Is Trump’s Business Success an Indicator of Presidential Success? Are His Business Failures and Deceipts Impeachment Worthy?

I think the case to impeach Trump is rooted in an ever-growing accumulation of examples of incompetency, corruption and the violation of democratic norms. Much of this predates his presidency. I believe past actions matter in how we treat and react to his current behavior. It sets up a context.  For Trump, the most understandable reason for voting for him was that he was a vote against Hillary Clinton.  I understand this because that’s the primary reason I voted for Hillary.

But if the bar was set that low. If Trump won primarily because of who he was running against, I think it’s more than reasonable to give his presidency a short leash. He entered the presidency without a mandate and with an unprecedented degree of skepticism and weariness. In that sense, then, I think clearing the impeachment bar isn’t quite as high as is normally the case.

The case for a high impeachment bar is rooted in a respect for the democratic forces that placed a person in the executive office. Trump, however, lost the popular vote by 2,000,000 people, squeaking out an electoral victory by slim margins in a few midwestern states. And there was a lot of questionable events that happened along the way, from Russian intervention and Comey’s ill-timed announcements. The democratic mandate barely exists in his case.

Having said that, I believe in redemption. I believe people can change and grow. But past misdeeds impose some amount of obligation on the person. They require an apology, a reasonable attempt to correct past wrongs, and a renewed energy to move forward a changed person.

Trump has a long history of moral failings and missteps, has shown a reluctance to own up to them, rather prefering to attack and defend his behavior through lawsuits and retaliatory defamation, and has shown a willingness to continue his pattern of past behavior while in the white house.

This blogpost is perhaps the first in a series that will lay out the case for impeachment, one dimension at a time.

Luckily I don’t have to write much on each topic, because much of this has been widely reported. I’ll reference a sampling of that here.

I’ll begin with Trump’s wealth. Trump has spent a lot of time and energy hiding both his wealth and the extent and nature of his business entanglements, so there’s a lot we don’t know. I’ll start with what we know and then lay out a few possibilities that have yet to be fully proven:

First, how he made his wealth

Early Success

First and foremost, he was born into it. His father was successful, self-made and well-connected. Trump leveraged this good fortune in a number of ways. He inherited a lot of wealth. He benefited from his father’s political and business connections, and his father lent him money as he pursued his early real-estate investments. He took advantage of these benefits to land lucrative real-estate deals in New York City.

However, his long-term success in New York City, is fairly weak.

He has a record of not paying or underpaying his contractors:

“One contractor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being sued by Mr. Trump, said Mr. Trump underpaid on one large job, at one of his towers, by almost $100,000. The contractor opted not to sue, estimating the litigation would cost more than the losses. The two parties have not done business since.

Lawyers who spoke to The Times had similar stories.”

Bankruptcy

He heavily leveraged early real-estate success into his casinos, however during an economic downturn and an over-reliance on high interest junk bonds, he was forced into multiple bankruptcies, largely protecting his own assets while forcing the brunt of the losses on banks and those who did business with him.

In the late 1990’s, his father died, transferring a huge inheritance to him and his siblings. In addition, he discovered a different business model more in-line with his unique gifts, gifts of showmanship and flair. From here, he found he could make a fortune selling his name.

The USFL

While not directly related to his fortune, what he did to the USFL fits into a larger pattern. He takes large risks fueled by an enormous ego and ends up destroying the thing he’s involved in.

Branding

Many of the properties that bear the Trump name aren’t actually owned by the mogul. The Trump Organization has been known to partner with developers in licensing deals. In such an arrangement, a developer pays Trump a licensing fee; in exchange, they’re given permission to brand their building with the Trump name and logo. Trump benefits by receiving a regular stream of royalties, while the developer can increase the rates she charges because the Trump name signifies high quality and luxury. According to Trump, his real estate licensing deals, intellectual propertybrands and branded development are worth more than $3.3 billion; however, Forbes pegs this number at around $253 million.

