Having recently returned from three weeks in England, I can tell you it was a relief not to be Trump-blitzed everyday by the media. But I’ll also tell you this. When conversation in my home-away-from-home turned to American politics, as it frequently did, not one person I spoke to – and I was with many different kinds of people in varied contexts and cities – was a fan of the Trumpster.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that most had concluded that Hillary Clinton was no great catch either. And among some that I met, I heard a wryly spoken running joke: “Until June, we used to take pride in not being as divided as America. But now we have Brexit.” Welcome to the club, I’d reply. You guys import too much stuff from America! Misery loves company.
Anyway, I’m back home and again running for cover. But I did happen to catch a most enlightening piece of television journalism the other day about Donald Trump’s so-called business acumen that made me take notice. It speaks for itself, so I’m not going to comment on it. I’m just going to quote the speakers. All I want to say, first, is that it left me with the title of this article: “Is Trump Merely Lending His Name to ‘America’”?
During the September 8, 2016 PBS-TV NewsHour program, correspondent William Brangham talked with Mark Fisher and Tim O’Brien. Fisher is senior editor of The Washington Post and co-author of Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power. O’Brien is executive director of the international news agency “Bloomberg View” and author of Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald. Both have extensive knowledge of Donald Trump and his business dealings over many decades, and O’Brien is one of the few journalists who has actually seen some of Trump’s tax returns.
O’Brien doesn’t think Trump will release his tax returns “because I think they will go towards offering substantiation around a bunch of things that Trump has made central to his political campaign: his track record as a business person, how charitable he is as a philanthropist, his operations overseas, and the kinds of business and financial conflicts that could potentially come to bear on him should he end up in the oval office.”
Specifically, however, Brangham pressed the two journalists for some understanding about what we should conclude from Trump’s decades’-long roller coaster ride with his many and varied businesses, for Trump talks about his successes but he’s also had terrible failures, including many bankruptcies. It was Fisher’s and O’Brien’s replies that made me take notice; after all, what did I know, really, about Trump’s business history?
We know a lot about Hillary Clinton’s long, diverse political history – the good, bad, and ugly – so we can therefore make an informed conclusion about what that might mean for America if she were elected President. But about Trump’s long, diverse business history, what do most of us really know? On this question, I found Fisher and O’Brien offering a major piece of of the picture. And what might that mean if he were elected President?
Fisher and O’Brien both pointed out that in recent decades Trump has changed his business model. Instead of organizing and running businesses, which were many and varied and included taking on a lot of debt, and which had both successes and terrible failures, including many bankruptcies, Trump, said Fisher, has been “taking on less debt and less risk. [Now] he essentially rents out his name and uses others to take the risk – investors and others – so he merely rents out his name and gets a guaranteed income stream from that.”
O’Brien confirmed that. “The Donald Trump of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said, “was essentially a creature of debt. The last time he really operated a large business that involved complex financial and management decisions was when he was running his Atlantic City casinos, which he essentially ended up running into the ground. He put those through four separate corporate bankruptcies. And he almost went personally bankrupt in the early 1990s. And the Trump who emerged from that is essentially a Trump who is now a human shingle, as Mark said. He oversees a licensing operation where he puts his name on everything from mattresses to men’s underwear to vodka and buildings. And he’s got his golf course development operation, and then essentially a self-promotion publicity machine that made itself most visible during the ‘Apprentice’ years.”
To me, this was enlightening. It’s certainly not an unlawful business practice – what he’s doing lending his name to products. And it’s making the billionaire tycoon more money. Fair enough. But it said to me: “Donald J. Trump businessman” is certainly nothing like the image of a Henry Ford or a Steve Jobs or a Nelson Rockefeller (41st U.S. Vice-President). Instead, I was left wondering: is Trump going after the U.S. presidency to lend his name to “America,” like he has done to other products he wants to hawk for personal profit? Is he letting “America” take all the risk? Why not? That is his business. I want to see him asked these questions during one of the presidential debates, which start September 26.
For more than 100 years, U.S. presidents – Democrats and Republicans – have been increasingly running the United States like a business enterprise rather than a political community. Like them, Trump as president of “America” would amplify this fundamental problem of our nation, big time. During an ABC-TV 20/20 interview (Friday night, Nov 20, 2015), before he won the Republican nomination, Trump was asked what he would do should he lose in November. He admitted it was possible, noting that he was up against many “not stupid people.” He then quickly added, “What’s next? I go back to what I was doing.” It’s an answer that speaks volumes.
Image via VAZVorpal Creative Commons
©2016 by Charles Strohmer
For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; Donald Trump Is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS [Aug 12]; A Christian View of Not Voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton [Aug 25]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].
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