As for Trump’s finances, the Times actually destroys the adjective. “Stable” is hardly the right word to describe the reality of hundreds of millions of dollars in loans due, a long battle with the IRS over a questionable $ 72.9 million tax refund, dozens of dubious deductions, and dubious advisory agreements with Family members woven into a financial structure that revolves around the personal brand of a 74-year-old man with a history of bankruptcies, broken personal relationships, and increasingly unpredictable behavior.
But it’s the noun that Trump is most interested in. What we have learned from Trump’s taxes suggests he possesses an amazing gift that could reasonably be called “genius” – if you accept this as a descriptive word rather than an expression of praise.
In this context, genius means more than “very clever”. It means the ability to see connections and possibilities in circumstances that even people who are conventionally smart cannot see. There are some people who have a genius of a certain type in certain arenas who might actually prove stupid when it comes to more conventional intelligence as measured in conventional arenas.
Trump’s genius, as highlighted by the Times, is not only for self-promotion, but also for using self-promotion for a coherent and comprehensive strategy for personal gain. Winnings are paid out in different ways: money, of course, but also reputation currency. The taxes also underscore his ability to fully merge his personal and professional life, where homes, jets, and hairdressers become business expenses (suspects in some cases). It’s a simple fact that at this intersection of self-promotion, self-enrichment, and self-protection, Trump has a mind that operates on a different level than most, and he has used it to build a historic career.
Trump critics were eager to see in the Times report that Trump’s reputation is a total illusion. It looks more accurate to say that it is a partial illusion. His taxes confirm that he does not have a Midas note. Some of its golf courses and other ventures seem to be sucking financially. But it’s also true that real money is flowing through the Trump empire, including the Times described as $ 425 million from half of his ownership of his reality television show “The Apprentice” and “licensing and advertising contracts that resulted from his growing notoriety”.
The Times The story of reporters Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig, and Mike McIntire (and certainly backed by a large team of editors and lawyers) was appropriately skeptical in contrasting the Trump myth with the reality contained in tax returns. But there was at least a slight tension in the story, compounded by the reaction of Trump’s critics. The criticism flowed in two directions at the same time:
– Trump is a tax fraud that uses unscrupulous systems to avoid paying large sums of money legally owed to the government.
– Trump is a fake that isn’t that good in business after all. Its finances that Times said, “has suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in losses and debts personally guaranteed.” A CNN analysis by Stephen Collison said “Trump’s image is a sham” and that he “a pitifully inept businessman. ”
These two points of criticism are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they tend to prevail. There is no point being a big tax evader unless there is a lot of money coming through the door. The criticism also points to a danger. Much of the commentary on the complexities of Trump’s finances in the coming days will come from political and media types who can be baffled by filling out their expense reports.
I’ve tried to make up for this by speaking to half a dozen people who are either very wealthy or have detailed knowledge of people’s strategies in the field. Some of these people have given warning signs: Trump’s tax returns, while interesting, offer only fragmentary evidence as to whether he is a great businessman or steps away from disaster. The upcoming debt payments, which the Times refers to, could turn threateningly or not simply into new credit. The golf course losses reported in taxes do not provide a good insight into their actual balance sheets or their value as long-term assets. Since we don’t know much more about his cash flow and underlying assets, we still don’t have a clear picture of Trump’s real wealth or how safe it is.
The Times story, however, invites a philosophical question that revolves around many wealthy people in the field – large enough to include people who are worth much less and much more than the president. What is the purpose of their making money?
Different people have different points at which their material desires are fulfilled. For some it may be, “I will never fly a bus again.” For others it may be, “I will never fly commercially again.” But when that point is reached, what is the reason to keep doing more?
There are some people I have met who don’t have ostentatious personal tastes but seem to have an almost mathematical fascination with money and the process of wealth creation. There are some people who want to earn a lot, to give a lot away, to name the new dormitory after them, or to know that a child will not get malaria because of their contribution. Some people loved sports as a kid and would like to own the team as an adult.
In Trump’s case, the reality is something we have long known but which is borne out by Times coverage. He decided early on that he wanted money to go on the longest and most extravagant ego trip in the world. He never wanted to be anonymous and never be irrelevant.
We don’t know the exact size of Trump’s fortune, but we do know enough that there are quite a large number of people in this very rich country – in finance, in technology, in manufacturing – who are richer than him.
But there are no other people who have so artfully integrated their financial strategy into their life goals and drove it all the way to the presidency. There is a genius in that.
The question is whether the signatures of Trump’s financial management team – using other people’s money to promote their personal brand, keeping all plates in the air for as long as possible, and letting someone else clean up the mess if a plate falls – effectively are expected his performance at the head of government. The corporate tax cut in Trump’s first year has boosted the economy for a while, and a lot of debt will have to be paid off once he’s gone. He seemed to slide over impeachment and myriad other controversies that, by the rules of conventional politics, should have sunk him. We are a month away from knowing if this gift will lead him through a year of pandemic and racist unrest.
In Trump’s brand of high risk policies, Trump could remain a genius until one day he is no longer.