Donald Trump is a birther now and, apparently, the world’s most overtly lame bully. The King of Bad Hair has made a living on bluster, bravado, and bull-shit all while somehow convincing the world that he is a genius business operator. What Donald Trump is, is a genius at gaming the bankruptcy and corporate law rigged for wealthy concerns at the expense of small operators. What Donald Trump is , is a genius at playing on American’s love of the pugnacious bully, and that little spark of intellectual laziness that exists in most of us. He is Chris Christie without the baggage, although where Christie like to pretend he would “punch ya in da mowt” if he didn’t get his way, Trump pretends that his personal wealth or television ratings somehow automatically wins the argument.
Why do we listen? Why do we care? Why am I writing a column on the guy? Because, as The Donald knows all too well, the brand Trump is the train-wreck America loves to watch. Of course, The Donald also knows that his brand of business success is still revered; even in a nation where mounting distrust has rightly caused Wall Street to lose much of its undeserved luster. Americans, despite the Occupy Wall Street protests, despite the anti-bailout fervor that fueled what grassroots there ever were in the Tea Party, still value personal wealth as a character component.
These are the reasons that Donald Trump still has a forum.
- Everyone who reads this knows someone (or is someone) that works their tails off for less than $25,000 per year. In a nation where the typical family spends more than $8,000 per year in insurance premiums and out of pocket medical cost, $25,000 doesn’t go very far. Yet a majority of Americans still think that hard work=success and, conversely, failure=laziness.
- Wall Street financed (and continues to finance) the sale of reckless products (risk without concurrent interest rate reward) that led directly to the Great Recession, and that continue to threaten international financial stability. Despite this, Wall Street types that (like The Donald) make billions off of speculative investments, corporate piracy, or legalized fraud are considered “winners” and (worse) “job-creators”.
- The self-proclaimed guardians of ethical behavior and morality in our culture, the various Christian churches, have taken sides, explicitly and publicly, with figures who shamelessly celebrate profit-taking that builds nothing. Again, and exemplified (literally) by prosperity gospel, the earning of wealth, regardless of method, is seen as success. Success is equated with hard work and/or the favor of the Divine, and everyone and anything else is seen as failure. Failure is then equated with laziness, and the cycle is perpetuated.
- Personal responsibility and personal accountability are class-specific; working-class Americans who did not understand the ramifications of the adjustable rate mortgage that Ditech, or Countrywide, or Argent sold them with a smile, are failures whose irresponsibility drove the economy into a ditch. People like Donald Trump, who has filed for corporate bankruptcy 4 times, is seen as a success because of his ability to “make a comeback”. No mention is made of the responsibility and accountability (in literal financial terms) that he thrust upon his creditors every time he filed. He left billions, yes billions, in unpaid bills in the various filings, while the homeowners who made poor choices lost their homes, their savings, and their futures. Who again, has been accountable?
- Many Americans have, and continue to, support conservative candidates because of a perceived focus by Republicans on small business. “Job-creators”, they are called, and the title is a shield in our culture. A shield, that is, from the responsibilities (and cost realities) that come with business ownership. But the personal responsibility conservatives only seem to want that responsibility extended to individuals, not business interests. Worse, the businesses that get the lion’s share of benefits from this ideological persuasion are, in line with our new thinking, the largest businesses. They want your vote, but when it comes to the benefits conservatives promise business, small operators need not apply. When a man like Mike Huckabee can go on the air and seriously talk about “small business” as those enterprises earning$1,000,000 a year in taxable income, then our economic values have jumped the shark.
- In our culture in the 21st Century, it has become impermissible to write what I am writing, and not be thought of as a business-hating Socialist. Despite 20 years of managing and owning businesses, despite an MBA and a commitment to regulated capitalism, I am anathema now. I am criticizing winners; I am critical of a job-creator. Therefore, I must hate America. Democrats in this century, to include the President, have been forced (and sometimes led) into policy positions on business that would have been considered purely conservative 15 years ago. The health care law is a perfect example, and it is widely though of as a Socialist plot of some kind. As is, apparently, anything not made by a job-creator.
It is in this environment that an utter business failure like Donald Trump can bully those with opposing viewpoints by calling out their supposed failings. When Wolf Blitzer, a man at the forefront of the unfortunate modern school of journalism where any guest is usually to good a thing to ruin by criticism or fact-check, had the temerity to call out The Donald on his ridiculous position on President Obama’s birth certificate, Trump repeatedly referenced Blitzer’s low-ratings. No one, I presume, has asked Trump why he was on the show if so few people watched it, but that logic seems to be a relic of a better informed America.
In this environment, a personal fortune built on the plunder of corporate assets, and the ability to escape one’s creditors through bankruptcy, has reached the level of moral capital. Social conservatives have embraced Trump throughout the campaign cycle. Morality in the sense of the Bible, it should be referenced, has never been a strong-suit of The Donald. But, he is wealthy, ergo he is successful, ergo he is a hard-worker, or job-creator, or blessed by God, or all of the above. So what happened to vows of poverty, asceticism, and the meek inheriting the Earth? Donald Trump is P.T. Barnum without the circus, and we are his suckers born every minute. Hopefully, the poor working-class losers among us will wake up and assign Trump to the failure file, and consign him to the irrelevancy he has earned.
The Rational Middle is listening…