Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Most readers of Jonathan Turley’s blog are concerned with the direction that this country has taken of late. In truth the problems we see are merely the manifestations of a long term trend that has resulted in a lack of respect for our republican form of government as defined by our Constitution. One merely has to go through the range of stories covered only in this past week’s Jonathan Turley blogs, to understand that we are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. The issue to me is whether our country goes fully down the road towards empire. The phenomenon of a nation with overwhelming military superiority becoming imperial is a drama played out over and again over eons on the world’s stage. With empire perforce comes the trappings of an imperial state and with it the creation of an elite class defined by the term “nobility.” When a society defines an elite, whether called “the Nobility”; “the Cream of the Crop”; “The Upper Crust”; or even “Celebrities”; you can be certain the need to have an “underclass” becomes imperative. From a psychological standpoint once someone has the need to define themselves as being “elite”, they of necessity have to have people of “lesser worth” to compare themselves to and to differentiate their status. For a society to maintain this status hierarchy there then arises the necessity to have the “underclass” see ”their betters” as superior beings, living superior lives to their own. The “elite” must by definition be more beautiful, more wise and smarter than the “mob” beneath them. The “elite” set the trends and the fashions and it seems the “mob” is always one or two steps behind their lead. I believe that this is what we are observing today in our country. As an example within the past month we have been treated to the spectacle of one cable news network (CNN) devoting 24 hours of exclusive coverage to the birth of an heir to the English Throne.
To my mind there is no person in America who exemplifies the trend to establish a 21st Century nobility in this country, via celebrity, than the man now known as “The Donald”, the sadly ubiquitous Mr. Trump. As a New Yorker at the beginning of this man’s rise to fame, I watched with amusement and then disgust as he turned himself into a “brand” that to us common folk represented wealth, fame and its attendant luxury.Donald Trump had the good fortune to be born into a family that had become quite wealthy due to his father Fred’s real estate holdings. Fred offered apartments for low income residents. These were located in the “outer boroughs” of New York City and were models of the 40’s and 50’s hi-rise communities. The Donald joined his father’s company in the early 70’s. His contribution to this already wealthy company was to begin operations in Manhattan. The Trump real estate operation had heretofore been located in what were considered the less classy counties in New York City and in fact it was located in some of the least desirable areas of those boroughs. The new focus on Manhattan required that the Company extend its brand to cater to a more upscale group of clients. Fred Trump’s original operation catered to a much different clientele:
“ [Fred]Trump embarked on a career as an entrepreneur through real estate development, building, and operating affordable rental housing via large apartment complexes in New York City, including more than 27,000 low-income multifamily apartments and row houses in the neighborhoods of Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay, Flatbush, and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and Flushing and Jamaica Estates in Queens” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Trump.
With the exception of Jamaica Estates in Queens County, all of the areas Fred Trump developed were considered working class to lower middle class areas. The Donald had a different vision for the direction the company should take. The middle 1970’s were a difficult time for New York City. The City was close to declaring bankruptcy. President Gerald Ford’s attitude was characterized in the Daily News as “Ford Tells NYC to Drop Dead.” Manhattan real estate was relatively cheap in NYC at the time. However, the Borough of Manhattan has always been considered as the heart of NYC, not only from a New York perspective, but also as a country(world)wide perspective. As such you really can’t go wrong investing in Manhattan real estate. The Donald began to negotiate favorable real estate deals:
“In 1971 Trump moved to Manhattan and became involved in larger building projects and utilized attractive architectural design to win public recognition. He made plans to acquire and develop the old Penn Central for $60 million with no money down. Later, with the help of a 40-year tax abatement from the New York City government, he turned the bankrupt Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt  and created The Trump Organization.