A few events in his life really set him up to succeed in this way.

Early Deceipt

First of all, he successfully got himself placed on the Forbes list of richest developers early on in his life. And he did so using deceitful means. Getting him on the Forbes list, helped establish himself as an investor to be taken seriously, helping him to establish beneficial tax benefits from local politicians early on and convinced banks and investors to dump millions of their own dollars into his investments.

The Apprentice

As he transitioned into brand licensing, convincing others that the Trump name is a symbol of wealth and business acumen was critical. He is a genius at this kind of marketing. Getting the Apprentice gig was a particular coup here.

Russian Entanglements

It’s clear US banks won’t lend to him because of earlier bankruptcies. It’s also clear, Trump has a long history with Russia. 

Trump deftly distanced himself from the developers’ troubles, telling the Sun-Sentinel that he questioned their “timing.” But the condo market gradually improved, thanks in part to Russian buyers. A Reuters investigation found that 63 people with Russian addresses or passports have purchased $98.4 million of property in Trump-branded condos in South Florida.

As the new president was taking office, the Trump brand sparkled brighter than ever for Russians. The Miami Herald reported on Jan. 30 that in November 2016, Russians topped the list of foreigners looking for homes in the Miami area.

Oren Alexander, one of the top brokers at Douglas Elliman, explained the post-election trend to the Herald: “There’s no doubt that Russian buyers think America is a good place to be again.” Among the places that attracted Russian purchasers, he said, were Sunny Isles Beach and Fisher Island.

Mueller’s investigation might tell us whether any of these Trump-Russian business connections improperly melded into the 2016 campaign. But at the core of Trump’s interaction with his Russian friends is an insight they have shared ever since Soviet days: Politics may be transitory, but real estate is forever.

Although, it appears to be speculative, it seems like Trump found money to fund his ventures with Russian oligarchs he was unable to find in the US banks.

Using The Presidency to Further His Business

It’s clear Trump is using his position as president to further his business interests across the globe and that is troubling.

Are these impeachable offenses?

I believe so, but I can be talked out of it. I believe Republicans need to decide this and so far they are unwilling to entertain the idea. Trump has developed a religious attachment from his base, which makes sense. In another post, I can describe how Trump succeeded by becoming something of a cult leader. His enthusiastic base is strong enough to punish apostasy within the Republican party.  I get why Republican Senators are loathe to move on him.

A lot depends on how much evidence Mueller and others can bring up in a way that’s convincing enough to the Republican base. Trump refuses to release his tax returns. We don’t really know how wealthy he actually is and how much of that is through unethical or illegal means.

Despite that, I think the body of evidence is enough to convince me. But I’m not the one with the power to decide.

Advertisements

Love Our Enemies

Two weeks ago, we had General Conference with a number of moving, inspiring talks. I was particularly moved by the talk given by Elder Massimo De Feo. In it, he describes an experience with his mother who was struggling with cancer, suffering, in pain and near death. She sensed her son’s concern for her and felt prompted to ask her son if she could pray for him.

Elder De Feo describes it this way:

“As I knelt next to her bed and she prayed for me, I felt a love never felt before. It was a simple, true, pure love. Although she didn’t know about the plan of salvation, she had in her heart her personal plan of love, the plan of love of a mother for her son. She was in pain, struggling to even find the strength to pray. I could barely hear her voice, but I surely felt her love.”

Elder De Feo later goes on and says..

“Brothers and sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of love. The greatest commandment is about love. For me, it’s all about love. The love of the Father, who sacrificed His Son for us. The love of the Savior, who sacrificed all for us. The love of a mother or a father who would give anything for his or her children. The love of those who serve silently and are not known to most of us but are well known to the Lord. The love of those who forgive all and always. The love of the ones who give more than they receive.”

