Monday, March 25, 2019
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A Trump primer- part 1

Donald Trump

The choice in this election is bad enough without the inevitable comparisons to Hitler that many, including the Forward, seem fond of making. This might be the appropriate time to heed Jon Stewart’s plea for an end to Hitler name-calling.

The latest furor is over Trump’s allegedly anti-Semitic comment before an interview that the press had been warming up the gas chambers for him. The comment strikes me as a typical Trump bombast against a cowered media. Far from warming the gas chambers, the media has so far been mild in its coverage of Trump’s many ethical failings and lies.

There is not much evidence that Trump is an anti-Semite. He has occasionally in the past indicated a less than enthusiastic support of all of Israel’s policies. But he fell into line and appeared with the rest of the candidates to grovel before AIPAC and pledge to end Israel’s status as a ‘second class citizen.’

Trump is no Ted Cruz, a right wing ideologue so fierce that a leader of his own party compared him to Lucifer. Trump has never been particularly political and as a businessman, he has freely admitted to donating to both sides. At the moment he is speaking very Republican, but he needs donations and the support of grassroots Republicans to get votes. We can hope that once in office he will return to his former apartisan ways.

The biggest fear of a Trump presidency is of the man himself. Leaving aside the bizarre campaign rhetoric and his many impolitic statements: the dire predictions of Trump’s future behavior come from Trump’s past behavior. There is a quaint notion, sometimes still followed, that in business and in other aspects of life one will behave as promised and in speaking, will stick roughly to the facts. Clearly these old-fashioned niceties are purely aspirational, but Trump seems exceptionally adverse to decent behavior.

Trump as self-made man

Trump has claimed that he made his fortune that he estimates at ten billion dollars (no other sources place his net worth at even half of that) on his own and that the inheritance he received from his father was a ‘mere’ one million dollars.

Trump’s father Fred who made the family fortune, had five children. The oldest, Fred, Jr. predeceased Fred. Shortly before he died, Fred executed a new will in which Fred’s children received $200,000 each in lieu of splitting their father’s share of the estate. One of Fred, Jr.’s grandchildren was very ill and incurred large medical bills. There is a long story, best told in Chapter 4 of David Johnston’s book, “The Making of Donald Trump”, of Donald Trump revoking his own and his father’s company’s pledge to cover his young nephew’s medical bills. Given that Trump’s share of the inheritance was between 50 and 100 million dollars (depending on whose valuation you use) this seems mean-spirited at least.

Roy Cohn and racial discrimination 

Trump’s mastery of spin began early in his career and under the tutelage of Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s bulldog lawyer. Trump and his father were charged by the federal government with housing discrimination in units they had built with federal loans. The government’s case was overwhelming and included the fact that agents coded interested buyers by race.

Following Cohn’s advice, the Trumps countersued the government for defamation. The judge found no basis for the countersuit and the Trumps settled with the government. Donald Trump declared ‘victory’ stating that the government had not proved its case. This is the nature of all civil settlements where no trial has occurred, but the distortion of the facts for maximum spin appears to be a Trump specialty.

Trump and his public spirit

Trump has claimed credit for developing a public golf course in the Bronx. He claims that the Bronx course had been floundering, but he “got it done. “ But as reported in Crain’s New York Business, The city spent $127 million in designing and constructing the golf course. “Mr. Trump seems to be inventing his own history of this project," Benepe said. "In fact, all of the heavy lifting of turning this garbage dump into a golf course—including design and all the heavy construction—was done by the city of New York using public funding. There was no ‘saving’ required.”

The city agrees that Trump managed the grow-in of the grass as part of his contract with the city as a concessionaire. The golf course drew criticism because of the amount of city money it cost to build, upwards of $200 million including the cost of the adjacent park, and the terms of the deal, which some said were rich for Trump. 

Trump’s mastery of spin began early in his career and under the tutelage of Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy’s bulldog lawyer. Trump and his father were charged by the federal government with housing discrimination in units they had built with federal loans.

