By Joe Conason
Everything we really need to know about the character of Donald Trump was revealed when the wannabe president frivolously accused Barack Obama’s late grandparents of committing fraud with his birth announcement. Trump told CNN that they had placed the Aug. 13, 1961, announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser because they wanted to get “welfare” and other benefits. But this casual falsehood revealed only the tiniest hint of the truth about Trump that Americans will discover if he actually runs for the White House.
Anticipating such scrutiny, Trump should use more caution when mouthing off about “welfare,” for instance. His family wealth and his own business have both depended heavily on the corporate welfare that supports the real estate industry, starting with the Federal Housing Administration support that undergirded his father Fred’s residential empire more than half a century ago.
The sudden refurbishing of Trump as a rugged individualist is as ridiculous as those tea party zealots who hate all government programs, except their Medicare. In “Trump: The Deals and The Downfall,” the classic biography by investigative journalist Wayne Barrett, the mythology of the self-made success is pulled aside to show a scion of family privilege, abused power and political sleaze.
Young Donald learned early on about the rental supplements, tax abatements, government loans and other state capitalist tools available in his native New York—especially to a budding developer whose daddy greased the necessary connections to the Democratic political machine.
When Trump was getting started, Mario Cuomo was governor—and Donald hired the governor’s son, Andrew, who has since ascended to that high office. Meanwhile, he lavished money on Democratic pols high and low, and they repaid him with favors that made his projects financially viable.
In short, Trump is hardly what he claims to be—and voters will soon realize that very few of the man’s boastful statements about himself and his record can stand up to the slightest scrutiny. “I was a great student, I went to the best schools,” he told a tea party rally in Florida recently.
Actually, he couldn’t cut it at the small New York City private school attended by his siblings, and he was removed to a military academy upstate that specialized in discipline for troubled and failing boys, where he barely earned a B average. From there, he went on to Fordham University and then the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. While both are very fine institutions, Trump coasted academically, although he later bragged that he had earned “the highest grades possible.”
It is Trump’s bizarre remarks about President Obama, including his birthplace, his schooling and his literary career, that invite the examination of his own past. But perhaps it is pointless to criticize the bluster and hype that are, after all, the most important element in Trump’s success. Particularly for the Republicans whose party he may attempt to lead, the more pertinent questions concern his politics, policies and ideology. The answers can be summed up in a single word: opportunist.
Over the years, Trump has mostly donated money to Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Harry Reid (that scourge of the tea party) and Rep. Anthony Weiner, the Brooklyn firebrand who often represents liberals on cable television. He gives to Republicans too, but not nearly as much or as often. During the last cycle, he gave $10,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee—and $25,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In 2004, he gave to George W. Bush and to John Kerry.
He vocally supported the bank and auto bailouts; he praised Barack Obama before turning around to vilify him; he has endorsed higher taxes on the wealthy and sworn that he would never raise taxes, period. The single reliably Republican aspect of Trump’s life is his enduring connection with Roger Stone, a Nixon-vintage dirty trickster.
Watching him run will be fun—unless you’re a Republican who hopes to win back the White House.
To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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