Brothers and sisters, I believe this should be the motivating force underlying everything we do as Christians. In fact, this is what I believe is the driving message, ministry and life of Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s not a controversial principle at all. Most people recognize the importance love plays in our lives. It’s a major theme in many of our movies and popular songs. It’s a foundational principle in every religion I’m familiar with. We all have this very human need to feel loved. But with a careful study of Jesus’s life and teachings, you quickly realize just how radical his message is and how really difficult it is to apply.

Let’s think a moment about what was happening in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s life. Israel, for course, was under Roman occupation at the time. There were two general responses to this occupation. Some wanted a violent revolt against the Roman power to claim what they felt was their divine right to freedom and self rule.  They felt this was a matter of prophecy and that a God-ordained messiah would lead them. Many felt Jesus came to fulfill this role.

Others wanted to embed themselves into the power structure of the Roman empire, forming cooperative alliances. But this sort of cooperation led to corruption and a move away from God and their covenants.

Jesus proposed a third way, summarized within the two great commands – to love God – possibly as a rebuke to the second approach. We show our love for God through our commitments and covenants to the gospel. If we love God, we keep God’s commandments.

The second commandment given is to love our neighbors as ourself – which is an argument against revolt. Let me pause for a bit to really dive in to what it means to love our neighbors.

I think it means to love deeply and unconditionally those close to us. Jesus loved and served his apostles. Think of Jesus washing their feet at the last supper. In the agony of the cross, Christ remembers his mother urging John to care for her. The story of the prodigal son was a lesson of the unconditional love of a father for his son, The father never gave up hope and then quickly forgave him and welcomed him home on his return.

I think it means to care for and remember the stranger, especially those typically forgotten, those on the margins, many who are easy to forget or are passed over. The parable of the good samaritan was emblematic of this teaching. Here the samaritan noticed someone suffering, and at great inconvenience to himself went out of his way to bless and to serve. Jesus, of course, spent his life blessing the sick and giving aid and comfort to those who pressed themselves into his life.

I think it means, and this is the hardest and most radical teaching of all, to love our enemies. Hopefully none of us have enemies quite like the Romans or quite like those near Jesus who betrayed him and crucified him. But it was Jesus who in the moment of agony on the cross pled for the Father to forgive the very Roman soldiers who were in the act of torturing and crucifying him.

For us, perhaps someone in your life has left the church and you feel a sense of loss and betrayal. The other day, I had someone yell an expletive at me because I didn’t get out of his way quick enough on a bike path. We all have run-ins with others and in the moment of tension, nearly anyone in that moment might be seen as an enemy. It’s at those moments, we should try to remember to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.”

Let us not forget to include ourselves in the list of people we should love. Meaning, we should be sure to take care of ourselves, protect ourselves, heal ourselves when we are suffering and in pain. And often times that might mean reaching out to others who might help us do just that.

This is difficult, difficult stuff. It’s been a life-long struggle for me.

I have a natural propensity for anxiety. I’m also an introvert. And just being a human being in a difficult world, I’ve been concerned with finding a footing in it – in terms of building a family and a career. There’s all kinds of reasons to be concerned with my own needs and concerns and not as aware of the needs and concerns of others around me.

I kind of approached my mission this way. I viewed it as a self-improvement opportunity. I knew I had serious gaps in my life. I saw the growth many people  returning home from their missions experienced and I desired that same opportunity. And my mission was great. I grew a lot. But about half way through it, I had this feeling that things weren’t quite right. I was working hard, trying to obey the mission rules. But still I felt like things weren’t where they should be. With these thoughts in my mind, one morning, in my scripture study, I was reading the Book of Mormon and I happened to be reading Moroni 7. Which is a rather remarkable chapter considering the cataclysmic war they were experiencing. It’s a chapter where Moroni was reciting teachings of his father Mormon.  Verse 45 is emblematic:

45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

But I knew this this chapter was coming. I loved it, but the message didn’t fully sink in.

That same morning I picked up the New Testament and I happened to be on 1 Corinthians 13.

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

That hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t expecting it. I knew at that moment I needed to do a better job loving the people I was working with.

Because that’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is about. It’s all about love. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.