The New York City government had a plan to build the Javits Convention Center on property Trump held a right to buy option. Trump estimated his company could have completed the project for $110 million  but the city rejected his offer and Trump received a broker’s fee on the sale of the property instead. The Wollman Rink in Central Park, was started in 1980 with an expected 2½-year construction schedule but was nowhere near completion by 1986. Trump took over the management of the project, at no cost to the city, and completed it in six months using $750,000 of the remaining $3 million budget.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump
As a lesson for all entrepreneurs I highly recommend being able to acquire a $60 million property for no money down. Especially one located down the block from Macy’s landmark store. Also 40 year tax abatements in prime Manhattan real estate can be quite helpful in building ones wealth. Of course while one needs vision to see the potential of these types of ventures, having ones fathers multi-million dollar real estate company in back of you certainly helps to not only gain entrée, but also is quite convincing to sources of finances. It was, however, Trump’s marriage to his first wife that began to solidify and create the Trump brand:
“In 1977, Trump married Ivana Zelníčková and together they have three children: Donald, Jr. (born December 31, 1977), Ivanka (born October 30, 1981), and Eric (born January 6, 1984). They were divorced in 1992. In 1993, he married Marla Maples and together they had one child, Tiffany (born October 13, 1993). They divorced on June 8, 1999. In a February 2008 interview on ABC’s news program Nightline, Trump commented on his ex-wives by saying, “I just know it’s very hard for them (Ivana and Marla) to compete because I do love what I do. I really love it.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump
The truth was that it was Trump’s marriage to the exotic, foreign Ivana that began to conflate the Trump Brand with luxury. Perhaps it was with The Donald’s encouragement that Ivana set out to make them a golden couple in New York City. There were magazine photo spreads of their “golden” apartment (a gross concoction of what appeared to be a “Louis Quatorze” style of interior design), gossip column stories about their swank parties and constant newspaper mentions of the Trump’s being at the upscale events that define NYC’s elite. As the beautiful, blonde Ivana aged into a handsome maturity The Donald’s eye apparently went elsewhere in search of a more appropriate “trophy wife” that would further enhance his image. That was when Marla Maples entered his life and a new “Golden Couple” appeared constantly in the daily newspapers gossip columns. Somewhere along the line Donald Trump became more of a brand name than an entrepreneur. Also by the waning of the Reagan 80”s, Trump’s financial reputation began to suffer:
“This expansion, both personal and business, led to mounting debt. Much of the news about him in the early 1990s involved his much publicized financial problems, creditor-led bailout, extramarital affair with Marla Maples (whom he later married), and the resulting divorce from his first wife, Ivana Trump.
By 1989, poor business decisions left Trump unable to meet loan payments. Trump financed the construction of his third casino, the $1 billion Taj Mahal, primarily with high-interest junk bonds. Although he shored up his businesses with additional loans and postponed interest payments, by 1991 increasing debt brought Trump to business bankruptcy and the brink of personal bankruptcy. Banks and bond holders had lost hundreds of millions of dollars, but opted to restructure his debt to avoid the risk of losing more money in court. The Taj Mahal re-emerged from bankruptcy on October 5, 1991, with Trump ceding 50 percent ownership in the casino to the original bondholders in exchange for lowered interest rates on the debt and more time to pay it off.
The late 1990s saw a resurgence in his financial situation and fame. In 2001, he completed Trump World Tower, a 72-story residential tower across from the United Nations Headquarters. Also, he began construction on Trump Place, a multi-building development along the Hudson River. Trump owns commercial space in Trump International Hotel and Tower, a 44-story mixed-use (hotel and condominium) tower on Columbus Circle. Trump currently[when?] owns several million square feet of prime Manhattan real estate, and remains a major figure in the field of real estate.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump
As the years progressed Trump also became involved in various contentious lawsuits:
“In March 1990, Trump threatened to sue Janney Montgomery Scott, a stock brokerage firm, whose analyst had made negative comments on the financial prospects of Taj Mahal. The analyst refused to retract the statements, and was fired by his firm. Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy for the first time in November 1990. A defamation lawsuit by the analyst against Trump for $2 million was settled out of court. On November 2, 1992, the Trump Plaza Hotel filed a prepackaged Chapter 11 protection plan. Under the plan, Trump agreed to give up a 49 percent stake in the luxury hotel to Citibank and five other lenders. In return Trump would receive more favorable terms on the remaining $550+ million owed to the lenders, and retain his position as chief executive, though he would not be paid and would not have a role in day-to-day operations.