Recently, Trump has taken to reminding the country that Mrs. Clinton’s husband is a serial philanderer. As the Washington Post wryly notes, Trump is in no position to throw stones here. His first marriage broke up over the public scandal of his appearances with his mistress, Marla Maples.

Ms. Maples became Trump’s second wife a few weeks after the birth of their daughter. Trump divorced Maples just before their prenuptial agreement would have expired. Trump’s present foreign born wife is 24 years younger than he.

Trump University

This fiasco deserves special attention for its many examples of illegal and unethical behavior. In 2004, Michael Sexton approached Trump to ask him to sell his name to a real estate course that Sexton was preparing. Trump ran with the idea, deciding instead to open a ‘Trump University’ and hiring Sexton to manage it. The term ‘university’ is subject to state law in many states, including New York. Trump’s venture did not qualify as a university although he continued to use the term for five years after he was told to desist.

Trump promised participants a quality business education equal to that provided by Wharton (which he had attended for two years as an undergraduate) and personally supervised by Trump. None of this was true, and worse this was a scheme blatantly designed to prey on the poorly educated

In Texas, John Owens, former chief deputy of Texas’ consumer protection unit, leaked the investigation files relating to Trump’s ‘Institute.’ The files made clear that Trump’s course was based on a real estate manual, easily found on line. The initial course was then used to upsell its students on a more comprehensive ‘Gold Elite’ package for $35,000. The comprehensive course advised students, among other things, to buy and sell land without complying with Texas law. The early course did instruct students on how to increase their credit limits to help pay for the advanced course.

Owens claimed that Attorney General Abbott told Owens to drop the Trump investigation. Abbott then declined to act against Trump. In 2013, Trump donated $35,000 to Abbot’s successful gubernatorial campaign.

In Florida, Trump’s Institute was managed by Michael and Irene Milin. The Milins had begun in the ‘get rich quick’ industry in the 1980s and by 1983, they had been charged in Texas for a ‘take the money and run scheme.’ By 2007 they had attracted the attention of 37 state attorneys general and in 2008, their organization sought bankruptcy protection.

Through it all and until the present day, the Millins have remained Active members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, lobbying for Israel, to which they emigrated briefly in the 1990s, according to Haaretz.

In California, Trump was subject to numerous civil cases. In response to questioning by California Attorney General, Rachel Jenson in 2012 Trump claimed memory lapses as to curriculum, costs, teachers, etc. essentially the entire Trump Institute. This testimony was made public after requests from news and consumer organizations, by Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego who was overseeing two of the fraud cases.

Trump managed to steal the headlines from the substance of his testimony by complaining about the Judge’s Mexican heritage. Judge Curio was born in the United States, and Trump was subject to much condemnation for his remarks, still he managed to obscure the substance of the released transcripts and shift the media’s focus.

Trump’s continued ability to get away with violating laws follows him through his present campaign. In violation of Federal Election Laws he used his corporate in-house legal staff to send ‘cease and desist’ letters to PACs that he suspected would subject his campaign to negative criticism.

Charles Spies, head of one such PAC, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission for Trump’s misuse of funds, and sent Trump’s lawyer a letter well worth quotation, which reads in part,

“Although RTR has no plans to produce any advertisements against your client, we are intrigued (but not surprised) by your continued efforts to silence critics of your client’s campaign by employing litigious threats and bullying… Should your client actually be elected Commander-in-Chief, will you be the one writing the cease and desist letters to Vladimir Putin, or will that be handled by outside counsel...If you have the time between bankruptcy filings and editing reality show contracts, we urge you to flip through the Supreme Court’s decision in New York Times v. Sullivan.”

“[A] wall can be built around many things, but not around the First Amendment …just as your client is attempting to quickly learn the basics of foreign policy, we wish you personally the best in your attempts to learn election law.”

Since it took the FEC until 2015 to act upon similar complaints from the 2012 election, his response, like many of the legal complaints against Trump will have no effect.

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