Millions of Americans who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 thought they were getting a successful businessman to run the country, despite ample evidence that Trump had in reality been a failure at several huge undertakings, his Atlantic City casinos most notably. His run as the host of “The Apprentice” on NBC was where the idea of his success really took root. It amplified the image he had tried to cultivate as a savvy businessman capable of golden judgments. People on the East Coast, and primarily New York, knew better, but “The Apprentice” proved to be the perfect vehicle to elevate Trump from mere Manhattan celebrity to Master of the Universe.
It was just one week ago — and it has been the most tumultuous week in a tumultuous presidency — The New York Times confirmed in vivid detail what we suspected all along, and what “The Apprentice” disguised: Trump lost more than he won. With a deep look at Trump’s highly-guarded tax filings over nearly two decades, the Times chronicled annual losses in the millions, so much so that Trump had to pay very little in federal income taxes. In fact, it looks like his best run of profits was from “The Apprentice,” a show built on the false image that Trump possessed great business instincts.
The Times’ stories present Trump’s presidency as a means of giving his brand a boost so he can pay some massive debts coming due.
Now that Trump has the virus he dismissed, downplayed and mismanaged — and now that we know more about his poor judgments and reckless behavior, and the spread of the coronavirus to others (and doubtless more to come) — we have even more evidence of his fundamental incompetence.
So it occurred to me today, as I came up for air from all the news swirling about Trump’s infection and hospitalization, as I looked again at photos from the super-spreader event he hosted in the Rose Garden just eight days ago: If any corporation had hired him as CEO, he would have been fired by now. All members of the executive search committee would be gone, too. In fact, the company would probably be looking at bankruptcy in the face of hundreds, if not thousands, of negligence lawsuits.
I am not opposed to the idea of men or women from the business world stepping forward to run our government. In fact, it’s a shame more of the bright, forward-thinking people who leave college and head for the worlds of finance and technology are not persuaded to step up and serve the public good, even briefly. They could be invaluable in shaping a new economy that addresses climate change while generating green jobs.
But the pursuit of profits is strong, and millions of Americans consider financial success — or, in Trump’s case, the appearance of financial success — the ultimate measure of a person’s value to society. Certainly businesses employ people; businesses innovate and produce things that make life better. But running a government requires making decisions for the greater good, and not for profits. Too many people from the business world run for office because they want to cut taxes and serve special interests or — as we have seen with Trump — serve their own interests.
And look at the consequences: A mismanaged public health crisis and a major setback for the growing economy Trump inherited. His dereliction of duty — his resistance to shutting down more of the economy in order to save it back in the spring — cost thousands of lives and the permanent closure of businesses that American men and women had worked hard to develop. Millions of Americans voted for an ersatz businessman whose ignorance and incompetence led to the collapse of real businesses. As of June, more than 100,000 businesses had closed forever during the pandemic.
As I said in my Sunday column in The Baltimore Sun: I hope Trump recovers in October so we can fire him in November and save the country from ruin.
Just in: Joe Biden leads Trump by 14 percentage points nationally with about a month to go until Election Day, according to the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, from right after Tuesday’s ridiculous debate.