I have been talking to Sekhnet recently about approaching Jeremy Scahill at the Intercept (check out his excellent podcast) about writing a column providing historical context for ongoing current events. Then Jeremy did just that in a recent podcast when he detailed the ugly history of U.S. involvement in Iraq going back to the days before Saddam was even an officer in the Iraqi military. We have been aggressively interfering in the politics of other countries for many, many years, doing things much worse than the things we are so angry at the Russians for likely doing to our electoral process.
I thought, on the recent fifteenth anniversary of the “Shock and Awe” slaughter of Iraqis, that colossal whacking of a gigantic hornet’s nest, that we would have more of these thorough historical reviews. I was wrong to think that, there are too many provocative tweets coming from that building the president lives in. The president, talking to kids the other day before their Easter Egg hunt on the White House lawn said something to the effect that nobody even knows what to call this beautiful white house the president lives in.
So once again, instead of being able to do some research and focus on some of the lessons of the recent past, we have this barely hinged genius of attention seeking and self-branding, making noise it is hard to ignore, especially since it is within his power, if his ship starts sinking, to blow up the world.
So, rather than write my pitch to Jeremy Scahill today, rather than list some names that every American should be familiar with, and the reasons why their stories are important, as we consider the unlearned lessons of the illegal war in Iraq: Pat Tillman, Jay Bybee and John Fucking Yoo, Maher Arar, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdulrahim al-Awlaki, a few others, I am thinking about this amoral, divisive narcissist, the cancerous chicken who has come home to roost in that white house nobody knows what to call. So a little context on the career of the winner-in-chief,
Our anti-government president’s family fortune is based largely on preferential treatment the family has received from the government. The government contracts for the thousands of middle class housing units Fred Christ Trump built came with generous tax abatements. The federal government had an interest in affordable housing back then and gave tax incentives to builders to build it. Fred Trump took full advantage of these tax breaks, even as he also had a winking policy of keeping colored people out of his housing projects. The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, specifically outlawed discrimination in the rental or sales of housing. The feds sued Fred Trump’s organization for ongoing and systematic violations.
Now, let me just point out that Fred Trump’s alleged policy of not renting to ‘colored people’ may or may not have been a reflection of his own racism. Fifty years after passage of the Fair Housing Act, few American neighborhoods are racially or ethnically integrated. Blacks, Hispanics and Whites living as neighbors is still rare in our country. So, let’s imagine that Fred was only protecting the people he rented to by excluding those they wouldn’t want to live next door to. Let’s assume Fred and his middle son, Donald, were on the up and up, even altruists, saints. They were suddenly in a bad position, as witnesses came forward describing how they marked the folders of Black and Hispanic applicants for apartments “C”, and how those applications were always, sadly, turned down in the end.
Enter Roy Cohn, to defend the Trumps against the federal suit. Cohn was an unscrupulous and vicious man who had made his bones as rabid anti-Communist Joe McCarthy’s right hand hatchet man on the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Cohn took credit for the execution of Ethel Rosenberg in that famous spying case that divided a divided nation. It was expected that Ethel’s life would be spared, she had young children, seemed to have been peripheral to her husband’s case (if he even was a spy), but Cohn made it his business to make sure she got the electric chair. Cohn was happy to see people fried, when it suited him.
Cohn hated Communists as much as he hated homosexuals, though he himself was an active and promiscuous homosexual. Everything you read about Roy Cohn, every picture of him you see, makes the case that this bastard was the personification of evil. He quickly became young Donald’s mentor in how to use the courts, and the tabloids, to kick enemies as hard as possible in the balls. In the end Cohn died of AIDS, insisting it was cancer, and was disbarred as he was dying, for a lifetime of criminality and using the law as a bludgeon on behalf of the many wealthy criminals he represented, including the dons of all five major crime families.
In the federal suit against the Trumps Cohn countersued the U.S. Department of Justice for defamation, to the tune of $100,000,000. The government lawyers had no idea how to fight back against something like this. People were terrified of Cohn, who was also a master of using the press to get his narratives out to the public. In the end the unfairly vilified Trumps were able to settle the case, allowing their housing operations to be monitored by the feds for compliance with the Fair Housing Act, even though they explicitly did not admit they had ever violated the fucking law itself. A stunning victory for Cohn and the Trumps.
