It should never be forgotten how much of Donald Trump’s career has been based on his ability to obscure and defy reality. In the nineteen-eighties and early nineties, he built a gaming-and-real-estate empire on a mountain of debt, which eventually forced some of his businesses into bankruptcy. By persuading his bank creditors to let him retain some of his prized assets, rather than liquidate them, he converted disaster into opportunity. And, by booking a huge tax loss, which he carried over in subsequent years, he seems to have eliminated most, if not all, of his federal-tax obligations for at least a decade.
Despite scraping through his financial busts with some of his businesses intact, Trump would have all but disappeared from the national scene were it not for a starring role on reality television—a medium that has very little to do with actual reality. After “The Apprentice” became a hit, Trump erased the failures from his résumé and ran for President on the image of a successful businessman—even as it emerged that one of his surviving ventures, Trump University, was a scam.
In 2016, Trump defied yet another reality. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, defeated him in the popular vote by almost three million ballots. But the antiquated Electoral College ushered Trump into the White House, where he continued the assault on fact-based reality that he had launched during his election campaign, repeatedly labelling the media as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” Three and a half years later, he is still at it.
It is a remarkable record of manipulation and effrontery, but the coronavirus doesn’t listen to Trump’s bluster or read his tweets. On June 3rd, according to a running tally maintained by the Times, the seven-day average for confirmed new cases of covid-19 was 21,958. On Monday, August 3rd, the seven-day average was 60,202. That’s an increase of about a hundred and seventy-five per cent in two months. Since early July, as the virus has spread across the country, the number of deaths from covid-19 has more than doubled. Even after a welcome decline during the past few days, the weekly average is still more than a thousand a day.
Confronted with these developments, Trump has become even more brazen in promoting an alternative reality. On Monday, he lashed out at Deborah Birx, the response coördinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, tweeting, “So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!”
The President was referring to an interview that Birx gave to CNN’s Dana Bash over the weekend, and if you watch it, you’ll see that she didn’t “hit” Trump or his Administration at all. To the contrary, Birx defended the White House task force, saying that it had shifted course more than a month ago: after it became clear that the pandemic had entered a new phase, the task force adopted a more granular approach, providing individual municipalities and counties with the support and guidance they needed to address the rising number of cases, she said. She also pointed out that, in some places where they have been introduced, mitigation efforts seem to be having a positive impact. In hard-hit Arizona, Florida, and Texas, and in a half-dozen other states, new-case numbers have declined somewhat in the past two weeks, the Times’ interactive guide shows. (Case numbers are still rising in fifteen states and Puerto Rico.)
What was Birx’s offense? She openly acknowledged that the virus is spreading, and she warned people in Trump-supporting areas of the dangers that this presents. “I want to be very clear,” she said. “What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as [well as] urban areas. And, to everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus.” Birx went on to say that people living in rural areas need to socially distance and wear masks—including at home, if they have potentially vulnerable family members. In other words, Birx used her media platform to try to save lives. Asked about his tweet attacking her, at a press conference on Monday afternoon, Trump said that Birx was “a person I have a lot of respect for.” But he refused to say whether he agreed with her characterization of the pandemic.
Could there be a clearer demonstration that Trump expects his health advisers to defer to his preferred version of reality, even if adopting such a strategy puts more American lives at risk? Having failed to adhere to this communications policy, Anthony Fauci, the best-known member of the White House task force, hasn’t been invited to appear alongside Trump for weeks. Birx is still more visible. But Trump, having restarted his regular coronavirus briefings, is again the Administration’s primary spokesperson on the pandemic. The consequences are, by turns, absurd and alarming.
Last week, when he granted a taped interview to Axios’s Jonathan Swan, he came prepared with charts, which, he claimed, showed that the United States was doing better than other countries “in numerous categories.” Swan, a plainspoken Australian, seemed puzzled. “Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases,” he said after Trump handed him one of the charts. “I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, et cetera.” Trump seemed flummoxed. “You can’t do that,” he said. “Why can’t I do that?” Swan replied. “You have to go by the cases,” Trump said.
