Posted by Curt on 21 September, 2015 at 8:34 pm. Be the first to comment!


Neal B. Freeman:

All of us New Yorkers of a certain age remember Fred Trump. For several decades, he was the go-to guy for the city’s middle class. In a vast archipelago stretching across the “outer boroughs,” he built single-family homes, lots of them, and clusters of apartment buildings, whole villages of them. Fred’s projects were “affordable housing” in the anodyne sense of that ominous phrase. A Trump home may have had few frills, but it was well built and well maintained. The neatly trimmed lawns were posted with signs scolding, “Positively No Ball Playing Allowed.”

Fred was a legendarily hard worker, a nickel pincher, and, by most accounts, a straight shooter. And so in the predictable order of things — this was 20th-century America, after all — Fred became a financial success, so much so, in fact, that his son Donald would become while still in short pants one of the richest kids in the country.

When young Donald came of age and entered the family business, he learned quickly, and well. He glowed in the reflection of the family’s sterling reputation. He plugged into Fred’s citywide network of contractors, politicians, lobbyists, and bankers. The striving son seemed to be on track to succeed the founding father.

But after a few squabbles it became apparent that a durable partnership between the two strong-willed men was not meant to be. The basic problem was that Donald was not an outer-borough kind of guy. He wanted to take Manhattan, but not the Bronx and Staten Island, too. He grew antsy in Fred’s boxy little office in Coney Island. For his part, Fred could never bring himself to stamp his buildings with a giant, gold-leaf T. He was an outer-borough kind of guy. So Fred staked Donald, opened some important doors, and, with mixed feelings, sent his son across the East River to seek his own fortune.

Thus began the much-celebrated but little-understood business career of Donald Trump. Let’s talk first about the celebration.

It’s probably not too much to say that over the past 30 years Donald Trump has become the single best-known businessperson in America. After a long series of ghosted books, reality-TV shows, beauty pageants, and get-rich-quick seminars (packaged with characteristic understatement as Trump University), Donald Trump is today the first and, in some quarters, the only name that springs to mind when the subject of American business is raised. His business career has been so successful that, as he may have mentioned, he has become very rich.

There’s nothing particularly novel in this story of business success. What’s different is that Trump has not used celebrity status as a license to attract and monetize the ongoing flow of suckers born (or immigrated) into this great country of ours. He has used it as a political credential. That maneuver represents innovation. Americans have never elected a businessperson to political leadership, but, that record notwithstanding, Trump has parlayed a business credential into a front runner’s role for 2016. In so doing, and wholly inadvertently, he has come to pose an existential threat to the conservative movement.

The first group to accept Trump’s business credential in full payment for its political support — becoming, in fact, the base of his populist-conservative campaign — is the Tea Party. This is particularly disappointing to those of us who welcomed the tea-partiers’ arrival on the scene six years ago, taking them at face value as principled conservatives devoted to limited and strictly constitutional government.

Trying to understand this new alliance, I have spent considerable time with friends and sometime allies in the Tea Party. Surprisingly, they have no illusions that Trump is a conservative. None. Don’t bother to hector them about single-payer health insurance or abortion or even growth-killing tax hikes. There’s no deal breaker there. The tea partiers concede that Trump is a demagogue and suspect that he is a caesarist. But, as they would put it, usually at machine-gun pace . . . He’s rich. He’s his own man. He can’t be bought. He’s a great negotiator.  He will clean up Washington. He will restore American greatness. He makes great deals. . . . Trumpsters, as you will have noticed, tend to talk fast.

What they seem to be saying is that — after seven years of a president who sees constitutional stricture not as a bright red or green light to be heeded without cavil but as a flashing yellow light to be run without caution — what we need is a yellow light–runner of our own. We need a man who, as they say with the repetition of incantation, knows how to get things done. (And hence the tea-party support for building the Trump Wall on our southern border, quite possibly the biggest public-works boondoggle ever conceived, at least since the Pyramids.) And for NR-reading elitists, they toss in WFB’s salty rumination that he would rather be governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. (The tea partiers ignore my rejoinder that, well sure, wouldn’t we all. But, happily, those aren’t the options. Our preference is to be governed by a patriotic, principled, and well-informed citizenry. That is still our preference, isn’t it?)

#share#What’s happening, I fear, is that with push having come to shove, the Tea Party is clinging to the populism and discarding the conservatism. Lunging for the power, as it were, while ignoring the principle. It wouldn’t be the first time. The past hundred years have seen one principled ism after another give way to the frenzy of the street. What is at risk for the conservative movement, in this circumstance, is the principled fusionism of Buckley and Reagan, the fragile coalition of disparate interests in search of a broad-based and ordered liberty. As it is with any other coalition, ours is held together only by common goals and a predisposition to conciliation.

With so much at stake, especially for the movement built painstakingly over the course of many decades by Buckley and his brethren, it would be cavalier to wave Trump through security without at least a cursory inspection of his credential. His only credential. So let’s begin the effort to understand the extraordinary business career of Donald Trump.

All of Trump’s comments about his personal finances — the market valuations, that is, to be assigned to his assets — are covered with several inches of public-relations goo. The basic arc of the career, however, can be traced from public record.

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