During his very first appearance on the Forbes 400 list of America’s wealthiest people, Donald Trump, as it turned out, was worth a relatively paltry $5 million. That figure was $95 million shy of what Trump’s spokesman “John Barron” claimed he was worth in order to get Trump on the list in the first place. How could Mr. Barron have made so colossal a mistake? Easy. John Barron was really Donald Trump, disguising his voice over the telephone.
By 1984 Donald Trump’s assets had “risen” to $200 million and “Mr Barron” positioned Trump on that year’s Forbes list accordingly. This time the magazine happened to record the call, and as you may recall, it came to light in 2018. On it you can distinctly hear Donald Trump pretending to be John Barron. In the opinion of the reporter, Jonathan Greenberg, who was the original interviewer and who found the recording in 2018, Trump used this deception to boost his public image and to fraudulently leverage the Forbes list to qualify for billions in loans to fund his Atlantic City casino project. It is also the opinion of Mr. Greenberg that Trump is not a billionaire, on a multiple-of-cash-flow basis.
Now here’s the most relevant part. “John Barron,” acting on behalf of Donald Trump, got Greenberg to sign a nondisclosure agreement so that he (Greenberg) could never talk about what he finally did talk about in 2018, after discovering the original tape. The good news comes down to us from contract law. A nondisclosure contract is null and void if one of the parties is fictional. In other words, Donald Trump could not sue Jonathan Greenberg for breach of NDA because in order to do so he would have to produce “John Barron,” or at least prove that he really existed. So instead Donald Trump let the scandal die by forgetting all about it and hoping the American people would largely forget about it too. And guess what? The American people largely did just that.
Fast forward to 2019, and what is quickly becoming known as “Sharpiegate.” Apparently the valuable 2018 lesson of “John Barron,” that is, to let a scandal die a natural death and not continue to harp upon it, is a lesson Trump has failed to heed in 2019. As day five has become day six and will probably soon be day seven of “Sharpiegate,” Donald Trump continues to spend his valuable “executive time” plotting ways to convince the American people that he didn’t really make a mistake. To wit, that when he mistakenly claimed that hurricane Dorian was headed, with devastating potential, for Alabama, that it really, really, really was true after all, and anybody who claims otherwise is just “fake news.” And Trump has no idea who employed the Sharpie to crudely draw an extension of the cone of influence of Dorian to include the great state of Alabama, but, Sharpie sitting prominently on the Resolute Desk or no, it definitely wasn’t he.
As many of you already know, Alabama is, with the exception of the inlet into the port city of Mobile, a landlocked state. While hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico have been known to marginally impact the state from time to time, they have never been a particularly big problem for Alabama on that account, and certainly not the usually much fiercer Atlantic Ocean hurricanes. What Alabama is known for, however, is being a scarlet red Republican state, one so full of racist, homophobic, islamophobic, gun-toting and pro-Trump voters that a racist, homophobic, islamophobic, gun-toting pedophile named Roy Moore very nearly won a place representing Alabama in the United States Senate. And he’s running again.
It may be true that Donald Trump “don’t know much about geography,” or anything else for that matter, but even lessons he’s presumably learned from the past don’t actually stick. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that this is the man whose tiny mind and tiny fingers have access to the nuclear codes. This is the man who millions of people trust to inform them, in contradiction to the unanimous voice of science, that global warming isn’t really anything to worry about. That he can’t even learn from a valuable lesson in protecting his own ego ought to scare you, never mind that he doesn’t know or care where Alabama is. It ought to scare you so much that, in November of 2020, you will run out and vote for the Democratic candidate for president of the United States, no matter who she or he turns out to be.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.