That was a comedy routine. After HBO aired the interview, on Monday night, it was compared online to “Spinal Tap” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The interview also contained darker moments, though, especially when Swan pressed Trump on why he kept insisting that the virus was under control, thereby giving a sense of false security to his supporters. “They don’t listen to me or the media or Fauci,” Swan said. “They think we’re fake news. They want to get their advice from you. And so, when they hear you say, ‘Everything’s under control. Don’t worry about wearing masks’—I mean, many of them are older people, Mr. President.”
Trump’s face was blank. “Under the circumstances, right now, I think it’s under control,” he said tightly. Swan repeated that every day a thousand people were dying. “They are dying, that’s true,” Trump went on. “And it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague that beset us.”
Nobody could deny Trump his final point. But a battleground-state survey from CBS News, which was released over the weekend, showed that sixty per cent of North Carolinians think that the Trump Administration could be doing more to contain the pandemic, and that fifty-eight per cent think it is merely letting the virus run its course. In Georgia, another red state, the survey findings were practically identical. For decades, Trump has made his way by concealing the true nature of things. Some realities are too big and pressing for even him to obscure.
President Trump knows the country will not reopen on May 1 or anytime like it. But instead of apologizing to the public for raising their hopes about packing church pews on Easter Sunday, he now laments on TV about the hard decision he has to make, the hardest in his life, and how he is evaluating the pros and cons, and praying to God for assistance and guidance.
To me, this is nothing new. I have watched him milk his “decisions” to see what he could get for himself by procrastinating. He would make both sides think he was on their side. He might even tell each of the parties being affected that he would come down in their favor, but they had to wait, he had to do this right.
Meanwhile, Trump would get favors and concessions from parties awaiting his decision. Then, in the end, when he absolutely had to, he would ceremoniously and very gravely say what he decided to do. It was always what he had already decided.
But Trump’s procrastination was not always so calculated.
I racked my brain trying to think of truly difficult decisions Trump has had to make and, believe it or not, I could not think of many. I remember having to decide whether or not to throw an electrical contractor off Trump Tower, costing millions. The alternative was to let this contractor stop us in our tracks by not properly manning the job.
We consulted the professionals but, in the end, the path had to be determined by Trump. Trump didn’t decide; I did, in response to him saying, “what do you want me to do?”
This made sense to me because the real decision was being made by Trump and it was the right one — to leave it up to me. I gave him cover.
But that was just money. Another time, we had a bomb threat. Someone called the main office and said there was a bomb in the Atrium at Trump Tower.
Trump got me and I called the police. I got ahold of some of the building people, too. The police asked a lot of questions then we took them through the Atrium, where they conducted a thorough search.
From their demeanor, it was clear they were not concerned. They said they were not recommending evacuation and that it was most likely a hoax, but that the decision to evacuate was up to Trump.
I reported everything back to Donald. We talked about evacuating and the risks in that and the strong police suspicion that it was a fake. I knew all along Trump was not going to empty the building.
I asked again and instead of giving me an answer, he said, “you decide.”
How dare he put me in this position? I didn’t want that responsibility. I told him what he wanted to hear: Keep it open. If I had thought for one second that there was any risk to life, I would have insisted on evacuating.
For many years, I grappled with the question of whether he would have emptied the building if that’s what I had recommended. Did he really abdicate his responsibility and put the lives of the people in the building in my hands? No, It was his decision. I was a scapegoat. I played that role many times.
This time, it’s not about whether to keep a property open when lives might be at risk. It’s about whether to reopen a nation, and how many people could be killed in the process. He has his experts. He will hide behind them and at the same time contradict himself by saying he made the decision on his own.
And he will find a scapegoat. Trump will always get to have it both ways as long as the American public is willing to withstand his trickery and his lies.
Res is former executive vice president of the Trump Organization.
John Oliver explains how Britain’s new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has succeeded – not despite his bumbling persona, but often because of it.
