It was John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton (Lord Acton) who wrote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” I am beginning to come to that same conclusion with regards to Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Increasingly, I am coming to the realization that Donald Trump is running for president because he believes the power and fame of the White House will allow him to settle some scores in his ever-expanding list of petty grievances.
I suspect that there are other motivating factors that Trump must like about being president, such as the attention that he will receive, thus feeding his enormous ego, and the opportunity to slap the word “Trump” in gold lettering across the front of the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, again feeding his massive ego. But for those who have been following the campaign closely, it is hard to ignore the fact that rather than address the myriad of problems facing this country, “The Donald” spends most of his time honing an enemies’ list of people that he imagines have personally slighted him and then fantasizing out loud about putting them and anyone he associates with them in their place.
To illustrate my point, a recent New York Times article detailed a major grudge that Trump holds against a group of Chinese investors that helped save him from a financial crisis in the 1990s. In 1994, Trump’s Riverside South project on Manhattan’s West Side ran into financial difficulty and Donald Trump was rescued by Henry Cheng of the New World Development group and other investors from Hong Kong, who acquired a $300 million mortgage on the property for $82 million. The Hong Kong investors sold the bulk of the project in 2005 for $1.8 billion in the largest residential real estate transaction in New York City’s history. Trump was entitled to a portion of the profits, but Trump was furious, and contends to this day that had his partners consulted with him first, the group could have made more money. Trump sued the Hong Kong investors, and though he lost the lawsuit, he eventually ended up with minority stakes in a pair of office buildings on the site, now worth $640 million. He mentions this deal during his many campaign tirades portraying China as some kind of economic predator who will stop at nothing to destroy the American economy, saying, “we are being ripped so badly by China” and that China is out to “rape our country” and that our trade deficit with China is “the greatest theft in the history of the world.”
It is a bizarre obsession, but The New York Times story suggests that Trump’s paranoia about China could be the direct result of his personal vendetta against this group of Hong Kong billionaires that he sued because he was not asked to sit in on their sales meetings.
It may sound like a real stretch to say that a man would attack an entire country of people because he felt like a handful of businessmen snubbed him, but this is hardly the first story that has come out linking Trump’s bizarre political conspiracy theories to the personal grudges he holds.
Another example of Trump’s thinking involves a business deal in Mexico. The three-tower, twenty-five story luxury Trump Ocean Resort Baja Mexico condo-hotel project by the Trump Organization and the Los Angeles-based real estate development company, Irongate Wilshire LLC, was originally announced in 2006. Two years later, the project ran into financial trouble, and Trump removed his name from it. By 2009, the project was effectively suspended, and angry investors sued.
Trump said that he had merely licensed his name to the project, and had not been involved in building it. In November 2013, after more than four years of litigation, Trump – who often says, “I never settle lawsuits” – did indeed settle the lawsuit with about one hundred would-be condo buyers.
It is not the only time that Trump has engaged in this unsavory practice of licensing his name to other developers to trick people into thinking that they are investing with him instead of with someone whose name they do not recognize. But what is interesting about this incident is that Trump’s bitterness over having to settle this lawsuit seems to have spilled over into his opinions about Mexico itself, causing him to demonize the entire country and everyone who lives in it. In his announcement of his candidacy, Trump said this of Mexicans crossing the Mexican border to come to the United States: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And that kind of rhetoric includes not only people who were born in Mexico, but also those who have a “Mexican heritage.” I am referring to, of course, Trump’s recent attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over lawsuits against Trump University. But it is important to distinguish between what is merely obnoxious and the truly odious in his remarks.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Judge Curiel as “unfair” and “a hater of Donald Trump.” (I find it rather curious the way Trump speaks of himself in the third person. Trump talking about himself in this way reflects his perception of himself as being a larger-than-life character on the world stage.) He has also threatened a civil case against the judge if he (Trump) becomes President, adding that because Judge Curiel is “of Mexican heritage” he has “an inherent conflict of interest.” The media have offered Trump opportunities to retreat, but he keeps insisting that ethnicity disqualifies the judge from ruling fairly because Trump favors building a wall at the United States-Mexican border. In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump said: “Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, OK? I’m building a wall. I am going to do very well with the Hispanics, the Mexicans.” Well, that explains the matter. Right? Wrong!
Trump is attacking Judge Curiel in a personal business case, not a political one, and as a candidate for President he should be above this kind of pettiness. His implied threat against the judge if he becomes president is certainly obnoxious, but what elevates Trump’s remarks from the obnoxious to the odious is his equation of ethnicity with bias. That line of thinking truly is an attack on the independence of the judiciary because it means that a judge can be disqualified from a case merely for his personal background, rather than for any material conflict of interest.
The suit against Trump University is a classic civil fraud case that has nothing to do with ethnicity. Judge Curiel is an American – born in East Chicago, Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents – but that is of no legal import. He should not be judged by the ancestry of his parents any more than Chief Justice John Roberts should be barred from ruling on religious liberty cases such as the Little Sisters of the Poor (Zubik v. Burwell) because he is a Roman Catholic.
