Despite fostering associations with men having criminal pasts and shady business practices — that encompass drug trafficking, swindling, racketing and felony — and indulging in tax evasion, prevarication, playacting, and faking through casino and real estate-cum-building businesses, within the context of corporate America, Donald Trump has become the 45th President of the America. This is the central idea of David Cay Johnston’s book, The making of Donald Trump, published by Melville House in 2016. Johnston is one of America’s leading investigative journalists. He kept his files updated and spent decades reporting on Trump. Johnston also got the documentary help from another reporter, Wayne Barrett, the first journalist to cover Trump seriously. This opinion piece intends to discuss Johnston’s certain ideas expressed in the book.
Johnston writes in the introduction that he was not surprised when Trump won the Republican nomination in May 2016 for the White House, as he had been talking about and vying for the candidature since 1985. That is Trump has taken almost three decades to study presidential electoral politics. In the win of Trump, not polls but votes did matter, especially the turnout on Election Day in key industrial states — Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that had traditionally voted Democratic. Outnumbering Democrats in these states was an uphill task. The change Trump has vowed is quite different from the change former President Barack Obama sloganeered in 2008 presidential election. Trump seems to have filliped the American version of the White Revolution represented by the white working-class voters. Trump pledged with them to introduce reforms to stop a foreign conflict from becoming local and to stop the local economy from becoming foreign, both rolled into the slogan America First, which may be construed as the reincarnation of the Monroe doctrine (after the name of US President James Monroe) articulated in December 1823.
The book traces Trump’s family roots to the town of Kallstadt in the wine making region of southwest Germany, as Johnston writes on pages 3 and 4: “The Trump family’s deep roots in Germany stretch back to the war-ravaged seventeenth century, when the family name was Drumpf. In 1648, they simplified the name to one that would prove to be a powerful brand for their latter-day descendants... In 1885, at the age of sixteen and facing mandatory military service, (the grandfather of Donald Trump) Fried-rich (Trump) left his mother a note and... fled Germany for the United States (and reached New York).” Here, two points are clear. First, the ancestors of Trump were German immigrants. Second, racism thrived in Germany was brought along and descended to posterity. The racial refrain sounded in Trump’s talks and reified into his acts mentioned in the rest of the book can found relevance in this revelation.
Highlighting initial days of Trump’s family in the US, Johnston writes on pages 4 and 5: “In 1892, Friedrich (who later on Americanized his name to Frederick and went by Fred) became a citizen... Two friends accompanied him to the proceedings to attest to his good character. One was a laborer, the other a man whose occupations included providing accommodations for what Blair (i.e. Gwenda Blair, who had the family’s cooperation in her history of the Trumps) politely called ‘female boarding’... (To initiate his own business) He (i.e. Frederick) built a sort of bar and grill, calling the joint The Arctic. It offered hard liquor and ‘sporting ladies,’ as the prostitutes were called.” Here, two points are clear. First, Trump’s grandfather had to rely on alcohol related business about which he had brought along experience from Germany. Second, women entered the scene exploited as a commodity by Trump’s grandfather to make his living possible. The commodity-specific inclination of Trump towards women mentioned in the rest of the book can be traced to the ancestral business.
About the kind of personality that Trump possesses, Johnston writes on page 17: “Donald said his father freely dispensed criticism, but rarely praise... Donald was what school counselors might call ‘maladjusted’... Neighbours have told stories over the years, including to me, of a child Donald throwing rocks at little children in playpens and provoking disputes with other kids.” The personality hidden in these comments may cast a long shadow over the US both internally and externally, especially when the US President is constitutionally independent of the parliament, Congress. Trump publicizes that two principles guarantee success in business, as Johnston writes on pages 22 and 23: “First, Trump advised, trust no one, especially good employees. ‘Be paranoid,’ he said, ‘because they are gonna try to fleece you’… Second, Trump recommended revenge as business policy. ‘Get even,’ he said. ‘If someone screws you, you screw ‘em back ten times over. At least you can feel good about it’.” Here, two points are clear. First, Trump expresses paranoia not in the context of not-good employees but in the context of those who deserve appreciation. Second, Trump links revenge, which may be a reflection of a conflict, with running a business, which is supposed to be competitive. Trump prefers conflict to competition.
Regarding revenge, Johnston writes on page 32: “Donald Trump... had years earlier developed a close relationship with one of the most vicious and heartless men who ever lived in America, a [business] mentor who also believed revenge was the best policy and who became a kind of second father: the notorious (attorney) Roy Cohn.” On page 54, Johnston calls Cohn an attack dog of Trump for business and the media, as both baulk at taking up even a genuine stance for fear of financially ill-affording a consequent lawsuit. Johnston also writes on pages 149 and 150 that Trump has used even in fructuous lawsuits to penalize his opponents by making them pay legal fees to their lawyers — a revenge seeking strategy of Trump. It is yet to be seen who the attack dog of Trump in politics will be and whether the vengeance strategy will be practised internationally.
Trump is averse to opposition, as Johnston writes on page 58: “To disagree with Trump is to be wrong. To portray Trump in a way that does not fit with his image of himself is to be a loser.” In all ongoing agitations against Trump, the white working-class core of society must be watching the outcome of its electoral decision with interest. Johnston concludes on page 206: “Trump is remarkably agile at doing as he chooses and getting away with it.” However, it is yet to be seen what latitude the international arena offers to Trump’s inured practices.
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