging his ego (although that’s surely a part of it). He faces personal financial ruin and severe legal trouble when his presidency comes to an end, and with it his (alleged) legal immunity. So he’s buying time. Especially with the Supreme Court in his corner, another four years might afford him the opportunity to make certain changes to tax laws that would save him from the IRS and various prosecutors who’d otherwise want a piece of him. Without both houses of Congress backing him, it would be a tall order, but he could always issue executive orders and go on a firing spree at the IRS, cross his fingers and hope for the best. That the nation likely would be in open revolt by that time might make things a little more difficult for him, but he isn’t prone to thinking that far ahead.

If I were DT—and to say that those four words give me a terrible shudder is an understatement—I would try to cut a deal at this point. He thinks he’s good at deals, after all, so why not try? It would go something like this: I’ll announce that I am no longer running for a second term; I’ll resign by year’s end; Mike Pence will pardon me; and I’ll spend the rest of my dotage being an increasingly irrelevant talking head on Fox News, and they’ll pay me tens of millions for it. My core supporters will think I’m the victim of the “deep state” and will still buy my merchandise and revere me, but they’ll find someone else to adulate come 2024. That person will be one of my children. Maybe two of them. Maybe it will be a dynasty and they’ll build statues of us all. Mine will be the biggest.