Slight of Hand

It’s all about controlling the conversation. In high-pressure sales, and in intense face-to-face negotiation a deal maker wants to control and direct where the conversation goes.

T sketchTrump has the instinct and he’s honed it over years of business. His racist remarks about the judge hearing the Trump University case caused the media to turn away from the case itself, which points to Trump’s predatory lack of character and integrity, and possibly fraudulent actions. The headlines and sound bites focus on the inappropriateness of an off-cuff remark. Trump’s base likes that he is not politically correct. But they probably won’t like that he exploited people much like them. The diversion was damage control.

When Hillary Clinton attacked Trump in her recent foreign policy speech criticizing Trump’s public statements and concluding that Trump was not fit to be President, Trump did not respond to the substance; instead he dismissed it as “pathetic.”  When Elizabeth Warren took him to task he referred to her as “Pocahontas.” The media reverberated with the drama, again not engaging the substance of the criticism of Trump.

This weekend [June 12] the New York Times published a feature article detailing how Trump succeeded in making millions while his casino businesses were floundering. The eventual bankruptcies cost investors and creditors billions of dollars. One source estimates that Trump presided over the loss of $4.7 billion dollars of other people’s money. Somehow he was able to pay himself while shifting the risk and losses to others — a world class slight of hand.

Earlier in the week USA Today broke a story about hundreds of small businesses and employees of Trump enterprises that were not paid what they were owed. Trump has been involved in 3,500 litigations and often intimidates those who seek to collect what’s owed by alleging poor or late work. The little guy knows that the big guy can afford to have lawyers rag him around for years running up fees and so they settle. The Wall Street Journal termed this “hardball” business practices. The rest of us call it bullying and being a deadbeat. Trump boasts “I always win, that’s what I do.” It might be more correct to say that he makes losers of those who trust him.

All of these practices model different ways of gaming the system. It’s not creating honest and lasting value. And it’s certainly not about mutually beneficial business undertakings. It is all about using leverage and getting over on the other guy — a con game, the art of the grifter. Notions of stewardship and integrity are utterly absent. It’s the same sort of mentality that produced the 2008 economic collapse. And now we have a master practitioner who would be our President.

God save America.