The red-faced blowhard at the end of the bar (see my September 2015 post, ‘Trumped Up’) has won the nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States. He traded on TV celebrity, brashness, and a genius for saying in blunt terms what a lot of people (including the other candidates) were thinking, but were shy about saying. The Trump (promoted from his media moniker, ‘The Donald’) was never shy. Indeed, his outgoing, plain-speaking, off-the-cuff manner is the secret of his appeal to Everyman (though somewhat less, perhaps, to Everywoman). He can say the most outrageous things, and no one can determine whether he is really means them, or is just throwing chips onto the fire. He quickly knocked his opponents off-balance in the cattle-show ‘debates’, and his growing legion of followers loved it; the other candidates never recovered.
In the process, he managed to insult practically everyone in the Republican Party. Many, such as the Bush family, Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, et al., pushed to the sidelines by the Trump circus, sit in sullen resentment, while others, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, offer less-than-enthusiastic support. Still the campaign draws huge crowds of cheering, chanting, fans. Despite the media harping on The Trump’s misteps (like his foolish put-down of the Democrat’s programmed Good Moslem, who lost a son in Iraq, but is also an Islamic operative), an apparently amateurish approach to campaign organization, and dire polling numbers, The Trump remains viable, at this early stage, and has the potential to draw upon millions of ‘silent-majority’ Americans dismayed by eight years of the crypto-socialist Obama: the disappearance of good jobs, the wildly-escalating costs and inefficiencies of health-insurance, a weakened military leading to defeat and chaos on the world stage, traditional morality ripped apart by ideologues and courts, and the destruction of the civil society in the Democrat-run cities, leading to murder and riots and the prospect of race war.
The Trump also managed early on to display an appalling ignorance of world and national affairs. When someone who grew up during the Cold War does not recognize ‘the Nuclear Triad’, you know he has been leading a strangely insulated life. But ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. The Trump is glib, often ill-informed, but not stupid. He has lived in different worlds from those of us who even idly follow political affairs: first a world of big-time real-estate development, managing a succession of increasingly large-scale enterprises started by his father and continued now by his children; and second, the world of entertainment, where he traded on an ebulliant, larger-than-life persona to create a TV show.
The first world interests me more, though the second may account for much of his popularity. There are not many of us who would have a clue how to evaluate the market potential of a sky-scraper office or apartment tower, or a vast resort complex, nor would we know how to manage their construction and operation. Donald Trump does. It is quite revealing to see him in his element, as he was in Senate testimony in 2005, where he presents a devastating critique of bureacratic ineptitude and likely corruption in United Nations planning to renovate their headquarters building in New York City:
You can find the complete hearing, with speeches from the participating Senate members HERE.
For more than half an hour, Donald Trump speaks extemporaneously, referring occasionally to notes or documents. It is both entertaining and instructive, e.g.:
. . . I was very impressed with Mr. Burnham, but again, you have to deal in New York City construction to see what tough people are all about, to see what tough contractors are all about, and if you have not done it, you are going to go to school and they are just going to take you to lunch, and you are just not going to even know what happened. So this project at $1.2 billion, will cost in my opinion $3 billion. In my own opinion, however, in my real opinion, it should cost approximately $700 million. . .
This is The Trump as we have come to know him in his primary campaign, blunt and to the point, taking no prisoners. He is even tougher on landlords and the UN suggestion that they can rent ‘swing space’ to house all the employees while renovating their building:
. . . I have been listening to a couple of different things, first, swing space. I do not think you need swing space. First of all, what landlord in New York is going to rent space for a year and a half or 2 years? Who is going to do that? You are going to give up a building for a year and a half or 2 years and say, oh, good, you just go in, mess up my building for a short term and then move out. Nobody is going to do that unless they are totally desperate, and you do not have to be desperate in New York. It is the hottest real estate market in the world, today probably, and I am saying where are they going to find this space to start off with? It is going to be a disaster. And if you know New York City landlords, and some of you do, there is no worse human being on earth. [Laughter.] They are going to have more fun with these folks from the United Nations when it comes to signing that lease, and the United Nations, their heads will be spinning. . .
This is trade talk, the language of the hard-hat construction foreman and the loose-tie contractor, not that of the polished diplomat, the nitpicking bureaucrat, nor the professional politicians who fret over how their words will fare in the six-o’clock newscasts and the editorial page of The New York Times. But it is also the language of experience. The Trump knows what he is talking about:
. . . when I went to see Kofi Annan [Secretary-General of the United Nations], I was actually quite excited because I thought that I could save this country, this world, everybody including myself, a lot of money just by sitting down and having a meeting. Unfortunately, as our great Senator to my right said, there was just no response. They did not really care. It got a lot of press. I walked into the room and I sat down. I felt like a head of State. I was sitting with Kofi Annan, and a door opened, and there were literally hundreds of reporters taking my picture. I said, “What are we doing? I just want to tell you I can build a building a lot cheaper.” And that was the end of it. I wrote letters, and you have copies of the letters. I wrote letters after the meeting. I thought the meeting went amazingly well. I was expecting a call the following day from—whether it is Kofi Annan or his people—at that time it was a man named Conners. I met with Mr. Conners.