Even for an egotistical buffoon such as Donald Trump, there are easier ways of striking back at others for petty grievances and perceived slights than by running for President of the United States. Score-settling may be one of Trump’s motivations, but I suspect that impetus is just for starters. One thing we know about Donald Trump is that he never actually goes away, at least not voluntarily. He will have a long-term plan for keeping what he has gained, even if it is completely insane.
We should not underestimate the depths of Trump’s pathology. For instance, we know that he has studied totalitarian figures and that much of what he is doing and saying is straight out of their playbooks. In a 1990 interview with Vanity Fair, for instance, Donald Trump’s ex-wife Ivana related that “from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed.” Trump has confirmed that the former Mrs. Trump’s 1990 assertion is true. My New Order contains twenty-three years’ worth of Hitler’s speeches and is profusely indexed and filled with details about the speeches’ impact on the media and the political establishment.
The way Trump rages like a madman, responds aggressively in public, and retorts forcefully, closely follows the instructions in My New Order. Trump has successfully learned how to target an audience’s lowest common denominator, how to use scare-propaganda successfully, and how to structure an emotional speech for effect and to incite rage. Trump is as proficient at hateful demagoguery as was any twentieth century brute.
It should be noted that Trump uses his audience’s racial animosity and rage to attack Hispanics, African Americans and Middle Eastern Americans, and mocks women and disabled people with impunity. He also threatens to obliterate whatever enemies he names or decides are his enemies without regard for facts or inconsistency in his statements because he plays to his supporters’ fears and prejudices.
The reason that Trump is leading the Republican Party is due to the hate, the lack of intelligence, and the sheer terror of any and everything among his followers. According to a profile of Trump supporters, one half of his voters have a high school education or less, which is why Trump appeals to that special breed of southern Republican; with a particularly special appeal to Texans. Apparently, Trump took the highest proportion of Texas support from Ted Cruz, which speaks volumes because Cruz, the Cuban-Canadian immigrant, is a proponent of a very special breed of southern evangelical Christian fascism called Dominionism.
As The New York Times reported, Trump’s words are carefully crafted to appeal to angry, frightened, and ignorant racists. The New York Times analyzed the content and style of all of Trump’s speeches between July and November, and they did note several Americans he emulates, saying: “Trump’s pattern of elevating emotional appeals over rational ones is a rhetorical style that historians, psychologists and political scientists placed in the tradition of Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long, and Pat Buchanan.” I should mention here that the men cited have all been notorious American hate-mongers who have used vile language, propaganda, and fear to win favor with scared Americans.
It is fair to say that Donald Trump’s candidacy would have gone nowhere had it not been for his terrified, older, white, and hateful base of support; a base who will remain fully intact after he is gone. And, they will be extraordinarily angry because the man that best represents their “ugly American” ideal will no longer represent their deep-seated hatred of everything. He also will not be the leader they, the Republican base, want as president and America will not be the Utopia after which they lust.
It is likely that winning the nomination is the ultimate act of revenge against the Republican Establishment that has up to this moment considered Trump a celebrity joke and has refused to allow him to control anything related to the Republican Party.
It is that sense of obtaining revenge against twenty-first century American society and culture that drives Trump’s angry white Christian base. It is the same base that Sarah Palin and others among the GOP represent who want to have their own “payback” against an increasingly nonwhite, non-Christian, and non-bigoted population. It is the “take our country back” mindset that Trump promises to see to realization.
The kind of people who love Donald Trump most are angry because they are neither the center of, nor the controlling force in all American life and culture. It is this anger that drives the current “make America great again” movement that began when Americans elected Barack Obama, an African-American man, as President. These so-called Americans see the nation with a Black President and a more diverse population as an abomination to their white Christian America and it drives their heartfelt embrace of Trump’s mantra that now is payback time.
Trump’s supporters in particular, and the conservative movement in general, include the kind of people who believe that they have been assaulted by the civil rights movement, by minorities, by the women’s movement, and by the LGBT community, which they are convinced have robbed them of their America. They also firmly believe that the rest of the population owes them due deference for being the only real Americans, instead of being mocked for what they really are: bible-thumping, xenophobic, racist, knuckle-draggers, stuck in pre-Civil War America.
What Americans should be most concerned about is not a Donald Trump presidency. I continue to believe that his particular brand of hatred is not main-stream enough to see him winning the White House. But then, I confess that I am a cock-eyed optimist. No, what Americans should be concerned about is that after Trump is gone, his angry racist base will remain and they will be angrier than ever before. Those who scold the GOP Establishment for creating Donald Trump have it all wrong. The GOP did not create Donald Trump; he has always been a pathological liar, a thinly-skinned narcissist, an unapologetic racist, a blatant misogynist, a blowhard megalomaniac, an unashamed bully, a whining man-baby, and an all-around bigot. And he could become the next President of the United States!
Having said that, I do believe that it is reasonable to say that the GOP has spent the past eight years putting all of its energy into creating and cultivating Trump’s angry racist base of support. If the GOP were not aligned behind Donald Trump, it would be for Ted Cruz or whichever Republican promised convincingly enough to give the white Christian base what it and its hero du jour (presently, Donald Trump) desperately want – revenge and a serious dose of payback for not being able to control America.