Gordon Gekko for President!
There can be no other campaign slogan for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump coming out of Monday’s first presidential debate with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. In his most unscripted and unguarded moments, the failed casino operator uncannily evoked no one as much as the slick-haired, reptilian corporate raider played by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street”, the film that so masterfully captured the essence of an era of unfettered avarice in the financial markets.
Who can forget Gekko’s signature pronouncement: “Greed is good.”
Certainly, none of the 100 million-plus Americans who listened carefully to Trump during this first debate.
The last Wall Street collapse plunged this country into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Unemployment and underemployment skyrocketed and, because the catastrophe was triggered by the unregulated trade in unsound home mortgage-backed derivative financial instruments, millions of Americans lost their homes or went under water on their mortgages. While the country as a whole has recovered, hundreds of thousands in one-time boom states, like Nevada or Arizona, still are stuck with houses worth less than what they owe on them.
During Monday’s debate, Clinton reminded Trump that, prior to the crash, the GOP nominee had expressed hope that the housing bubble would burst: “In fact,” the former First Lady said, “Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, ‘Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.’ Well, it did collapse,” she said, adding that hundreds of thousands lost their family homes.”
Trump’s reply, “That’s called business, by the way.”
Greed is good.
The Republican nominee, who at one point in the evening bragged that he took in more than $600 million last year, a period in which he was running for president, has notoriously refused to release his income tax returns—something every candidate for the White House has done for the past 40 years. Clinton speculated on the possible reasons: Perhaps Trump isn’t really as rich as he claims, which is what many wealthy people suspect, but perhaps—as in several years past when his casino operator’s application required disclosure—he paid no income taxes, despite his half-billion-dollar income. In response to the suggestion that he didn’t pay taxes, Trump said, with a smirk: “That makes me smart.”
Greed is good.
Clinton pointed out that Trump’s projects—including three Atlantic City casinos—have gone bankrupt six times. Each, left his bond-holders and investors with nothing or a fraction of their investment, and ruined hundreds of small suppliers and tradesmen whose bills he simply walked away from.
Trump’s reply was that he had “used the law of the land. If you don’t like the law, change it.” And that he had no responsibility in any of these matters except to his family, his closely held company and his employees.
By now you’ve got the point: Greed is good.
For pure moral and social hutzpah, though, it’s hard to beat Trump’s response to Clinton’s point that, early in his career as a property developer, he and his goniff of a father were twice sued by the United States Department of Justice for blatantly refusing to rent African American applicants apartments in their developments.
Without apology, Trump responded: “When I was very young, I went into my father’s company. (We) had a real estate company in Brooklyn and Queens, and we, along with many, many other companies throughout the country — it was a federal lawsuit — were sued. We settled the suit with zero — with no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do.”
Greed is good—even when it lands you in court.
All of this, of course, is part of Trump’s persona shtick as the hard-headed businessman who will handle the nation’s finances as he has his own. (Except for the bankruptcy part, I guess.)
The problem is that while Gordon Gekko actually knew what he was doing—using insider information to take over a troubled airline—Trump is both mendacious and ignorant when it comes to the national and international economic issues. (One assumes he knows how to run hotels and golf courses, but there are differences between say, green fees and trade pacts.)
Take his blustering insistence Monday night that, because of the advantages it holds over the United States, Mexico is “building the biggest (manufacturing) plants in the world,” which will presumably ‘suck’ more jobs south of the border. The problem is that Tesla currently is building the world’s largest plant right here in the United States. The two largest plants already operating also are in America—Boeings’ jumbo jet assembly facility and a Mitsubishi plant in Illinois
Greed is good, but facts are inconvenient.
Then there’s the story Trump loves to repeat about how Carrier recently moved their air conditioner plant from Indianapolis to Mexico, taking along hundreds of jobs. Two small factual problems: It was a heater, not air conditioner facility, and while new management did shift the facility to Mexico, they did it not because of any trade agreement, but because they were determined to break their American employees’ union and boost their stock price.
I guess they’re entitled to believe in the goodness of greed, too.
Ohio and Michigan have lost a great number of manufacturing jobs over the past decade and a half, but Trump’s apocalyptic fulminations notwithstanding, but in just the past 12 months the former has added 78,300 jobs and the latter, 75,800. Both have unemployment rates under 5%, which is about the national average. Similarly, while the GOP nominee decried the loss of jobs about to occur because Ford is moving most of its small car manufacturing to Mexico, he neglected to point out that the firm expects to add jobs this year because it is ramping up American production of its best-selling SUV’s.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is Trump’s great Satan—the “worst trade deal in history,” he shouts. A survey of America’s leading economists found that 95% believe that NAFTA has been a net benefit to the United States. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says NAFTA increased U.S. trade in goods and services with Canada and Mexico from $337 billion in 1993 to $1.2 trillion in 2011. Yes, some jobs were lost, but overall, U.S. manufacturing has increased 50% since NAFTA’s passage. (Just for the record: While NAFTA was ratified while Bill Clinton was in office, it was negotiated by his Republican predecessor, George Bush.) Current estimates are that more than 140,000 medium-sized American and small businesses currently depend on NAFTA related trade with Mexico and Canada.
Other business leaders pretty much see through Trump, which is why not a single Fortune 100 CEO has donated a penny to his campaign. At one point Monday, he challenged Clinton to check his reputation with New York City’s financial institutions. That actually would be a good idea, because what she would find—as financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin has reported—is that none with the exception of financially troubled Deutsche Bank even will take his calls. For a time, Goldman Sach’s new employee orientation sessions used Trump as the prime example of the kind of client they were to avoid.
OK, so greed is good, but it makes you unpopular.
It sometimes seemed Monday that, no matter which American city was cited, Trump would find an opportunity to brag about his wealth and to interject that he “owns property” there. It really was a bit too much like Stone’s unforgettably repellant Gekko: “The richest 1% of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It’s bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own.”
Actually, Trump simply should have used his last two minutes Monday to repeat the lines that Oliver Stone could have written explicitly for him: “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed. . . you mark my words, will save. . .the USA.”
Greed certainly been good to Trump, and—as a candidate who has made himself and his interests the measure of all things—one supposes it may yet be again. Some much for public service. . .and, of course, the rest of us.