Trump at Long Last Considers a New Haircut

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has long been notorious for paying his creditors less than promised and threatening  lawsuits more costly than the remainder if they objected, and while bragging about his untold and undocumented wealth has on four occasions resorted to bankruptcy filings to pay out mere pennies on the dollars owed for his failed casinos and strip joints. We’re told by his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that such ruthlessly unscrupulous business practices are precisely what’s needed to deal with those duplicitous Democrats and “establishment” Republicans and wily Chinamen and assorted other foreigners to make America great again, but even as we contemplate the horrible alternative of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton becoming president we do not find the argument at all persuasive.
With our government already $19 trillion in debt and the shortfalls on all its grandiose entitlement promises rapidly approaching all-the-money-in-the-world levels, Trump has already proposed several you-can-believe-him-they’re-great solutions. He told The Washington Post that he could entirely eliminate the national debt within eight years with no tax increases just by renegotiating all of the country’s trade deals in a really great way, believe him, and then a couple days later he told Fortune Magazine that he’d never said he could eliminate all the debt within 10 years and only expected to reduce the debt a “percentage,” because of all the other great things he plans to do about infrastructure and such, and when asked what percentage he replied “It depends on how aggressive you want to be,” and that “I’d rather not be so aggressive.” More worrisomely yet, he also told the CNBC cable news network that he’d handle the debt of the casino and strip joint that America has lately become by the same means that have worked out so well for himself in the past, by asking the country’s creditors to accept less than what was promised.
Asked by his stunned interlocutor if he was really talking about renegotiating sovereign bonds already issued by the government of the United States of America, Trump replied in typically un-parsable English that “I don’t want to renegotiate the bonds, but I think you can do discounting, I think, you know, depending on where the interest rates are, I think you can buy back — you can — I’m not talking about with a renegotiation, but you can buy back at discounts.”
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s typically un-parsable English allowed him much wiggle room as he inevitably walked back his comments, as the notoriously straight-talking truth-teller so often does, so the very next day he was on CNN assuring another national television audience that “People said I want to go and buy and default debt, and I mean these people are crazy. This is the United States government. First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, OK?” None of which is at all reassuring.
Call us crazy, but our best reading of Trump’s earlier comment suggests that at least in one particular moment in time Trump was actually talking on national television about paying the country’s creditors less than was promised but somehow achieving this feat without a renegotiation. This is what’s known in economics as “crazy talk.” Any debt that is paid at less than what had been contractually promised has most certainly been renegotiated, whether acknowledged or not, the entirety of the financial and political world would surely regard it as a default by the world’s biggest-or-second-biggest-economy-depending-on-the-accounting-methods, and although this method has previously worked out to the benefit of Donald J. Trump there is simply no explaining how it might work out to the benefit of America or the rest of the world. Given the chance to print his own money, just as President Barack Obama has done during the past seven-and-a-half years or so while doubling the national debt, we aren’t at all certain that the failed casino-and-strip-joint owner would avail himself of the opportunity. It didn’t work out well for the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe or any of the other casino and strip joint countries that tried to inflate their way out of debt, but we’re assured by his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that the oft-bankrupt Trump is such an exceptionally shrewd businessman that this time will surely be different.

Which is not to say, alas, that the most likely alternative is any better. The presumptive Democratic nominee has also pledged to keep her hands off those entitlement programs that are driving the country toward inevitable bankruptcy, which would involve a fight that neither of these self-described fighters have the stomach for, and unlike her most likely rival she’s not only ambiguously open to negotiations on taxing the public to keep the economy limping along even if those tax increases hinder economic growth and wind up reducing public revenues but is enthusiastically for them, so we take care not to endorse either of them. We’re still  looking around for some third  or fourth option that might be more appealing, and although haven’t settled on any yet,  and although we admittedly don’t hold out much hope that there is one, be assured we’ll keep trying.

— Bud Norman

If He’s So Rich, How Come He Ain’t Smart?

