Roy Cohn was a well-known New York attorney who had the reputation of being ruthless and vicious toward adversaries. Cohn and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump met by chance at a club in 1973 where Trump sought Cohn’s advice on a legal matter. That started a long-lasting association. Cohn counseled Trump in many legal and business matters. Cohn taught Trump how to exercise power and instill fear: attack, counterattack, and never apologize. Those who have known both men notice Cohn’s unmistakable influence on Trump’s conduct.
Trump has been wealthy all his life. After declaring his candidacy, he has perfected his common man persona fighting for the good of everyday Americans. Trump’s anti-intellectual campaign and fiery rhetoric are devoted to culturally emotional issues. He has mastered use of demagoguery, populism, and arousing nationalist fears against those with alien values. The strategy has been effective in developing a political base and winning primary elections. He presents simplistic solutions to complex problems that appeal to his political base.
The Trump University documents provide insights into his promotion tactics. The employees are advised, “You don’t sell products, benefits, or solutions—you sell feelings.” This explains his success in building a political base by catering to voters’ emotions. No matter how big the problem, Trump will solve it and will do so quickly.
“You tell people a lie three times and they will believe anything. You tell people what they want to hear and play to their fantasies, then you closed the deal,” Trump states in his 1987 book Art of the Deal. PolitiFact checked 77 Trump statements and found that 76 percent of them were mostly false, false, or “pants on fire.” Conservative columnist David Brooks observes that fearful people are “easy prey for fact-free magical thinking and demagogues.”
Trump’s conduct in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre showed that compassion takes a back seat to politics for him. First, he congratulated himself for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” instead of expressing condolences to families of the victims. The next day, he questioned the commander-in-chief’s loyalties: Obama “is not tough, not smart, or he has got something else in his mind.” William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution stated, “At the bottom of the barrel is the rottenest thing of all, which is conspiratorial thinking, which is guaranteed to pollute every single issue and every single argument. Conspiratorial thinking is the cesspool of conservative populism.”
The Trump phenomenon has occurred in other countries during the last century. It is generally called “fascism.” Instead of identifying the problems and describing the remedies, it is all about a strongman in whom the fate and future of the country can be entrusted. Trust him and he would have answers to every problem. There is no need to ask him for any details. Donald Trump received 14 million primary votes, more than any candidate in GOP history. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Trump supporters say he has made racist comments, is prejudiced against women and minorities, and is unqualified to be president; yet half of them plan to vote for him.
Trump dodged the draft five times and avoided military service at every opportunity. He received four student deferments and received the fifth one because of a “medical condition.” Why request student deferments four times instead of being medically exempted once at the beginning? Trump’s biographer Wayne Barrett has this to say about the medical exemption, “I doubt that it was a serious medical issue. Up to that time he was an active athlete. It was bullshit.” On a show in 1997, Trump talked about his sexual adventures and the risk he took of getting venereal disease. He felt that it (multiple sexual affairs) was his “personal Vietnam.” He felt “like a great and very brave soldier,” then added “this is better than Vietnam.” And this man wants to be the commander-in-chief of the United States.
In the 1980s, Trump tried to have disabled Vietnam veterans removed from Fifth Avenue in New York City because he found their presence on the street in front of Trump Tower unsightly. One year ago Trump announced that he was setting up a hotline for veterans to share their experiences with the Department of Veterans Administration, so that they could give suggestions for improvement. When one calls the hotline it connects to a voicemail box, which instructs the caller to send an email.
Trump businesses declared bankruptcy four times between 1991 and 2009 to renegotiate debt with creditors. Trump told Newsweek in 2011, “I do play with the bankruptcy laws—they’re very good for me” as a tool for trimming debt. Trump has boasted, “I have used the laws of this country to pare debt ... . We’ll negotiate with the banks. We’ll make a fantastic deal ... . It’s not personal. It’s just business.” In his 2007 book Think Big and Kick Ass in Business and Life, Trump states, “I figured it was the bank’s problem, not mine. What the hell did I care?” Trump renegotiated the debt, reducing the repayments to bondholders by $1 billion. Simply put, he abused the bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy is the last resort in a financially dire situation. It is not supposed to be a business strategy to reduce debts. Trump profited by getting his debts reduced while dumping losses on the bondholders and stockholders. He is proud of abusing the laws rather than being ashamed of himself. Is a man without conscience fit to be leader of the free world?
Trump has repeatedly cited his credentials as a successful businessman. In reality, most of his businesses failed. “Though his companies did poorly, Trump made sure that he always gained. He put little of his own money, transferred personal debt to the casinos, and collected millions of dollars. The burden of his failures fell on investors,” stated the New York Times. Stock and bondholders lost more than $1.5 billion, while Trump enriched himself.
Often Trump would not pay the small business owners the full amount owed for work on the casinos, or he would want to “renegotiate” after the job was completed. Many small businesses failed because of Trump’s dishonest tactics. “Trump crawled his way to the top on the back of little guys ... . He had no regard for thousands of men and women who worked on those projects,” said one contractor.
In sworn statements, former Trump University employees described unethical sales techniques and unqualified instructors. Ronald Schnackenberg, who had been a sales manager, said it was a “fraudulent scheme” and “preyed on the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”
Trump accused American Muslims of being accomplices in acts of domestic terrorism because “they don’t report.” Mohammad Malik, a Muslim immigrant, wrote in The Washington Post that he was the one who twice reported Omar Mateen, who massacred 49 people in Orlando, to the FBI. George Selim, a Department of Homeland Security official, stated that Muslims “have become one of the greatest resources of protecting homeland security.” Trump made another assertion that assimilation “among Muslim immigrants in the U.S. is almost nonexistent.” Pew Research Center conducted a detailed survey and concluded “Muslim Americans appear to be highly assimilated into American society.”
Last Saturday Trump retweeted an anti-Semitic image from the message board of an anti-Semite, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist group. The image placed the six-pointed star, a symbol of Judaism, beside a picture of Hillary Clinton, over a background of a pile of $100 bills. The Anti-Defamation League took offense. “We’ve been troubled by the anti-Semites and racists during this political season, and we’ve seen a number of so-called Trump supporters peddling some of the worst stereotypes all through the year,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the league’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “And it has been concerning that [Donald Trump] hasn’t spoken out forcefully against these people. It is outrageous to think that the candidate is sourcing material from some of the worst elements in our society.”
So far Trump has targeted Mexicans, Latinos, Native Americans, LGBT, American prisoners of war, African Americans, Muslims, Jews, Americans with disabilities, and peaceful demonstrators for his hateful actions. You can bet he is not done yet.
Zaf Iqbal contributes a commentary to New Times the first week of every month. He is past associate dean and professor emeritus of accounting at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. Zaf volunteers with several nonprofit organizations, including Wilshire Hospice, Good Neighbor Program, and Mentoring Program for At Risk Youth at the Pacific Beach High School. He is Partner for the Future at the Southern Poverty Law Center, and past president of the San Luis Obispo Democratic Club. Send comments to [email protected].