Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction posted February 16, 2016


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Donald Trump

by Bananafish308


I never supported Donald Trump.

There, I said it up front – got it out of the way – no elephant in the room.  From the moment I was aware of the man’s existence, back in the 1980’s, when he was building his casino dynasty in Atlantic City, I felt that there was something incongruous about amassing great wealth by exploiting a vice such as gambling, the surface glitter of the boardwalk casinos belying the reality just a few blocks away of people toiling every day, struggling to survive the abject poverty that plagued much of that city. 

A 1993 article in the Baltimore Sun titled, A Slum with 12 Casinos, described this dynamic with unambiguous clarity:

“While 30 million visitors a year pour into the luxurious casinos along the boardwalk and the inlet area of the city, spending over $3 billion a year, this has had little impact on the city itself, which contains some of the worst urban slums.  http://articles.baltimoresun.com/images/pixel.gifhttp://articles.baltimoresun.com/images/pixel.gif

Loopholes in the original casino-gambling law allowed casino operators to avoid contributing to urban redevelopment projects as envisioned by the bill's sponsors.   Forty thousand jobs have been created, but nearly all these workers live in outlying towns and boroughs. What's left in Atlantic City beyond the casinos is a large zone of boarded-up houses, vacant lots and 37,000 dispirited residents, most of whom are poor and black.”


To me, what Trump and his Atlantic City empire came to symbolize, indeed, was a microcosm of, was a paradox that was just beginning to insinuate its tentacles into the very fiber of our country.  The notion that “greed is good” was born.  As shocking as it seems, many working class Americans were duped into believing that corporate and billionaire interests were aligned with their own, and the greater the wealth amassed by these “job creators”, the greater the prosperity for all.  Little did these unwitting accomplices of the billionaire class realize, they were helping to lay waste to the American Dream and sowing the seeds that may result in the ultimate dissolution of the middle class.

Back then, Trump was an icon of Caesarian magnitude; a stature that befuddled me to no end.  I’ll admit I was a naïve babe at the time, being in my late teens to early twenties, but my naivety should have made me more susceptible to the shallow allure of capitalist conquests at the expense of the masses.  For some reason, though, I could not bring myself to succumb to the mass hypnotic sway this man held over most people; even the most liberal among my friends saw only virtue in the man.  As with most false idols, though, the allure is transient, as the inevitable chinks in their armor of infallibility begin to appear.  For Trump, this came in the form of four bankruptcies, and he faded from the public consciousness, only to resurface years later as the host of the reality television show, The Apprentice.  The legend was reborn, as the Indomitable Donald proved to his legion of followers that his capacity to reinvent himself can never be denied.  Now, twelve years after his debut on The Apprentice, Trump is channeling those twelve years honing his television savvy into a Presidential run that even his most ardent detractors are forced to take seriously.

Six months ago, I sat with my metaphorical popcorn, preparing to watch Trump’s ceremonious announcement of his Presidential candidacy.  I anticipated fifty minutes of entertainment not often seen; reality television at its best.  It was hard to believe that thirty odd years ago I sat in a restaurant with some of my closest friends, aghast that I alone understood the danger this man posed to everything we held sacred.  Now, I was about to watch him present his vision to all of America.  I expected a performing clown that no one would take seriously.  Instead, I got a sobering and frightening dose of reality.  His vision was as scary as it was absurd, because I sensed that many would take his words to heart.  From the start, it was apparent that his campaign would be short on substance.  It would be a campaign calculated to exploit the fears and insecurities of a very specific constituency.  This become clear just a few minutes into his speech, when he uttered his now infamous comments about Mexico:

“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.”

 Volumes have already been written about this controversial statement, so I will limit my comments to a few salient thoughts.  I agree with those who were offended by what they perceived to be racist remarks.  The fact that there are many who vehemently disagree, is symptomatic of the huge gulf that divides our country.  I am convinced, however, if he made similar, stereotypical remarks about a different segment of the population, say Irish immigrants, or southerners, or evangelicals, those who are dismissing his comments as non-racist would be singing a different tune.

While we can argue from now until the end of time whether or not his remarks were racist, one can make a convincing argument challenging the credibility of his assertions.  According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Mexican unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has actually been declining since 2007, belying the notion that there is a huge, uncontrollable influx of Mexican immigrants into the United States.  Further, according to numerous sources, including the Pew Research Center, crime rates in the U.S. among all immigrants, especially Mexicans, is actually much lower than the native population.  Following is an excerpt from a Washington Post article titled, Surprise, Donald Trump is Wrong about Immigrants and Crime:

— "[D]ata from the census and a wide range of other empirical studies show that for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated.  This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans, who make up the bulk of the undocumented population." (Ruben Rumbaut, University of California, 2008. Published by the Police Foundation.)

Despite this problematic beginning to his speech, I continued to watch and listen with as much of an open mind as I could muster.  I was surprised to discover that I agreed with a couple of his points, namely his insistence that he will make sure hedge fund managers pay their fair share of taxes, and his moderate views on the Middle East quagmire.  His bluster about defeating ISIS notwithstanding, he presented a reasonable vision of U.S. involvement, including his reluctance to place American ground forces directly in harm’s way, and his feeling that indigenous Muslims should bear the brunt of the burden of defeating ISIS.

