The day after the Capitol was stormed by a mob, Republicans who had previously ridden Trump’s mercurial coattails with glee became suddenly reticent. Shocked. Bewildered. Mick Mulvaney stated that Trump “wasn’t the same man” and tendered his resignation. As though, somehow, since losing the election, his former golden calf had changed rhetoric and tactics.
Mulvaney, the former Chief of Staff and Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, neglected to address the fact that Trump had been decrying the election process since his previous win. How he’d never been able to come to terms with losing the popular vote and insisted the process had been rigged. Nor did he mention how he’d once decried Trump as a “terrible human being” and questioned his suitability for office.
For Mulvaney, sometime around eight months ago, Trump had lost his edge. An edge he’d apparently only had between when Mulvaney was selected to serve the administration and when he decided to leave.
The news will be filled with similar backpedaling in the coming weeks. Rats scrambling from a sinking ship, none of them wanting to admit they chewed through the hull in their attempt to escape. That the captain, drunk with power, set them on a course to run aground long ago.
But they knew. Everybody knew.
Trump, the son of a second-generation German immigrant, grew up wealthy. His father, Fred Trump had built a sizable real estate empire constructing apartments, houses, and even barracks for the military in the middle-class boroughs surrounding New York. A practical businessman, Fred eschewed more glamourous holdings for guaranteed, steady profit.
Trump’s was a life of private schools and personal favors. He attended military school but received four deferments when the draft came in college. Once the deferments ran out, a sympathetic doctor medically disqualified him for duty — a condition undetected at the New York Military Academy or during his time on Fordham University’s squash courts.
The fact he avoided serving in Vietnam isn’t damning by any means. An entire generation fought against the war through protest and deferment. What is interesting is that Trump attended a Military Academy, dressing the part of an officer as he forged his way into adulthood.
Appearances mattered. Perhaps more than commitment to the ideals.
Fresh out of military school, Trump applied to the University of Southern California. Real estate, his father’s business, far from his mind. He wanted to produce movies in Hollywood, a career path that spoke volumes about his future aspirations. Build blocky apartments in Queens? No. He wanted more.
Turned down by USC, Trump attended Fordham for two years and then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School.
To hear Trump speak of his academic record, he was a standout student, able to compete with the best of the best. His time there, however, wasn’t memorable to classmates. And, like many of his claims, he refuses to back them up with facts. In May 2015, his lawyer, Michael Cohen, threatened former schools with legal action if they disclosed Trump’s academic records — an action which would already constitute a criminal offense.
Decades-old academic records could be a meaningless debate, in truth. But Trump would later repeatedly attack President Obama’s academic credentials throughout the former president’s tenure and often brag about his own. This led many to speculate Trump projected his failings on others as a means of insult. An argument he could stop cold by producing those glowing academic transcripts.
Much like producing his taxes could end the constant debate over his financial solvency and obligations.
Or like producing evidence of voter fraud could support his stolen election theories.
There is an explanation for all this, but we’re not yet there.
After college, Trump joined his father’s business but with a clear mission to chase the glamour his elder had shied away from. He set his sights on Manhattan, more prestige to add to his chest full of academy ribbons and transcripts from vaunted halls of higher education.
As president of the Trump Organization, he renovated a historic midtown hotel through the help of a four hundred million dollar tax abatement secured through his father’s business connections. With the family’s wealth tied up in the new ventures, he needed a loan for the next phase of his plan.
On borrowed money, Trump forged ahead with his bid to take Manhattan by storm and began work on his iconic Trump Tower. A stunning accomplishment, he could’ve stopped there. But he needed more.
Another hotel and a seventy story Wall Street skyscraper were selected to cement his position among the wealthy and powerful. Finally out of his father’s shadow, the world would witness his business acumen.
But the new hotel fell to bankruptcy and was repossessed by creditors. Renovations on the skyscraper lagged and invoices piled up. During this troubling time, New York suddenly felt too small for his ambition. One coastal metropolis wasn’t enough. He’d start in Florida and work his way up the East Coast.
Mar Lago became his winter home, though not entirely a residence. He created a private club there and charged dues. An income stream for what was becoming an unwieldy and far-flung mini-empire.
Flying back and forth, he must’ve been caught up by the neon lights slowly accumulating around Atlantic City. A seaside answer to a dusty Vegas, the glitz and glamour of the gambler’s life surely appealed to Trump at his core. He sought partners and began several casino ventures there.
The first, he fell out with the Holiday Corporation over his desire to steer the resort toward high rollers. Upper-class clientele. None of those cheap travelers like the Holiday Inn chain normally courted. His father even bought three and a half million dollars in chips to give the venture a boost.
Within two years, the casino was failing.
A deal with Hilton came next. Their gambling license had fallen through when links to the mob were exposed. They needed a new partner, a new face. Trump signed on and plastered his name on the building in bright red neon.
Costs for the ventures continued to pile up. Still, unsatisfied, Trump set about building a palace of his own. For a mere billion dollars, he had secured the jewel in his coastal crown, the Trump Taj Mahal. Now at his peak, the self-proclaimed mogul had amassed a football team, an airline, a superyacht, and a burgeoning real estate empire strung from New York to Florida.
But then the loans came due. His Taj Mahal? Financed by $675 in junk bonds, it went bankrupt within a year. The rest of the dominoes followed.
A failure at business, Trump scrambled to salvage his reputation, for that’s what mattered most. He reached deep into his past and rekindled the love for Hollywood. If he couldn’t be a business mogul he could at least play the part.
Trump began to show up on talk shows, commercials, TV shows — whoever would have him. The venue didn’t matter; the image did. The brand. He hired a ghostwriter to complete a wildly successful memoir cementing his image as a dealmaker. The media blitz working, he was approached by the producers of a reality television show.