Mr. Conners did not know the first thing about what he was doing. He did not know whether or not the curtain wall was going to be new, old, and did not even know what a curtain wall was. I said, “What are you going to be doing with the curtain wall?” He said, “What is a curtain wall?” Now, he was in charge of the project. The curtain wall is the skin of the building. I said, “Will it be new or old?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Are you using New York steam or are you using a new boiler system?” He said, “I don’t know what New York steam is.” It is a very common form of heating in the building. He had no clue. . . I do not know if he is still there. Perhaps he is. The one thing I found him very good at is that he did not want to lose control of this project.
Now there are three lessons here:
First, Expertise: Mr. Conners “Did not have a clue.” The Trump can say this with authority because he does have a clue. He knows what a building ‘curtain’ is (I sure didn’t, before watching the video), and what ‘New York steam’ is (which I assume is co-generated steam from the power plants), and a lot more about the world of urban real-estate development and construction.
From expertise comes the second: Confidence. He can predict this project “Is going to be a disaster” because he knows what he’s talking about, and the bureaucrats and politicians don’t.
And from expertise and confidence comes the third: Decisiveness. Decisions always involve risks and uncertainties, but the alternatives are vastly easier when you understand the options. You want to erect a building; which contractors do you use?
. . . New York is a tough place to do business. You know, I have had great success, and sometimes you take your lumps. You have to know the contractors. I know every contractor in New York. I know the ones that are going to . . . take advantage of you. I know the contractors that are slow. I know the contractors that are fabulous, that do not ask for extras. I know all of them. I know the good ones and the bad ones. I told a friend the other day—he was doing his apartment, he told me the contractor—I said, “Do not use them.” This was about a year ago. He got killed by this guy. He got killed. I said, “Use somebody else.” He came to me the other day, he said, “I should have taken your advice.” The United Nations people do not know. We have major slime in New York, and much of that is in the form of contractors. Is that not a sad thing to say? And every one of them, I guarantee you, will find their way to the United Nations. [Laughter.]
Which brings us to a fourth lesson: Humor. Here we have New York City landlords, “No worse human being on Earth.” And contractors: “We have major slime in New York, and much of that is in the form of contractors.” Now The Trump has been much maligned for his penchant for the quick insult, and with some justification. But I rather suspect that in the rough-and-tumble world of real-estate development, the same slams and nicknames that earned him a quick reputation for boorishness and vulgarity in politics—and left his oppponents nonplussed—would be taken with many grains of salt, and the ripostes would be equally sharp, and there would be a good deal more laughter than we saw during the Republican cattle-show ‘debates’.
This is not to say that elbows thrown amongst The Trump’s business peers are always in jest, nor that there was no malice in the insults hurled at campaign reporters and political competitors by The Trump. But there is almost always an element of humor in his jibes, and often as not an element of truth, which is of course the essence of humor. “Little Marco,” while way more informed than Big Donald on foreign policy, was not only inferior in stature but appeared almost embarrassingly youthful for a Presidential candidate. “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz was vastly more articulate than Honest Donald on almost any subject, yet had an disingenuous smile that seemed forced (he is reported to be quite genuine in person, but he is unbearably stiff on TV). The Trump, with his geniality and utter disregard of ‘debate’ formality managed to look out of place amidst the artificial conventions of the primary stage, but that of course made him all the more appealing to his fans, many already familiar with his persona on ‘The Apprentice’ TV show.
And that’s the problem. Here we have a man of great talent and real-world experience, now competing for the one job in the world that truly deserves the over-used word ‘iconic’, President of the United States of America. And here we have a man whose knowledge of the policy issues that face the country is to all appearances gleaned from TV newscasts and casual conversation. Has he read a book in the past 30 years? Has he even read the Constitution? Maybe not, but he has constructed a lot of buildings, and made a lot of money, and co-produced and starred in a hit TV show, and—maybe most important—is not afraid to say what he thinks, no matter whom it might offend, and one thing he thinks is that he can “Make America Great Again.”
Who knows? Maybe he’s right. He has a reputation for executive leadership, both in real life and on his fictional ‘reality’ show. He knows how to make decisions. He also has the instincts of a Problem-Solver and an altruistic one to boot. In that Senate testimony he describes how he rescued a city skating rink from the incompetent clutches of the bureaucracy:
When I did the Wollman Rink, the City of New York was bogged down for a period of 7 years. They had spent $21 million. It was a tremendous embarrassment to the Koch administration. And I said, “I would like to take over the project.” And they said—the New York Times came out with an editorial, the New York Post came out with a great editorial, and they said, “Let Trump do it,” and finally the city let me do it. And I rebuilt, and believe me, I used nothing that was there before. Everything had to be gutted out because it was totally incompetently done, 7 years, $21 million. I redid it—and the Senator remembers this very well I guess—I redid it in 3 months for $1.8 million, and it opened, and I still run it today, and that was quite a while ago. . .