I have since discovered that my trust in Trump’s sincerity to raise taxes on hedge fund managers was a bit premature.  Trump’s promise was based on the fact that a current tax loop hole allows hedge fund managers to claim a large portion of their income as capital gains, rather than ordinary income.  Currently, the top tax rate for long term capital gains is 23.8%, while the top rate for ordinary income is 39.6%, so hedge fund managers avoid paying a significant amount of taxes by claiming most of their income as long term capital gains.  It seems like Trump is genuinely concerned with closing this significant tax loophole – until one examines Trump’s detailed tax reform proposal.  Under his proposal, he would reduce the top tax rate for ordinary income from 39.6% to 25%!  Examined in this context, one discovers that the totality of the tax increase for hedge fund managers is an insignificant 1.2%.  This is indicative of the heavy-handed tactics that are his trademark.  In a more general sense, his tax plan involves significant tax cuts for the wealthy.  Both the Tax Foundation and the Tax Policy Center estimate that the cost of his tax reform will be approximately $10 trillion dollars over the next ten years.

Many Trump supporters put forth the proposition that his “expertise” in business is exactly what this country needs to solve its economic woes.  I have always found this concept to be puzzling.  It seems to me that governing a country has very little correlation to running a business.  The one, ultimate goal of any company is to maximize profit, while the function of our government has little to do with profit incentive.  Even if one were to concede that a certain amount of business acumen would come in handy for a President, one would then have to consider that Trump businesses have declared bankruptcy four times, due to overleveraging.  Since managing the national debt is one of the overriding economic concerns facing our country, one might argue that a person who has declared bankruptcy four times due to debt issues, might not be the one best suited to solve our debt problems. 

In all fairness to Trump, some claim that, since the bankruptcies were not personal, but business, and given the many complexities involved, one cannot use the bankruptcies as an absolute gauge of Trump’s business skills.  If one allows for this, I believe it would be reasonable to conclude that it is a wash – if we agree that his bankruptcies shouldn’t be used against him, by the same token, his business experience shouldn’t be considered an advantage.

For me, one of the tipping points when assessing Trump’s viability as a legitimate candidate for President of the U.S. is his credibility.  I find it impossible to trust anything he says.  This is ironic, given that one of the most common attributes his supporters espouse is that he has the courage to tell the truth, to tell it like it is.  This is an incredible disparity in perception, and it is impossible to account for it.  One can only look at the facts to determine which one is the more accurate perception.  In this regard, his numerous misrepresentations have been well documented and disproven.  The fact that he rarely acknowledges or recants any of these misrepresentations makes it that much more troubling.  Politifact dubbed Trump’s many statements “2015 Lie of the Year”, and FactCheck.org ranked him “King of the Whoppers” for 2015. 

One of Trump’s more egregious misrepresentations was one in which he tweeted a study that claimed 81% of white murders were committed by blacks.  The actual statistic is the reverse – approximately 83% of white murders are committed by whites!  Despite the overwhelming proof that his statistic was incorrect, he refused to take responsibility for it. 

Another incident, while not so much a direct misrepresentation by Trump, was just as disturbing, due to the personal nature, the broader implications and the manner in which legions of Trump followers misrepresented the incident.  The incident involved a Muslim woman who was ejected from a Trump rally. The woman's name is Rose Hamid, a 56 year old flight attendant. She attended a Trump rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina wearing a hijab and a shirt that said: "Salam, I come in peace". For those not fluent in Arabic, "Salam" literally means "the peace."  At one point during Trump's speech, according to eyewitness accounts, as well as a video that captured the entire incident, she silently stood up when Trump made insinuating remarks about Syrian refugees. Many in the crowd chanted Trump's name and pointed at her and a male next to her, who was also standing in silence. When they were escorted out, the crowd booed them and shouted at them to "get out." Someone in the crowd even shouted, "you have a bomb, you have a bomb."  After they were escorted out, Trump commented, "There is hatred against us that is unbelievable. It's their hatred, it's not our hatred." 

Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment as to why Hamid was escorted out of the venue. The aspect I find of particular concern is that, in the aftermath, Trump supporters repeatedly insist that she was ejected for “breaking the rules”, while it is clear from both the video and the eyewitness accounts that she did nothing of the sort.  Of course, no one has ever specified exactly what rules she broke.

If Trump wins the Republican nomination, I don’t believe he stands a chance of winning the general election.  While he has become a folk hero to many on the right, he has alienated too many mainstream voters.  It goes without saying that his strategy from the start was to sacrifice the minority vote, in favor of appeasing the base, but I feel that this strategy will probably backfire on him.  I do believe, however, that Trump’s presidential run proved to be invaluable to us as a country.  He brought a necessary dialogue to the forefront.  Many talk about Trump’s candor and courage in talking about things other politicians were afraid to broach.  I don’t see it as political courage and candor, but rather as shrewd campaign strategy.  It is actually Trump’s followers who should be credited with having the courage of their convictions and opening up an honest discussion about how they truly feel on these topics.  It is important to us as a nation to understand how others feel, and the extent of our divide on these issues, as only then can we try to come together as one nation and bridge some of these gaps.
 


Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

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Jeremy Diamond, Silently Protesting Muslim Woman Ejected from Trump Rally, CNN Politics, January, 11, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/08/politics/donald-trump-muslim-woman-protesting-ejected/
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