By 1994, Trump had eliminated a large portion of his $900 million personal debt and reduced significantly his nearly $3.5 billion in business debt. While he was forced to relinquish the Trump Shuttle (which he had bought in 1989), he managed to retain Trump Tower in New York City and control of his three casinos in Atlantic City. Chase Manhattan Bank, which lent Trump the money to buy the West Side yards, his biggest Manhattan parcel, forced the sale of the tract to Asian developers. According to former members of the Trump Organization, Trump did not retain any ownership of the site’s real estate – the owners merely promised to give him about 30 percent of the profits once the site was completely developed or sold. Until that time, the owners of The West Side Yards gave him modest construction and management fees to oversee the development, and allowed him to put his name on the buildings that eventually rose on the yards because his well-known moniker allowed them to charge a premium for their condos.
Trump was elected to the Gaming Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1995, he combined his casino holdings into the publicly held Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts. Wall Street drove its stock above $35 in 1996, but by 1998 it had fallen into single digits as the company remained profitless.
In January 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought a financial-reporting case against Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc., alleging that it had committed several “misleading statements in the company’s third-quarter 1999 earnings release.” The matter was settled with the defendant neither admitting nor denying the charge.
Finally, on October 21, 2004, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts announced a restructuring of its debt. The plan called for Trump’s individual ownership to be reduced from 56 percent to 27 percent, with bondholders receiving stock in exchange for surrendering part of the debt. Since then, Trump Hotels has been forced to seek voluntary bankruptcy protection to stay afloat. After the company applied for Chapter 11 Protection in November 2004, Trump relinquished his CEO position but retained a role as Chairman of the Board. In May 2005 the company re-emerged from bankruptcy as Trump Entertainment Resorts Holdings.
Lender Deutsche Bank refused to let Trump lower the prices on the units to spur sales. Arguing that the financial crisis and resulting drop in the real estate market is due to circumstances beyond his control, Trump invoked a clause in the contract to not pay the loan. Trump then initiated a suit asserting that his image had been damaged. Both parties agreed to drop their suits, and sale of the units is nearly complete.
On February 17, 2009 Trump Entertainment Resorts filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; Trump stating on February 13 that he would resign from the board. Trump Entertainment Resorts has three properties in Atlantic City.”
The Donald’s sense of entitlement led him to develop a golf course project in Scotland. In my opinion he chose Scotland because that is the land where golf was invented more than 500 years ago. Having a luxury golf course and resort there would give the Trump name the cachet associated with hundreds of years of this elite sports’ history. The following though, shows his highhandedness and sense that he is a most important person:
“In 2006, Trump bought the Menie estate in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland announcing that he intended to create the best golf course in the world on a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). The project includes plans for a hotel, holiday homes, housing and two golf courses. It led to controversy, with opposition voiced by environmentalists, and planning permission was initially refused by Aberdeenshire Council. In 2008 the local authority was overruled by the Scottish government, First Minister Alex Salmond citing economic benefits Trump had promised as justifying the unusual step of permitting development on an SSSI. These figures were disputed by the London School of Economics.
In 2009, Aberdeenshire Council received a request on behalf of Trump International Golf Links Scotland to approve compulsory purchase orders on a number of local homes. A protest group campaigned actively, using mass land purchase as a tactic. In late January 2011 Trump International stated that it had “no interest” in pursuing compulsory purchase orders and that it had never applied for them.[unreliable source?]
