Taking the Tricks
A lot of people I know seem to think that you can’t possibly object to Hillary Clinton’s campaign based strictly on ideological differences, so I’m often called upon to make penance by saying that Donald Trump is bad. I feel like I’ve said that enough; I had a piece published in which I mocked Trump, then merely a more-than-usually egocentric and obnoxious New York plutocrat, in 1989, so I’m literally on record as hating his guts since before most Americans even knew who Hillary Clinton was. But, fine:
One of the most revealing things about Trump’s jabberings during last night’s ‘debate’ wasn’t his offhanded sexism (I wish ‘women’s issues’ had been more a subject of debate so HRC could have battered him with that particular hammer for a half-hour or so) or his flagrant appeals to racism (although his frequent bellowing of “LAW AND ORDER” made it clear to me that he’s running as Nixon in 1968 as much as she is running as Reagan in 1984). It was something much more banal, and yet, at the same time, far more damning: it was the way he hyped the one thing he really has going for himself, his alleged business acumen.
Since Trump is running as a smart businessman, and since over a century of being inculcated with capitalist propaganda has instilled in many people the false consciousness that says the government should be run like a business and good businessmen make good political leaders, he puts this out there a lot. And Clinton did her best to dig into it, by talking about his mysteriously inscrutable tax records, his bankruptcies, and his tendency not to pay people for work that they did. But much more damaging than the things that she said, at least to me, were the things that he said, the things that made it crystal-clear, past his carefully crafted rhetoric about standing up for the little guy, exactly how he perceives the nature of business and the economy.
One of Clinton’s more effective digs was when she reminded everyone that Trump actively rooted for the economy to collapse in 2008, because then he’d be able to buy a lot of land from people who lost their houses to foreclosure and turn a profit. Far from denying how ghoulish it is to cheerlead for the suffering of your fellow citizens because it will mean extra money in your pocket, Trump copped to it, and indeed said, essentially, “That’s called business“. This wasn’t the only point at which he openly praised the ugliest parts of capitalism, either. Early on, he stressed the importance of keeping jobs in America; but he didn’t like the idea that businesses should be punished by means of taxation. He realizes that this, too, is just smart business: companies move jobs overseas to avoid having to share any of their wealth with the government, and if we have to pretend to care (as he surely does not) at how this practice has impoverished the nation, our only recourse is to come to their CEOs, hat in hand, and essentially pay them to return home.
Trump’s views on his own money are similar. He doesn’t see anything wrong with trying to reduce to a bare minimum the amount of money he pays in taxes on his reputedly vast fortune; like most of our ruling class, he sees taxes as an imposition on his natural right to keep as much money as he can put his hands on, and while big-government radicals like Hillary Clinton might view tax evasion as a federal crime, he thinks the only crime is in how the Internal Revenue Service is permitted to pester him with their annoying and politically motivated audits. Failing to pay his income tax doesn’t make him a criminal, in his view; it “makes me smart“. The government doesn’t deserve his money, can’t have his money, and would only waste his money. That is the view of someone who wants to lead the government of the United States and has nothing but contempt for the very idea of a civil society.
When he was accused of cheaping out on paying his workers, he again didn’t bother to deny it: in this world of moochers and malingerers and shifty poors always looking for a handout, if he stiffed someone, it was because they must have done a lousy job. Forget the consecrated contract; forget small claims court. If someone violates the Art of the Deal, it’s better to just ignore them. If they want to do anything about it, you can always tie them up in years of costly litigation, and you’ve got more money to blow on lawyers than they do, by the very virtue of not having paid them. At one point, he did the ritualistic conservative thing where he lamented our national debt; but he clearly sees debt not as a vice, but a tool, and doesn’t think you should have to pay people money you owe them if you can come up with a good excuse not to. (This doesn’t apply to anyone else, naturally. NATO countries owe us money for the protection racket he conceives it to be, and they should be condemned for trying to weasel out of it. Trump’s philosophy is, at heart, no different from the vile maxim it always was: everything for me, and nothing for anyone else.)
His most damning moment was when he brazenly bragged about using bankruptcy laws — laws intended to protect everyday people from the most brutal consequences of ill fortune — to maximize his corporate profits. He didn’t declare bankruptcy because he’s a bad businessman; he did it to make money for his companies. This isn’t anything bad, in his view; it’s just “taking advantage of the laws of the nation”.
Some of his fans, no doubt, are fine with this. They really do think that taxes are terrible and that anyone who can get out of them is a hero. They believe in stiffing people out of work, manipulating the law to their own advantage, and profiting off the misery of others. But to many more, I think, particularly the ones who see Trump as an anti-establishment figure who can loudly articulate their half-formed but real fear and frustration, would find this cruel, hypocritical, and deeply unfair. If I were HRC’s team, I’d prepare speeches and ads that drill this home time after time: Donald Trump is no hero of the common man. He’s a lying, cheating billionaire who got handed daddy’s money, lies his way out of paying taxes, and thinks we ought to bribe businesses into staying in America. He uses the laws meant to protect you from ruination to buy himself another room full of gold wallpaper. He thinks it’s okay to stiff people like you out of the money they earned through honest work. He bet on you losing your home, and when he won that bet, he sat back, counted his money, and clucked about how smart he is. You spent your whole life playing by the rules and getting punished for it; he stands on stage in a $5,000 suit and brags about “taking advantage” of America. He doesn’t care what happens to you; he only cares that you fail enough for him to succeed, and he’s actively working to make that happen.
(Also, a personal message from me to Trump: keep my city’s name out of your shit mouth. You’re not wrong about Chicago being in a desperate situation, but your claim to want to help out poor black people and Hispanics who are suffering is a repulsive fucking lie. You don’t care about them, any more than you’ve ever cared about people in poverty. Your law-and-order line will just give more power to the corrupt lying cops who are compounding the misery of my fellow Chicagoans, and your starvation of the tax base for your personal benefit will just deepen the budget crisis that has led to so many of our current problems. You can keep that kind of help. This beautiful, marvelous city hates your ass so much that you ran away crying before ever showing up for one of your cut-rate racist pep rallies, and you lied about that too. So kindly refrain from saying the word ‘Chicago’ ever again. We don’t want to have anything to do with you. We’re not your city, and we never will be.)