When Donald started out in business for himself, his first major project was taking over and renovating a luxury hotel, the former Commodore, that had fallen on hard times. On behalf of himself and his business partners the Hyatts, he got a forty year tax abatement, worth more than $160,000,000, from New York City Mayor Abe Beame, as an incentive to do this work. I had a hard time digesting this as anything but corruption, since there doesn’t appear to be $160,000,000 worth of public interest involved in renovating a luxury hotel (today’s Grand Hyatt Hotel) for one’s personal enrichment. The NY Times, notorious scandal sheet that it is, puts the cost to NYC of that tax avoidance figure on Trump’s Hyatt deal at $360,000,000. source
Ed Koch, who succeeded Beame as mayor, was not as amenable to Donald’s powers of persuasion, and Fred’s political connections, and refused to give him a tax abatement when Trump built his eponymous super-villain fortress Trump Tower a few years later. Koch told Trump he would not add to Trump’s expected enormous profits by giving a tax abatement for another luxury building. Trump called Roy Cohn. Cohn brought a lawsuit. Trump got a $74,000,000 tax abatement from New York City, in a 7-0 decision in the Court of Appeals. I have no idea how that argument may have worked. The lying NY Times recently put the tax abatement number at about half that for Trump Tower, but who knows?
Here is a short piece about the $885,000,000 in tax breaks our current president profited from in his fabulous career as a fabulous brand. (clickez) More details from our friends at the Grey Skank, here.
Then we have the tale of a middle aged mogul, sitting on top of the world, who wanted a higher seat. He didn’t know why he needed it, he didn’t care, he simply wanted it. Born wealthy, aided by his bullying millionaire father’s money and political connections, he had the confidence of a warrior. Or a psychopath. He’d been sent to military academy at thirteen in an attempt, we are told, to rein in his escalating bullying. He is said to have purchased a cache of knives and that was the last straw. You can be the judge of how well that parental plan to wean him off bullying worked.
In the next act, as Donald began building his fabulous brand, he took a page out of Greek mythology. Hubris would lead the young mogul to attempt something that had never been done — he’d have the three most fabulous casinos in Atlantic City. Why anyone would build three competing businesses in one gambling town is anybody’s guess. To build the Taj Mahal, the mother of all casinos, he was forced to borrow $675,000,000 at 14% interest. It was not long before he was unable to pay thousands of people he owed money to. Many small businesses in and around Atlantic City went under as a result of being stiffed on huge bills by Trump.
He adroitly used bankruptcy to keep himself rich. Phoenix-like he rose from the ashes of his many failed businesses (in addition to the three failed casinos, his airline was sold at a loss, as were several of his luxury buildings) to continue building his fabulous brand. His long rein as the omnipotent CEO character in his reality TV show cemented his image in the public mind as a powerful asshole nobody could fuck with. He was only too happy to deliver his trademarked “you’re fired.” It was his pleasure, on TV, anyway. (As president he seems to prefer to fire unwanted lackeys by tweet).
The fact that this character he played on TV, the guy who excited so many viewers with his brashness, his street smarts, his incredible wealth, was in real life negotiating multiple bankruptcies on his failed businesses at the time did not detract from the vicarious enjoyment his fans took from his fabulous King Midas persona. Whatever else you could say about the character he played on TV, the guy was a winner, and fearless, and called it like he saw it, and took no shit from anybody. His four thousand lawsuits speak for themselves, every one of them turned to gold.
When I refer to the cancerous chickens coming home to roost, I am talking about a nation saturated in advertising, marketing, branding, dreaming of the mindless — and often unprincipled– pursuit of more wealth than anyone could ever spend, buying the destructive fantasy that incredible wealth is the only human goal worth pursuing. You can buy luxury cars, a helicopter, a jet, a yacht, ten mansions, villas with spectacular ocean views. It’s fucking fantastic! If you are born into the right social class, have the connections to get your first $160,000,000 tax abatement, you are on your way. A measly $1,000,000 loan from dad, and a few introductions to power broker friends of dad’s, can make all the difference between becoming a big winner or remaining a fucking self-hating loser who will do all kinds of stupid things because you will never be a winner.