An award-winning 2011 documentary film, You’ve Been Trumped, by Anthony Baxter, follows the development’s progress, showing Trump speaking locally about his ambitions for the project, insulting a local farmer, who he claimed lived in “a slum”, and being awarded an honorary degree by The Robert Gordon University, in spite of a professor at that university returning his own honorary degree in protest.[unreliable source?] It also queries the supposed economic benefits, the ecological impact and the effect on local residents. When it was announced that the documentary was to be given its UK television première on BBC Two on October 21, 2012, Trump’s lawyers contacted the BBC to demand that the film should not be shown, claiming that it was defamatory and misleading. The screening went ahead, the BBC defending the decision and stating that Trump had refused the opportunity to take part in the film.
Trump has objected to plans for an offshore windfarm to be built within sight of the golf links. In 2011, he wrote to First Minister Alex Salmond expressing his view that the planned structures were ugly. He denied that he was concerned only with the view from the golf links, saying, “It is not only for my project, it is more to preserve Scotland’s beautiful coastline and natural heritage.” In 2012, Trump announced that if the windfarm were built he would abandon his plans for the hotel and housing at the golf links. Trump’s advertisement comparing wind farms to terrorism was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.”
Trump has extended his brand into owning the “Miss Universe” contest and:
“The Miss Universe Organization has been owned by Donald Trump since 1996 and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) became a joint partner in 2003. The organization produces the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants. In December 2006, talk show host Rosie O’Donnell criticized Trump’s lenience toward Miss USA, Tara Conner, who had violated pageant behavioral guidelines. This sparked a tabloid war between the two celebrities which lasted for several weeks thereafter.”
Trump has also become a TV star:
“In 2003, Trump became the executive producer and host of the NBC reality show, The Apprentice, in which a group of competitors battled for a high-level management job in one of Trump’s commercial enterprises. The other contestants were successively “fired” and eliminated from the game. In 2004, Donald Trump filed a trademark application for the catchphrase “You’re fired.”
For the first year of the show Trump was paid $50,000 per episode (roughly $700,000 for the first season), but following the show’s initial success, he is now[when?] paid a reported $3 million per episode, making him one of the highest paid TV personalities. In 2007, Trump received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to television (The Apprentice).
Along with British TV producer Mark Burnett, Trump also put together The Celebrity Apprentice, where well-known stars compete to win money for their charities. While Trump and Burnett co-produced the show, Trump stayed in the forefront, deciding winners and “firing” losers.”
The premise of Trump’s fame is that he is a financial genius and a superb manager. His history as shown reveals that this is not truly the case. Trump is a man who has artfully marketed himself as something he is not. Nevertheless, the man has managed to sell himself and the lavish lifestyle of America’s upper classes, as something that the rest of us should bow to and emulate. This past week another Trump story appeared that shows how the man has used his carefully created mythology to further make money selling the myth to people that by emulating his “wisdom” they too can become rich and join the elite:
(CNN) – New York’s attorney general accused Donald Trump in a lawsuit Saturday of defrauding students who studied at the billionaire mogul’s investment institute, though Trump’s representative said a large majority of the school’s alumni were satisfied with their experience. The $40 million civil suit alleges Trump made false claims about the school, including that he was personally involved in selecting instructors and creating the curriculum.
Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, said Trump had crafted a “bait and switch” with his school, using his well-known name. “Trading on his celebrity status, Mr. Trump personally appeared in advertisements making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got,” he wrote in a statement. “No one, no matter how rich or famous they are, has a right to scam hard working New Yorkers. Anyone who does should expect to be held accountable.”
The suit names both Trump, the chairman of the school, and Michael Sexton, its former president, as defendants. Schneiderman is seeking $40 million to repay customers who have enrolled in the school, as well as additional penalties and fines. On Twitter, Trump called Schneiderman a “lightweight” and said the attorney general was “trying to extort me with a civil law suit.”
