David Weiss is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who grew up in Oak Park. He has written for Newsweek, the LA Herald Examiner and Men's Journal and co-founded the band Was (Not Was).
By David Weiss
Perhaps the most corrosive effect of the Trump era is not the wholesale degradation of our cherished institutions and ideas, it’s that it all began with the election of a man better qualified to sell rotgut, self-branded vodka and inedible steaks than by one deeply motivated by patriotism or a sense of service. It’s government by infomercial host, not by a statesman.
And while I have often tended toward the skeptical when it comes to anything cherished (government and religion, above all), in this case I am being rather literal in my appraisal of the Donald. Case in point: the life and crimes of consummate television huckster Kevin Trudeau, currently serving a 10-year sentence for hawking useless and dangerous weight-loss cures and advice on how to obtain “free money” from the government. He is a hydra-headed con with an impressive rap sheet.
But while Donald Trump is putative leader of the free world, Trudeau languishes in an Alabama prison for identical behavior, especially his Global Information Network, a $110-million pyramid scheme promising expert financial advice and access to “a cadre of “millionaires, billionaires and multi-billionaires” who would advise potential investors on how to get rich quick.
Sound familiar? It ought to – remember the Trump Institute? It made similar promises to its privileged “members,” offering wealth-building secrets and networking opportunities that never amounted to a hill of soybean futures. Trump lent his image and imprimatur to the bunko scheme, cashing in on his burnished image courtesy of “The Apprentice.” Many lost thousands of dollars, and Mexico never paid for it. Neither did Trump or his co-conspirators, i.e., his children. Fagin has nothing on DJT when it comes to corrupting youth.
The difference between the two television-era con-men? Trump had a big pile of dough that his family secreted from his father’s estate, rather than paying taxes on same. And he had a fat Rolodex of political figures he’d cultivated through campaign donations over the years. Remember the photo of Bill and Hillary at his wedding to Melania? That about says it all: pay in and we’ll confer legitimacy on your marriage and criminal enterprises by showing up and smiling. Little did they know they were hurling a boomerang that would one day return with a decapitating vengeance.
And that's not all ...
Mind you, I’m not heading anywhere in particular with this rambling, thumbnail screed/survey of Donald Trump’s various and sundry self-enrichment schemes, except to testify to being gobsmacked and awestruck – even to this day – that a certain segment of our fellow citizens mistake this bumbling flimflam man for Thomas Jefferson. That’s akin to thinking that Ron Popeil is Thomas Edison! Yes, I love the kitsch value of the Pocket Fisherman and the self-immolating charms of the rotisserie oven, but the man is a carny huckster and pitchman, not a proper inventor.
If only we could set our watches back four years and then “forget it,” as Popeil said of his miracle oven.
Addendum: Joe Biden might be a bit of a relic at this point, the denuded spirit of the Democratic Party past, but even that chain-rattling gaffe machine spent his life walking the line between preserving the established order and giving voice to the dispossessed. But – vive la difference -- he never created a fraudulent university, a self-enriching charity nor a line of Squaresville Chinese-made neckwear. He may have bestowed a few lingering hugs in his youth, but he steered clear of teen pageant contestants, porn stars and Playboy bunnies. The difference is qualitative, not just quantitative.
And even if Hunter Biden played Cain to his brother Beau’s Abel and pocketed a few shekels of dubious provenance, he is nowhere near the realm of rarified con-kids like Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka, the Three Stooges of insider dealing, who curry favor with deep-pocketed and murderous dictators in the name of present profit.
Add it all up and you have a near-perfect existential storm, i.e., our world pre-Covid-19. Before its rude arrival, I must admit I was hoping the recession would hit before the election, and that it would take down Trump and his crony capitalists with him. It would cause pain and suffering for many, but might be worth the short-term price to get rid of Kevin Trudeau, oops, I mean Ron Popeil. Or did I mean Donald Trump? So confusing -- you need a scorecard to tell the three card monte players apart.
Mind you, I’m no fan of the “Chinese virus,” but it looks positively wholesome and organic compared to the virulence of the Trump Flu, a malady for which there is no vaccine short of the ballot box – and we don’t even have them to depend on anymore. I always rooted for the four-legged combatant when it came to the eternal battle between dog and postman, but now I tend to cheer for the borderline sociopath sorting the mail, that is, if he or she still exists come Nov. 3.