Most of us recall where we were when we first learned of the attacks of September 11th. I also recall where I was when I first learned that Donald Trump was a complete and utter jerk. It was April or May of 1988, and I was in San Diego watching a television special about a property deal between two world famous men who were each, in their different ways, moguls of a kind: Merv Griffin and Donald Trump. The property being negotiated was the Trump Taj Mahal. Merv was buying, Trump was selling.
To me, Donald Trump, whose name I’d known about eight years by then, had always been a kind of amusing clown, a “figure of fun,” as they say in Britain. Entertaining, but not to be taken particularly seriously. By the time the show had finished I realized Trump was also a total jerk, and quite possibly a very evil and very stupid man to boot.
What convinced me of this was what Trump told the camera, after the deal between Merv and “the Donald” had been sealed and everybody was, presumably, happy. Behaving as if it was a private conversation between himself and the camera, as if Merv and millions of other people wouldn’t be watching later, Trump gloated about how much smarter than Merv he was, what a stupid deal Merv got and what a superb deal Trump got. He crowed that Merv should stick to singing and entertainment, that Merv was a fool unequal to the practice of the fine art of property-dealing brinkmanship. That was why, supposedly, Donald Trump was so rich. (As if Merv wasn’t.)
What struck me then about that little side trip into the interior workings of Donald Trump’s soul, apart from how obviously wicked and arrogant he was, was how stupid he was as a businessman. He was alerting all future business opposition that he was a film flam man who had nothing but contempt for anyone he went up against. Merv did nothing wrong, and, by the lights of observing experts, he’d acquitted himself admirably in the course of the negotiation. Trump, from his zero sum paradigm, just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, he had to show off to the audience just how wicked and “clever” he was.
Now comes, from a recent article in the New York Times, an article where we learn that, at the time he was negotiating this deal with Merv Griffin and crowing like a belligerent gamecock about how smart and rich he was, Donald Trump was also hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. In another seven or eight years after that, Trump’s losses would rise to a whopping one billion dollars. In classic Trumpian delusional counterpoise, Wednesday morning Trump referred to the Times’ piece as a, “highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!” Let’s assume, for a moment and for the sake of argument, that’s true. There’s one way for Donald Trump to prove it. Release his tax returns.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.