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The Grifter Hall of Fame
Three Questions Americans Must Answer
P. T. Barnum considered himself to be the “greatest showman” in history and is often given credit for the saying, “there is a sucker born every minute.” There is no evidence that Barnum coined this phrase, but given his ability to convince people of the unimaginable, he no doubt would have taken the credit.
But next to Trump, Barnum was a child.
Barnum could only stand in awe of the world’s greatest conman, grifter, and cheat: Donald J. Trump. Add to the growing list of titles for Donald Trump, convicted sexual predator and now, as if it were the capstone to a long-proud career of taking from the poor and putting it in his own pocket…
There is something in American culture or psyche that loves a grifting-shyster. In the 1970’s the nation was appalled at the grift that the tele-evangelists Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker perpetrated on their supposed “partners.” They were raking in around $120 million a year in the 70’s and early 80’s and built a theme park with $200 million of the grifted money, called “Heritage USA.” Then it was discovered that Jim used $287,000 to pay off his secretary, Jessica Hahn, to keep their affair (or rape) quiet, and the whole paper-thin empire came crashing down.
Jim and Tammy Faye hadn’t seen grift of the likes of Donald Trump and certainly didn’t follow his example of how to make more money from public exposure of the sordid details of his filthy private life. Trump has taken grift and racketeering as a career to a whole new level and is still making money off his misdeeds and lawbreaking.
With every indictment that Trump has been slapped with in the past year, a new round of fund-raising emails and letters go out to his victims. And people keep sending in the checks. It is the kind of dishonest lying and deception that snake-oil salesmen of an earlier era of traveling Medicine Shows could only dream.
The fact that the Fulton County DA has charged Trump with these new counts of fraud and racketeering should not be a surprise, because he has been doing it his whole career. The scale and scope of it is staggering. The fact that the 77-year-old grifter is still walking the streets is what is surprising. Fani Willis will go down in history as the first one to charge him with a crime that in reality he has been committing for decades.
Here is a rundown-timeline of the grift and racketeering of Donald Trump
In the 1970s the Department of Justice alleged that Trump and his father discriminated against black applicants for apartments in Trump-owned buildings. One building superintendent said he had been instructed to write “C” (for “colored”) on every application from a prospective black tenant, and others described similar racial “codes.” The government argued that black applicants would repeatedly be told there were no vacancies in Trump-owned buildings, but white applicants would then inquire and get offers. The Trumps denied the claims and fought back in court, but eventually settled — “with no admission of guilt.”
Then there is this 1986 illegal financial maneuver: Trump tried to take over two rival casino companies by buying up their stock. But the law required him to disclose his large purchases to the Federal Trade Commission in advance, and he failed to do so. The matter ended up in court, and he was eventually forced to pay a $750,000 penalty as a result. A pittance.
Speaking of racketeering, there’s the matter of Trump’s alleged contacts with the mob in the 1990’s. Reputed mobster Robert LiButti was a high-dollar gambler at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, the Trump Plaza worked very hard indeed to keep him happy. LiButti demanded that women or black card dealers not be allowed on his games, the Trump Plaza kept them away from him and Trump was later fined $200,000 for violating state nondiscrimination laws. Trump also gave LiButti nine luxury cars as gifts, all of which he quickly exchanged for a total of $1.65 million in cash. But cash gifts from casinos to high rollers were then illegal in the state, so the Trump was slapped with another fine — this one for $450,000. Peanuts.
David Cay Johnston wrote in Politico Magazine in May 2016, “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks.”
Then there is the conman’s “charitable family foundation” to which he has given hardly any money, instead raising the vast majority of its funds from others. He constantly claims that the foundation’s donations are from his own pocketbook. Grift-grift-grift. Then it was discovered that Trump used $258,000 of the foundation’s money to settle legal problems involving his for-profit businesses. What Trump seems to have done here time after time, is use other people’s charity donations to get his own businesses off the hook for lawsuits. Which seems ... pretty corrupt. Grift-grift-grift.
Finally, in December 2019, while Trump was still President, the New York Attorney General Letitia James released the following statement after Donald Trump was forced to pay more than $2 million in court-ordered damages to eight different charities for illegally misusing charitable funds at the Trump Foundation for political purposes:
“Not only has the Trump Foundation shut down for its misconduct, but the president has been forced to pay $2 million for misusing charitable funds for his own political gain. Charities are not a means to an end, which is why these damages speak to the president’s abuse of power and represent a victory for not-for-profits that follow the law. Funds have finally gone where they deserve — to eight credible charities. My office will continue to fight for accountability because no one is above the law — not a businessman, not a candidate for office, and not even the president of the United States.” (Office of Attorney General James)
Not to worry. In 2005, the conman-grifter started a new “non-profit,” Trump University. The so-called, “seminar business” purported to be able to teach its students secrets of real estate investing at $20,000 a pop. Former students sued Trump, claiming they were bilked out of their money, and he faced a trial for fraud in the matter shortly after the election. The New York attorney general’s office has also sued, claiming Trump University made deceptive claims.
Instructors “were unqualified people posing as Donald Trump's 'right-hand men,'" Jason Nicholas, a former employee, said in one deposition. "They were teaching methods that were unethical, and they had had little to no experience flipping properties or doing real estate deals. It was a façade, a total lie."