Andrea Bernstein is a senior editor at WNYC and co-host of the “Trump, Inc.” podcast. A Peabody and duPont-Columbia award-winning journalist, Bernstein’s new work is an exposé on two families at the pinnacle of American power. American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power, is Bernstein’s investigative journey into two emblematic American families—the Kushners and the Trumps.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump enjoy limitless access to the Oval Office, but beyond their marriage, little about the families’ relationship is public knowledge. Throughout American Oligarchs, Bernstein reveals their campaign into the White House by tracing history stretching from the Gilded Age to WWII to the 21st century. Bernstein draws on private interviews, never-before-seen documents and forgotten files in order to expose the families’ accumulated wealth through real estate, manipulation and crime.
Bernstein’s American Oligarchs is a serious examination of the half-truths, secrecy and media manipulation weaponized by the Trumps and the Kushners. Join us as she discusses the Trumps, Kushners, and the marriage of money and power.
Announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination back in June 2015, Donald Trump stated “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ “. Tony Schwartz was the ghostwriter of the book Trump calls ‘his proudest achievement’. Schwartz has been vocal about his regrets in working on the piece, but, having worked intimately with Trump, provides a fascinating perspective into the personality and idiosyncrasies of the Republican nominee
3 Distinctive Trump Traits:
- Utter disregard for the truth & lack of conscience
- Guided by immediate self interest
- Inability to admit he was wrong
- Persevering. Aggressive in pursuit of Goals
- Manipulating the Media to get Attention
If the caravan proceeds by foot, during the period of its journey 16,800 Americans will die from drugs.
In the period of the caravan’s journey, perhaps 690,000 Americans will become homeless, including 267,000 children.
In the period of the caravan’s journey, 8,850 Americans will die from guns, including suicides and murders.
In the period of the caravan’s journey, perhaps 9,000 Americans will die from lack of health insurance (people die at higher rates when they’re uninsured, although there’s disagreement about how much higher).
Maybe the real “National Emergy” is drugs, homelessness, gun deaths and lack of health insurance?
.. the issue isn’t really even immigration. Rather, it’s fearmongering. Scholars have found that reminding people of dangers makes them temporarily more conservative, so this kind of manipulation can be an effective campaign tactic.
Remember the 2014 midterm elections? This is a replay. In the run-up to voting, Republicans ratcheted up fears of a “border crisis” with terrorists sneaking in from Mexico to attack us, plus alarm about Ebola and the risk that the outbreak in West Africa could reach America.
.. Trump also tweeted then that if a New York physician who returned from West Africa developed Ebola (as he later did), “then Obama should apologize to the American people & resign.”
In the 2014 elections, Republican candidates ran hundreds of ads denouncing the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola. News organizations chronicled this “debate,” but in retrospect they were manipulated into becoming a channel to spread fear — and win Republican votes.
.. Yet Ebola, like the Central American caravan, is a reminder of the distinction between grandstanding and governing.
.. Obama’s technocratic Ebola program — working with France and Britain, plus private aid groups — may have worried voters, but it was effective.
.. the Ebola virus was contained and eventually burned out. Good governance often turns out to be bad politics, and vice versa.
.. Perhaps the approach with the best record is aid programs to curb gang violence in countries like Honduras, to reduce the factors that lead people to attempt the dangerous journey to the United States. Yet it’s not tangible and doesn’t impress voters. So Trump instead is talking about an expensive wall and about cutting aid to Central America, even though this would magnify the crisis there and probably lead more people to flee north.
.. I fear that we in the media have become Trump’s puppets, letting him manipulate us to project issues like the caravan onto the agenda.
.. Trump is right that, although there’s no evidence of it, “there could very well be” Middle Easterners hiding in the caravan. It’s equally true that the Easter Bunny “could very well be” in the caravan. Speaking of Easter, Jesus Christ “could very well be” in the caravan.
.. So let’s stop freaking out about what “could very well be” and focus on facts. Here are two:
- First, the Caravan won’t make a bit of difference to America.
- Second, we have other problems to focus on, from drugs to homelessness to health care, that genuinely constitute a “National Emergy.”