Trump: Just Another Grifter

Dennis Miller perfectly described Barack Obama as a "debonair grifter." Donald Trump is just a grifter without the charm. Given the performance of these two men, it is difficult to understand the emotional (yes, emotional) attachment of their followers.

A minority of us doubted Obama's promises for many good reasons. For example, there were Obama’s own words in two autobiographies. There were Obama’s associations with, among others, Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers. (One has to admire former mayor Richard Daley's earnest defense of Obama: "You have to understand, in Chicago Ayers is mainstream.")

Those of us who doubted weren't surprised we couldn’t keep our doctors, that "smart diplomacy" created the flawed Iran Deal, and that race relations became worse, not better. But a majority of voters were swept along by “hope and change.” Sadly some have learned nothing over the last seven years and are as gullible now as they were then. 

We know a lot about Donald Trump, but curiously, some of the people who saw through Obama are beguiled by this new con man. These Trumpettes are not dumb or low information voters. They are, however, frustrated and very angry. It is said that you cannot con an honest person, but Trump proves that you can. Frustration and anger make suckers of us all. And Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof) had a point about gullibility:  "When you're rich, they think you really know!"

Obama and Trump share several traits. They are both narcissistic. In the original myth, Narcissus gazed into a reflecting pool and became enthralled not with himself, but with his reflection. He wasted away and ultimately died while he remained transfixed by his image. Obama and Trump are both enthralled by their images, but there is very little reality behind these images. Prior to running for president, Obama had no real accomplishments, unless you count two self-promoting, image-burnishing autobiographies as accomplishments. The same is true of Trump; his only accomplishments are self-promotion and image-building.

But wait! Isn't Trump a billionaire? Yes, he is. Isn't he a successful businessman? No, actually, he isn't. He only plays a successful businessman on television. Isn’t he a self-made man? No, Trump inherited a vast fortune and a thriving real estate business from his father. He has not done as well as he claims. A passive investment of his inheritance would have made him much richer than he is today. Fortune Magazine reports analyses of Trump's financial holdings which conclude that he has achieved subpar financial performance. The analysts took the value of his inheritance, applied a market rate of return from the date of his inheritance to today, and calculated Trump should be worth $13 billion.

On Forbes’ annual list of the world's richest people, Trump is #405, with a net worth of $4 billion. His efforts turned his inheritance into $4 billion, whereas an index fund would have turned that same inheritance into $13 billion. Conservative retirement accounts utilize index funds. This conservative, passive approach outperformed Trump, the great businessman, by better than 3 to 1.

Trump disputes the Forbes appraisal of his fortune. His most recent claim is that he is worth over $10 billion. Those who estimate Trump’s worth use techniques similar to that of property appraisers. Most of us have experience with appraisers from either buying or selling a house. The appraiser may reach a conclusion that is higher or lower than our own, but the difference rarely approaches 10%. Trump's claim that his worth is 150% more than the Forbes appraisal is outlandish. One way Trump gets to $10 billion is by valuing his name at $3.3 billion. Any buyers out there?

Trump’s ridiculous financial underperformance is tolerated only because he is his own boss. If he worked for a public company with fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders, Trump would have long ago heard the magic words: “You're fired!” If you still consider Trump to be wildly successful, ask yourself what you would do with his underperformance in your retirement account. No matter how entertaining he is, you would fire him. 

Donald tells people that he has negotiated many great deals, and it is possible that some of his deals really were great. It is also true that he's overseen many real disasters. Four of his major projects have gone bankrupt. He says he was just using the system to make money. It's pretty hard to make money by going bankrupt.

Trump most likely used the system to save his tail. In all probability, the losses associated with these bankruptcies are a key reason that he is only worth $4 billion instead of the $13 billion he would have amassed through passive investments. To restate the obvious: Trump only plays a successful businessman on television.

Narcissists tend to overvalue their own ideas just because they are their ideas. For example, Obama believes that the Iran deal is great, while a majority of Americans disagree. Obama believes that he is winning in the world and Putin is losing. Obama believes it is an accomplishment to give poor people a piece of paper with the words “health Insurance” written on it, even though that piece of paper won’t get people healthcare.

Trump overvalues his ideas to at least an equal degree. His promotion of crazy ideas wastes time and tarnished the image of the Republican Party. Trump famously wasted our time with the bogus claims about Obama's birth certificate. This “birther” baloney diverted attention from real questions, such as: did Obama claim to be an exchange student to gain preferential university admission?

Now Donald Trump thinks the 14th Amendment has been wrongly interpreted all these years and that its citizenship by birth provisions can be overturned. It is true there are a few lawyers who hold this arcane view, but the majority of legal scholars disagree. Two Supreme Court decisions provide indirect support for the majority view. There is no chance that the existing Supreme Court would overturn the current interpretation. Like the birther nonsense, the focus on birthright citizenship is a waste of time, which lends credence to the view that the Republican Party is the party of loons.

Now Trump believes he can deport 11 million people with ease. When questioned about the massive costs and impossible logistics of this mass deportation, he says, "No problem. Believe me. It’s called management." In his mind, no problem is a match for his superior skills.

His "believe me" claims are not believable. He can never explain how he would accomplish anything. His only demonstrative competence is selling himself, and then only to the gullible.