A healthy ego is required to run for the presidency of the United States, but Donald Trump takes it to his characteristic levels of excess. The tendency was on full display Tuesday during the announcement of his campaign for the nation’s highest office, where he boasted of his top-secret-but-foolproof plan to defeat the Islamic State, confidently predicted that “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” bragged that his nearby Gucci store was worth more than Mitt Romney, and described himself as “the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far.”
The oft-bankrupt real estate mogul and longtime reality television series star clearly isn’t running on the usual aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-regular guy shtick that fabulously wealthy Democrats such as Hillary Clinton routinely employ, and we must admit that he’s at least savvy enough to know that wouldn’t have worked for him, and that it probably wouldn’t have hurt the aforementioned Romney to have been a little less defensive about his more honestly earned and more generously shared wealth, but surely some small measure of humility is required to actually be the President of the United States. We’ve read enough Greek dramas to know about hubris and nemesis, and enough of the Bible to know that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, and when you throw in that ridiculous haircut of his and the embarrassment of a long-running reality television show Trump seems to be just asking for it. While we admire financial acumen just as much as the next guy, or at least the next Republican guy, we also have to quibble with his rather limited definition of success.
Trump might or might not be the richest person ever to run for the presidency, depending on which accounting of his extremely complicated spreadsheets you choose to believe, but that hardly makes him the most successful. George Washington had successfully led a rag-tag army of farmers and merchants to victory over the world’s mightiest military, which is at least as impressive as getting rich, which we he also did. Alexander Hamilton’s failed candidacy came after he had played a key role in that same rag-tag army’s victory, and then as the first Secretary of the Treasury had set up an American financial system that was the most successful wealth-generator in history until our recent profligacy ruined it, and we’re further impressed that he selflessly chose not to enrich himself in the process. Ulysses S. Grant had successfully forced the legendarily wily Robert E. Lee to Appomattox, which most historians agree was of far greater significance than his numerous failures as a businessman. Dwight Eisenhower had led a fissiparous coalition of out-gunned countries to victory over the Nazis, thus saving the world from history’s greatest calamity, and one needn’t be a historian to see how that’s a bigger deal than a Gucci store and an Atlantic City casino. That Trump measures success only in terms of dollars and cents, and even then by the most favorable accounting methods, is as problematic as his ego.
Other past presidential candidates have offered up impressive resumes full of notable successes, as well, and in many cases they’ve haven’t resulted in successful presidencies. Herbert Hoover had become quite wealthy with his international mining ventures, and he did so without the benefit of inherited wealth and in a way that won him world-wide acclaim for his ethical business practices, then volunteered for such hard jobs as coordinating relief efforts for Europe after World I, coordinating similar relief efforts for the victims of the Great Mississippi Flood, and serving as Commerce Secretary during the boom years of the Coolidge administration, and he was widely regarded as spectacularly successful in each of these tasks. He’s now regarded as one of the least successful presidents, however, and we think that’s largely due to all the counter-productive tinkering he did to overcome the Great Depression because he believed in his own powers more than he did the resilience of the free enterprise system. George H.W. Bush had a resume that not only included a successful private sector career but also public service posts ranging from Central Intelligence Agency director to Ambassador to China to being Vice President during the most successful presidential administration of our lifetime, and a similar confidence in himself had less dire consequences but slowed the momentum from the aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-B-movie-actor Reagan years.
Pretty much every presidential candidate ever has had a less a ridiculous haircut than Trump, going all the way back to the powdered wig days and even through the era when the bald were still eligible for the job, and none of them ever became famous for saying “you’re fired” to the sorts of desperate attention-seekers who co-star on cheesy reality television shows, and even the egotistical likes of John Kerry and Barack Obama preferred to let their allies in the mainstream press talk about how they would be the greatest presidents God ever created, and all of these things also figure into our definition of successful. By our accounting Donald Trump isn’t anywhere near the most successful person to run for president, and we have no doubt he’d be a spectacularly unsuccessful president, and his candidacy seems the quixotic quest of one of those desperately attention-seeking sorts you find on cheesy reality shows. The money and the name recognition and the desire of much of the media to portray the Republican nomination race as a freak show will bring him plenty of attention, and the fabulously wealthy and downright ridiculous Ross Perot has already proved that a certain percentage of the country can fall for it, but the sooner he’s out of this race the better.

— Bud Norman