Unable to build and maintain an empire, Trump licensed out his name. His family legacy was plastered everywhere, worldwide, as The Apprentice piped his edited and highly engineered boardroom into homes around the country. In the real business world, he remained a pariah. Unpaid loans, blacklistings with banks, and even deals with shady underworld connections haunted his past.
But in the American consciousness, he was the epitome of success.
Celebrity wasn’t enough. Never enough. Seeking the validation of a material empire, Trump took a fervent interest in golf. A gentleman’s pursuit and the location of many a handshake business deal, he decided to create his worldwide presence through the links.
By 2000, Trump had burned through more than his family’s original fortune in golf courses alone. $315 million in roughly a decade, lost.
But that couldn’t be true, not for Trump. He was a world-class dealmaker and business scion. Another venture followed to prove these credentials. Trump University.
The soon renamed “Entrepreneur Initiative” (the state ruled the use of the term University to be misleading) would close its doors after nine years when the state of New York filed a 40 million dollar civil suit on behalf of defrauded students. Trump would be ordered to pay 25 million of this, an amount ultimately posted by an actual billionaire businessman during Trump’s bid for president.
Texas files a similar suit but one that would be quashed by an Assistant District Attorney who would soon after be nominated by Trump to serve as a Federal Judge.
All of this would occur before Mulvaney’s 2018 assessment on live video that Trump was “a terrible human being” and that “in an ordinary universe” Trump’s past activities should “disqualify him from office.”
But this is, and has always been, an ordinary universe.
For many of Trump’s former supporters like Mulvaney, we’re to believe the intervening years as President constituted some miraculous change in Trump’s character. That the oath of office somehow imbued this habitually incompetent, self-aggrandizing, fact eschewing reality television star with aplomb and gravitas. And that somehow, all of those qualities were lost only now, in the waning days of his presidency.
What is clear is that Trump’s record as president is difficult to quantify. Serving in the most partisan environment in United States history, there is no easy way for an outsider to fully judge his accomplishments, whatever they may be.
However, the leap to assume that a man cripplingly obsessed with his image and whose deal-making skill and tycoon credentials are based less on actual profit and loss sheets and more on branding would somehow be a natural at running the richest nation in the world is a stretch.
The economy is often mentioned in his administration’s accomplishments, as though Trump’s cosmetic sheen rubbed off on Wall Street. But the recent stratospheric bull run extends from deep into Obama’s term. Courts are mentioned too. Conservatives often declare the packing of the Supreme Court and other Federal Courts as a victory worth any price.
Yet those same courts have one after another shot down Trump’s recent challenges to the 2020 election indicating that they, in fact, do not serve any ideological faction.
Regardless of what anyone believes, Trump’s relationship with Russia has been troublesome. No collusion, of course. However, he careened into office disparaging NATO, flopped awkwardly around the Ukraine issue, asked for Russia to be reinstated into the G8, abandoned Syria to Putin’s influence, railed against our democratic process better than any propagandist, abandoned nuclear arms treaties, and remained awkwardly silent on Russian assassination attempts of dissidents and opposition leaders.
His wall project and promises to force Mexico to pay followed the path of his construction failures by sticking someone else with the bill — namely the American taxpayer through a raided Defense budget. Promises to “drain the swamp” instead saw a heavy concentration of lobbyists and former industry insiders into high-level positions, many of whom actively sought to dismantle the agencies they were left in charge of to their benefit.
Some of his tough on outsiders, America First deals do seem to have yielded results, but it isn’t clear yet the full impact.
China seems to have shrugged off the trade wars and is on a path to become the world’s top economy. Through a swift, perhaps authoritarian response, to COVID-19, they seem to have weathered the storm far better than us, their economy not a casualty.
Operation Warp Speed yielded a vaccine faster than any vaccine in human history, but drug companies have refuted Trump’s claim to have been the leader of this movement. COVID-19 strain vaccines have been in development since the SARS outbreak over a decade ago, only to be sidelined by lack of funding as this new administration took power. The current vaccines emerged so rapidly precisely because the groundwork had already been laid.
What does that leave? Closed borders? The decrease in illegal immigration? Again, a trend, that despite what the media will claim, did begin with Obama. If anything, he didn’t change the momentum of existing policies, simply made them more inhumane.
The White House website provides a laundry list of things accomplished by the Trump administration, last updated in September of 2018, a reminder of the turbulence of his tenure and lack of stability. All we’re really left to consider is a barrage of tweets sent at all hours, often with a focus on what is being said about him in the news and not about the country at large. Late-night vanity defenses and outbursts now accepted as public policy in 280 characters or less.
More importantly, will anything Trump has done matter after the assault on the Capitol? And how in good conscience, could those who stood by his side and witnessed firsthand the turmoil and constant hostility of his tenure now claim to be surprised by this shameful, desperate act?
The fact that the establishment so vigorously defended Trump during the previous impeachment suggests they placed the welfare of their party, one sliding in the popular vote for decades, over the health of this nation. The final culmination of Trump’s ineptitude only provides a clear sign that the original attempt to remove him from office was indeed correct.
True too, the American people elected Trump. But that is true of any President who would face impeachment and possible removal. Holding him to account isn’t a subversion of our institutions as the narrative claims. It is a part of our processes and protections of our hallowed form of government.
Is refusing to admit you were wrong more important than the safety and security of this nation?
I would suggest those who supported him but who disparaged him in the past and now seek distance, knew the outcome all along. Trump was always destined to reign over a legacy of incompetency.
A child of wealth born to expect success, not earn it. Conditioned to borrow and leech from others until he’d run them dry before moving on to his next vanity project. He’s a bridge burner. A self-centered opportunist. His term of office could end no other way.