Is not a Problem-Solver what we want in a President? Do we not want someone who can bring the qualities that mean success in the business world into the Oval Office? Of the four in evidence above—Expertise, Confidence, Decisiveness, and Humor, the only one we have to question is Expertise: real-estate development is not part of the President’s portfolio. But it is far better preparation for the Oval Office than the current occupant had: a ‘community organizer’ (i.e. a rabble rouser), a back-bencher in the Illinois State Senate and then the US Senate, of whom it was commonly joked, “He has never so much as run a hot-dog stand.” Furthermore, The Trump has decades of experience dealing not only with other businesses, but with all layers of government in multitudinous jurisdictions, not only in the USA but in other countries. Surely knowing how the world works at the ground level up through the labyrinthine networks of boards, commissions, mayoralties, authorities, etc. can certainly help in understanding how it works at the highest level. And The Trump is clearly a fast learner: witness his success in TV production and performance.
Besides, a Trump administration will be able to enlist conservatives of sound judgement and great experience who have already signed on to his campaign: Governor Mike Pense, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Speaker Newt Gingrich, Senator Jeff Sessions, and I hope Ambassador John Bolton, among others. If they are willing to put up with The Trump and his relative inexperience, not to mention his thin skin and infelicitous candor, cannot we? Remember, before he went to the Congress, President Harry S. Truman was a haberdasher, and not a very successful one at that.
Questions have been raised about The Trump’s business practices. He has a reputation for running rough-shod over opponents, even over ordinary citizens who stand in his way (hence his startling and unconstitutional endorsement of Eminent Domain in service to private enterprise). As this is written, USA Today has just published an exposé: “Exclusive: Trump’s 3,500 lawsuits unprecedented for a presidential nominee.” It’s a dramatic headline, but it covers three decades of Trump businesses, which are multitudinous, including licensing deals (the ‘Trump’ name) and operations of resorts and casinos, in addition to management of office and apartment complexes. In some cases Trump organizations are plaintiffs, in others defendants, but two facts emerge from the article: first, The Trump’s lawyers have broad authority to defend their client firms aggressively; and second, all of these actions are in civil courts. No one, to my knowledge, has plausibly accused The Trump of dishonesty, much less criminality.
This is in sharp contradistinction to his opponent, the cold-eyed Queen who in pursuit of wealth and political power harnessed herself to a talented Arkansas redneck, and rode his bucking bronco career to rule over a corrupt establishment, which in the name of socialist ideals feeds tribute to her ambitious pursuits. This is a woman who in order to preserve the President’s re-election chances in 2012, lied to the families of the Benghazi victims and to the American people. This is a woman who for selfish ends compromised the security of the nation, to the point where many legal authorities (e.g. former Attorney General Michael Mukasey) say she has committed felonies. Is there any question that foreign states which wish the United States ill do not have possession of our State secrets and of the sordid details of Mrs. Clinton’s illicit dealings as Secretary? Is there any question that she would not be subject to blackmail? There is no way any citizen can in good conscience vote for Queen Hillary.
Like him or not, we are stuck with The Trump. And oafish as he can be, he may have trumped our concerns. Conservatives who thought that 2016 finally offered a chance to elect a Constitutional scholar like Senator Cruz, or at least a rising star like Senator Rubio, were frustrated by this imposter, reminiscent of Ross Perot, who was clearly not a conservative nor even clearly a Republican. But he struck a chord with ordinary Americans who were sick and tired of mealy-mouthed politicians of all stripes, afraid to stand up for secure borders and traditional American values, and powerless to stand against those who would turn “Morning in America” into evening and ultimate nightfall.
The Trump has promised to “Make America Great Again.” It is time. If he can refrain from succombing to quixotic whims (like Tweeting responses to nasty comments on MS-NBC) and focus on the imperatives of managing what is truly the world’s largest enterprise, there may be hope. What we have missed these last eight years is any semblance of leadership. The Trump certainly has the capability to lead, and to forge a new direction for this country. He understands, as the current occupant does not, that the worldwide Islamist movement presents an existential threat to the West, and as well (if the truth be told) to our old adversaries in the East, Russia and China, and that we all will need to become allies in defending civilization against this vicious 9th-century barbarism.
I hope that he understands the central role of the United States in maintaining the prosperity and security of what used to be called the Free World, from Europe to the Pacific Rim; a trade war will not help, but maybe the “better deals” he offers will. He does see the need to re-energize the American economy, and that is the bulwark. He has to understand that for America to remain the world’s guarantor of individual rights, embodied in our Founding Documents, we must rededicate ourselves to the principles that have made America unique in the history of the world: that government is the servant of the People, and not the reverse; that the Congress must exercise its Constitutional role in checking the President and the Courts; that controlling our borders means not just “building a wall,” but insisting that immigrants enthusiastically subscribe to American ideals, that they become Americans: e pluribus unum, the melting pot, the America that Lincoln described as “the last best hope of Earth.”