He also linked to a website that claims 98% of Trump University’s former students were satisfied with their experience. Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and a lawyer for the billionaire, said the suit “has no merit and is nothing more than a cheap publicity stunt to deflect from (Schneiderman’s) weak job performance.”
“I am shocked he didn’t leak it to the Kris Kardashian show,” Cohen continued. “Maybe his office should focus more of their attention and the use of our tax dollars on bringing to justice those responsible for the financial meltdown.” Cohen also pointed to the website citing an approval rating of 98% for the Trump investing classes, saying the figure was derived from questionnaires submitted by students upon completing the course of study. He said the website was created in anticipation of the lawsuit.
Trump University became the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative in 2010 after the New York State Education Department said the company could not use the term “university” without its consent. In 2011, the attorney general began investigating it, along with several other for-profit educational institutions.
Former students in California have also sued Trump’s school, saying its advertising misled them into spending thousands of dollars on workshops and “mentorships.” In a class-action suit filed in 2010, the former students say Trump University is “like an infomercial” that lures customers with the Trump name but fails to deliver on its promises of success in real estate.
The Trump school offered courses in real estate, asset management, entrepreneurship and wealth creation. The courses ranged in price from $1,495 for a three-day workshop to $34,995 for a “full education.” Unlike other for-profit schools, Trump’s outfit relies heavily on the brand of its namesake. http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/08/25/n-y-attorney-general-suing-trumps-school-for-fraud/
The norm for “The Donald” is to strike back at those who attack him by essentially calling them names that are quite true about Trump himself. He accuses Schneiderman of having “weak job performance”, when in truth Trump’s record as an entrepreneur is the epitome of incompetence rescued through wealth and connections. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman responded:
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman blasted Donald Trump on HuffPost Live Tuesday for allegedly making false promises and scamming student entrepreneurs out of money at Trump University. In describing the alleged scam, Schneiderman brought up Bernie Madoff and when asked by host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin whether the two cases were similar, the New York attorney general drew comparisons between the real estate tycoon and Madoff.
“What they were telling people they were going to get is clearly not what they got,” Schneiderman said of Trump’s promises to teach his secrets to success in real estate. “And look unfortunately in hard economic times, desperate people sometimes make the best victims.”
“There’s a class action [lawsuit] on behalf of his students against him in California,” continued Schneiderman. “[Trump] sued the named plaintiff for defamation. It was struck down by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a major federal court that said, ‘Victims often sing the praises of their victimizers until the moment they realize their money is gone,’ and compared Trump to Bernie Madoff.”
When asked directly if Trump is like Madoff, Schneiderman said, “It was a scheme to lure people in with promises of very unrealistic returns on their investment and returns on their time …. It was really ludicrous representations that were being made. And about 5,000 people across the country were deceived, and they put up about 40 million bucks, a lot of it ending up in Mr. Trump’s pocket. It’s just a plain old bait and switch scheme. It’s a classic.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/27/ny-attorney-general-trump-madoff_n_3824869.html
We are fast creating a culture in America that worships wealth and celebrity. This new nobility are people who seemingly have become immune to failure. They have also become role models for a populace that finds itself slowly descending into an almost serf like status, panicked by the possibility of falling into the lower classes. They grasp at straws and envision themselves above the crowd living the charmed life of the elite. How sad it is that someone would let themselves be duped into thinking that Donald Trump could teach them how to get rich and thus rise into the upper class, which in truth in popular mythology has become the only class that matters. Many of us have been sold the myth that it is only wealth and fame that matters. They strive to grasp this golden ticket into happiness by any means possible, including paying dear money to a glorified huckster whose only wisdom is how one can be born rich and thus stay that way. If those like Trump, the Koch’s, the Mellon’s and the Bush’s have their way almost all of us will become serfs living on their largesse and acting for their pleasure.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Below are some links to past guest blogs I’ve written on the subject of a return to feudalism: