We Have Met the Enemy … [Not Trump]

February 27, 2016

My friend S.G. noted Members of Golf Resort Say Trump Didn’t Honor the Deal by Joe Nocera in Sports Business for the New York Times. Mr. Nocera—a great business writer who moved to sports recently—nails a terrific story about Donald Trump, businessman extraordinaire. How does he do it? Looks like he cheats.

The golf story is about rich people who put up a refundable $200K to belong to a Ritz Carlton golf club. The deal failed. Trump bought the club and agreed to assume responsibility for about 150 deposits. (That’s $30M.) And what did he do when he took over? Within days, he changed the rules to avoid paying the refundable deposits. (The story is more nuanced, and for followers of the travails associated with high-end golf, very interesting. There’s also the fact that it looks like Mr. Trump’s company is losing even more money running the club than its predecessor.)

Then there’s Trump College. No hyperlink, and that’s because the operation is shuttered. Casey Quinlan for Think Progress has the details associated with this slimy operation in Trump May Have to Take a Break from Campaigning to Handle Fraud Case against Trump University. In simple terms, the Donald charged tens of thousands of dollars for a degree from an unaccredited, virtual school which failed to deliver on a multitude of promises.

There’s plenty more about this man, but the particulars are not the subject of this post. Instead, I’m wrestling with the fact that so many people admire Donald Trump. Multiple marriages and lots of affairs. Lots of failed businesses. A core business which involves slapping on Trump on buildings and products. A rude, obnoxious, bullying persona. Why does this sell?

Well, those in the Republican Party have an answer. Obama. (And that’s from the magazine, Duh, for anything and everything bad is on President Barack Obama.) Here’s Republicans are now blaming Barack Obama for Donald Trump. Seriously by Paul Waldman, back on December 14 for The Week. In the piece Mr. Waldman quotes Bill O’Reilly on President Obama’s failure to keep us safe from terrorism, and the fact that he “continues to allow people to illegally enter America with impunity.” And plenty of others—politicians and pundits—offer explanations, all of which have as a central theme that President Barack Obama has failed us by being weak.

I don’t guess it matters that many more Americans died on account of terrorism when the last president was in office, or that illegal immigration is at record lows. Or, for that matter, that the budget deficit has shrunk dramatically. (Details here.)

Barack Obama is not responsible for the rise of Trump because he has been weak. Mr. Trump is, however, what we should expect when we’ve had a quiet, “steady as he goes” man in office. There’s not much flash, as it turns out, with the Obama Administration. No aircraft carrier landing when Osama Bin Laden died. Etc. Instead, we’ve had a taste of governance for seven years. Recession over. An imperfect health care plan which allows people like me to have insurance. Cuba solved. Iran controlled. Climate change on a pathway. And, Osama dead.

Unfortunately, in the personality-driven world of 2016, “steady as he goes” sells poorly. Yes, too many people still struggle with the effects of the Great Recession. (In fact, the middle class has been struggling since the 1980s, largely as a result of Ronald Reagan’s “take it from the middle class and give it to the 1%-ers” money grab.) Regardless, I think Trump would be where he is even if 2008 had not happened. For too many, the attention span is short and the focus is inner-centered. For those people Donald Trump offers answers. The answers make little sense, but they’re like a double dose of testosterone and adrenaline. If you feel powerless, Donald Trump makes you feel good!

It’s a crying shame that we might—and don’t doubt for a moment that it’s not possible, or even likely—elect this piece of work called Trump to run our country. And if it happens, Walt Kelly will be laughing from his grave. (Mr. Kelly gave us Pogo, who famously said: We have met the enemy, and he is us.)

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