Donald Trump is an increasingly fascinating figure; his detractors are getting closer and closer to convincing me he’s fuckin’ awesome… and I’ve disliked the guy since the 1980s. Way to backfire, geniuses. The following is my attempt to take on the persona of some kinda apolitical journalism-bot from a less biased age. Marvel as it pokes its robot nose into the presidential bidness his’try.
As the protests and unrest that ushered in his administration demonstrated, it’s fair to say that Donald Trump in his role as a politician inspires a bit of controversy. His ideas about governance inspire some and enrage others. But his ethical track record as a businessman might give us a better idea of what lies ahead in the next four years than anything that happened on last year’s tumultuous campaign trail.
During and after the campaign, for instance, Trump was repeatedly labeled a racist who yearns to oppress minorities, despite his making few if any statements regarding race that merited controversy. Although critics repeatedly accused him of stating that all Mexicans are rapists, the remark in question, when put in context by Politifact, clearly meant something different. He seemed to be implying that the Mexican government is involved in a vague conspiracy to get rid of the minority of their citizens who happen to be rapists by dumping them on their neighbors–which is a very bizarre statement for other reasons, but it in no way generalizes a tendency to commit rape to everyone in Mexico.
However, if the same detractors who wished to paint him as a racist had looked back into his business history, they would have had a far stronger case. In 1973, as the National Review reported, he was caught breaking the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which stated that rental property owners could not discriminate on the basis of race. Trump’s real estate company was caught breaking the law in a fairly straightforward dragnet; a white client and a black client (both of them government agents) were sent apartment shopping and received wildly different welcomes. Trump’s defense was to say that he didn’t want to be forced to rent to welfare recipients, which only dug the hole that much deeper by implying that all black people must be on welfare. His attitude toward minorities could have changed greatly over the past forty-odd years—and in fact it would be a bit odd for anyone’s views about anything to remain stagnant for that long. Nonetheless, this represents a stronger case for calling the president a bigot than does misquoting his campaign speeches.
Many also fear that the new president will overstep the bounds of executive power. He wouldn’t be the first president in modern times to expand the presidency—the most egregious abuse being the usurpation of the US Congress’s power to declare (or decline) war. America’s involvement in Vietnam, triggered by the executive branch, was officially a “conflict,” and since 2003 the presidents have been steadily issuing orders to “police” enormous swathes of the Middle East with impunity. President Bush’s accelerated expansion of the executive branch was, as many contend, continued by President Obama, and protesters now claim that Trump plans to take it so far as to become fascistic.
The American system of checks and balances will likely stop him from drifting into Mussolini territory, even if that should happen to be his intention. However, Trump’s long-standing business habits arguably hint that he may well waste the legal system’s time (and his own) trying to push the boundaries. Some of his dealings in business have shown a failure to respect contracts, for example: during the campaign, his opponent Hillary Clinton scored a point when she brought Andrew Tesoro, an architect who signed a $140,000 contract to design a ballroom for Trump and walked away with a piddling $25,000 after Trump used his plans.
It wasn’t just big-ticket contractors whose contracts Trump allegedly refused to honor; even lowly subcontractors have filed complaints by the hundreds. One of his properties in Florida agreed to settle with a dishwasher who claimed he was working overtime without receiving overtime pay. One project alone, the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, garnered 253 complaints from contractors who “weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing,” according to USA Today.
Trump counters these accusations with the claim that the contractors did shoddy work and did not deserve the agreed-upon amount. But if this is true, it casts a dubious light on the new president’s ability to pick people to do important jobs. If his team couldn’t hire a dishwasher who was worthy of his pay, it is not reassuring to consider his choice of cabinet members. And if the $140,000 ballroom design was no good, then why did Trump build it anyway?
On the other hand, Trump supporters argue that his wheeling and dealing is not evidence of a character flaw, but rather business as usual, and smart business at that. Indeed, many of the industries in which the president has invested are rife with labor abuses at all levels. In the case of the underpaid dishwasher, for example, the manager was behaving in accordance with the unwritten industry standard. (Not to mention the fact that Trump personally is likely to have had no involvement in the incident at all.) According to the Economic Policy Institute, a three-city study of low-wage industries came to the shocking conclusion that “in any given week, two-thirds experienced at least one pay-related violation.” If two-thirds of low-wage employees are being ripped off nationwide, then Trump’s managers are simply doing what low-wage managers do, unfortunately; many of the lawsuits aimed at Trump may well be relying on his high profile to get justice in the form of hush money which they would not be ablt to extract from less famous employers. According to EPI, the vast majority of stolen wages in the US go unpaid and unpunished.
Supporters also argue that the president’s sharp, if slightly maverick, acumen will help him cut favorable deals with military allies, foes, and trade competitors, which will benefit our entire country. So far in his presidency, he has succeeded in wringing an agreement out of the Saudis to set up safe zones for refugees in Saudi Arabia, thereby potentially lessening the impact of the refugee crisis in the United States. He has yet to trigger war with China, as his detractors have predicted, and has yet managed to strike an historical high diplomatic note with Taiwan. Aside from his more fervent opponents, most Americans probably hope that the better angels of his nature (and his brain) will dominate his presidency.