Decades ago a young playboy was slowly, methodically (and illegally) gifted hundreds of millions of dollars by his father, a low-end real estate developer and slumlord. The millions could have simply been invested in securities, and the heir, Donald Trump, could have lived very comfortably on the interest. But he instead decided to invest the money in higher end real estate. He bought buildings, participated in the construction of buildings, and paid contractors to have buildings built. He also branched out and started other businesses, bought other hospitality assets like hotels and golf courses, and eventually turned to licensing his name to various building projects and products.
Outside of real estate, many of the businesses Trump started failed. He bankrupted the same casino four times before it finally went out of business for good. And many of the businesses he bought were vanity projects that consistently lost him money, like his golf courses. Some, like Trump University, were actual frauds. Financial experts estimate that Trump would have been vastly more wealthy if he had simply invested his inherited wealth in securities, but Trump’s ego needed to build a facade, to be more than just a trust-fund kid. He needed to project the illusion that he was a businessman with an important job. He was desperate to sell the fantasy that he was a big-shot doing deals and throwing his weight around–so he could attract more deals and attention and praise…and women.
When looked at broadly, Trump was never a competent businessman. He was simply a rich kid who spent his inherited money on shiny things that let everyone know he was rich. If you inherited ten million dollars and bought a ten million dollar house, would that make you a brilliant business whiz? If you inherited ten million dollars and paid someone to build a ten million dollar house, would that make you a brilliant real estate developer? Trump was good at spending money, so people lined up to do business with him. And they allowed Trump to yell and scream and bully them, so he started to believe he was a great negotiator. Trump increasingly lived in a world of fawning hangers-on who wanted the crumbs that fell from his lavish table, and in return they gave Trump the sense that he was brilliant and popular. Trump also became good at selling himself. He learned how to promote the illusion of wealth and competence that his life was spent building. And Mark Burnett at NBC did a great job of bolstering the fantasy of Trump as capable businessman, despite Apprentice insiders admitting Trump had no idea what was going on and was saved by great editing. So by the time he ran for president Trump was an expert bullshit artist who was great at spending money. But as a businessman and negotiator he has always been a failure.
No wonder everything Trump has touched as president has gone bad. His bullying trade policy and tariffs have been ruinous. His clumsy middle-east policy has been a disaster. His dealings with North Korea, Iran, China and Russia have left our nation in a significantly weaker position. His Hurricane Maria response was so horrible that it’s being investigated by Congress. Shutting government down and holding it hostage to get wall funding has caused vast suffering and hardship.
Matthew Yglesias wrote an excellent article in Vox on a similar theme, entitled “The real crisis is that Trump has no idea what he’s doing.”
Trump is asking Democrats to help him out of a political jam that he created by lying, and in exchange, he’s offering them nothing. Not surprisingly, they are not taking the deal.
As the shutdown continues and as pressure builds on Trump, keep in mind that he is an incompetent rich kid with a lot of inherited wealth pretending to be a business whiz. He had no plan beyond bullying and bluster.
David Frum has an excellent article in the Atlantic on the shutdown and how it will end:
Trump was never willing to bargain. Senate Republicans would not let him: They saw no point in the border wall, and were unwilling to barter for it. More fatefully, though, Trump’s vision of leadership allows no room for bartering. He imagines the presidency to operate on the principle, “I command; you obey.”
The GOP know that Trump is playing a losing hand but they don’t dare go against him just yet. The longer the shutdown continues, the more angry their constituents will get. And when the phones of GOP Reps and Senators are jammed with angry calls, the tide will turn against Trump. It’s a disaster of his own making, and the Democrats need only hold firm and wait for Trump to self destruct.