Trump was forced to settle the lawsuit in December 2016 just before taking the oath of office. It was a $25 million dollar settlement. But don’t worry. By 2016, the Don had found a new grifter ploy. It went beyond Donald’s wildest dreams.
Campaign finance money schemes: Donald the grifter found one of the biggest ponzi schemes in history, running for public office. While parading himself around the country as a “populist” candidate hugging the American flag, Trump was making millions in campaign donations that he used for his own businesses and those of his children. People really believed he was running to serve the public. He was running to defraud the public. Trump’s campaign was a con.
Chris Christie, who rivaled Trump in 2016 then worked for him after he was President and now is running against him again, spoke of Trump’s grift. He summarized the Trump campaign filings as revealing a tragedy for “middle-class Americans” who sent donations to Trump. Christie went on to say,
“I mean, this guy’s a billionaire. Maybe he just sells Trump Tower and pay for his legal fees that way. Or maybe, sell the plane, he could do that, or one of the golf courses. But instead, he’s taking $25, $50, $100 from everyday Americans who believe they’re giving it to him to help elect him president, and he’s paying his legal fees.”
After the 2020 election loss, Trump turned his loss into a bonanza of fundraising. People sent Donald over $250 million dollars in donations. Trump said this was money to help “stop the steal” efforts but he ended up using the money for legal fees, and simply pocketing it. P.T. Barnum could only dream of such grift.
And now add “racketeering” to his grifter resume. The reason that Trump didn’t want to leave office in 2020, and the reason he wants back in now entails two motivations: grift and avoiding jail time. Why wouldn’t Donald want to continue to run for public office? It has netted him more money and wealth than almost any other ponzi scheme he has hatched in his career. With debts and legal fees piling up like a blizzard, Donald can’t afford to NOT run for President again. He is making way too much money in campaign donations. And now that he has four, count ‘em, FOUR indictments hanging over his head, his only way out or so it seems, is to become President again.
So extreme was Trump’s need, greed, and desire to remain in the White House that he and a conspiring group of other grifters concocted a scheme to try and overturn the certified, recounted and audited election results in Georgia. They signed faked documents, intimidated election workers, posed as false officials and pressured election officials to conduct illegal actions. It was a completely mob-oriented racket to disenfranchise Georgian voters, mostly black, and deny the will of Georgia voters.
There are several important questions that Americans must face at this point in history. Trump’s record is clear and it covers decades of crime, greed, and now, mob-like racketeering. I’m almost embarrassed to ask these questions because I’m afraid of the answers. But with trepidation, here it goes:
How is it that a man with the history of deception, grifting and crime as Donald Trump can win over 70 million votes in 2020?
Granted it wasn’t enough to win the election, but 70 million Americans apparently didn’t care about his history of crime, or, and this is the worst scenario, didn’t believe it because Trump told them that the media is fake. What does this say about the media? What does this say about a large portion of Americans? How can that many people be bamboozled for so long, and are sending Trump their $25 checks?
What does it say about a portion of the American electorate that knows that Trump has been tried and convicted of sexual abuse and defamation, indicted for stealing top secret documents from the US government and treating them like baseball cards, indicted for defrauding the United States in the January 6 attack on the Capitol with resulted in the deaths and injuries of many police and law enforcement personnel, and now, indicted for racketeering in the Georgia election count in 2020. How can so many people drift so far from decency and reality to continue and in fact increase their support for the Grifter-Conman-Racketeer, Trump?
Given that Trump is a toxic and degrading influence within American culture and especially the political system, how is it that so many are working to cover for him, protect him, and lie for him?
Many of the people around Trump were evidently, good public servants prior to their coming into Trump’s orbit and circle. Rudy Guiliani and Mark Meadows are examples of people with good reputations and character prior to coming into the Trump inner circle. What is it that happens to people when they give themselves in service to Trump? What part of their brain is put on hold? What is it about Trump that gives otherwise good and smart people permission to enter his criminal operations and become participants and apologists for it? Trump’s circle of cronies is like a bug zapper. If you fly in that orbit for very long, you are going to get zapped. We are seeing this play out now in real time. 18 bugs are going to get zapped in the Georgia indictment.
Has Donald Trump damaged the American political experiment so badly that it cannot be repaired?
Everything Trump touches becomes corrupt: the people, the processes, the norms, the standards of behavior…they all begin to decay. We have watched for the past 8 years Donald Trump corrupt the political system beyond anything we have ever seen or imagined. Even those that know or remember Richard Nixon and the Watergate Affair, have commented that Trump’s corruption and attack on the Constitution is light years past anything Nixon did. Nixon had the decency and common sense to resign the Presidency, but Trump is lacking in either of those virtues, and seeks to decay and corrupt it more by continuing to seek high office.
One of the two major political parties is clearly the party of Donald Trump, which means they are part of the criminal enterprise that Trump is running. The Republican Party can no longer be trusted with power.
What does it say about a political system that has no mechanism to eject a corrupting influence such as Trump? What kind of political system allows for an indicted person to continue seeking public office? What does it say about the public that now seems to have accepted and normalized the grift and greed and racketeering that Trump has conducted?
These questions may be the most important, and dangerous questions that we as a nation will need to answer.
We’d better answer them very soon.