There is room for good faith disagreement on billionaire candidates.
Every time the White House Correspondents Dinner goes by and Donald J. Trump is once more among the missing at this major traditional charity event, I remember that politicians used to be able to laugh at themselves.
The judgeship that made my first career was in Travis County, Texas, home of the People’s Republic of Austin and — more to the point of this article — the seat of state government. As a result, Austin is out ahead of some bigger cities in PPC — politicians per capita.
The PPC number rises every other year, when the Texas Legislature is meeting. If you lose track of the calendar, you can tell when the price of cocaine goes up and hookers come in from Dallas and Houston to cover all the extra work.
Texas pols gather to go over the biennial ritual of dancing around under banners reading “No New Taxes!” while addressing how much to cut education to avoid raising taxes. Ever since George H.W. Bush lost his bid for a second term, the slogan “Read My Lips!” has been considered gauche.
The PPC count in Austin means that a common way of raising money for charity is the “roast.” I’m not describing a BBQ (although we have those, too) but rather the fact that people will always buy a ticket to watch important people become the butt of jokes — the cruder the better.
I once raised a lot of money for the Maplewood Elementary PTA by sitting in a dunking booth for a couple of hours at the school carnival. A quarter a ticket for a chance to put the judge in the water. The word got around among lawyers and the tickets flew, as did the baseball that was supposed to get me wet when it hit a target.
I proved that plenty of lawyers would put down cash for the purpose of dunking me but also that lawyers are not particularly skilled at hitting a target with a baseball. I thought I was going to escape the entire experience without even one trip into the drink until a lawyer named Janet Stockard (see Janet — I was taking names) got the bright idea of buying a handful of tickets and giving them to kids, after which my only respite from swimming was the time it took me to get back up on the perch. The fifth grade was particularly deadly.
I drew a line in the mud the year the Police Association wanted to raise money by having the judges chase a greased pig. In spite of refusing that gig, I think I’ve done enough trading public humiliation for charitable donations that I do not feel guilty asking Donald J. Trump why he is unwilling to duck a few stones and arrows to raise money for scholarships? Is it because most of the kids want to work for Fake News?
Mr. Trump perhaps makes enough money to cut out the public humiliation and contribute to charity directly. Of course, Mr. Trump’s record of producing money for charity when he promises it is not good. The New York Attorney General shut down the Trump Foundation for not getting money contributed by others to charity.
This question of the uses to which rich guys may be put will be on the front burner for a while with Mike Bloomberg’s entry to the Democratic Party primary for president, meaning that the Democrats now have two billionaires to one alleged billionaire on the GOP side.
On the Democratic side, Bloomberg joins Tom Steyer to make two bona fide self-made billionaires. The candidate next in net worth is probably John Delaney (still in at this writing) at somewhere over a quarter billion and less than half a billion. Plainly, Delaney is a charity case who probably had to borrow the filing fee.
On the GOP side, I say “alleged” billionaire because Mr. Trump has still not released his tax returns. Does anybody really believe that all of his tax returns, all of them, are currently under audit? Even if that is so, does anybody really believe that there is this one matter where Mr. Trump decided to accept the advice of his lawyers rather than fire them and do as he pleases?
Mr. Trump’s story is that he inherited a pittance — just a few million dollars — and parlayed it into becoming a billionaire.
His critics claim that he inherited about $400 million directly plus substantial sums passed to him over the years by methods opaque enough to avoid estate taxes. He then lost money in a series of casino bankruptcies and is left with some paltry tens of millions.
If the odds always favor the house, how do you run a casino into bankruptcy? I am not informed, but the bankruptcies are a matter of public record.
While still refusing to show his hand but still claiming to be a billionaire, Trump asserted that he could not be “bought” because his campaign would be self-funded to the tune of $100 million.
According to an analysis of Mr. Trump’s disclosures by Reuters, Mr. Trump spent $322 million, of which he contributed $66 million — but $11 million was recycled right back into Trump businesses.
This country boy finds himself having trouble keeping track of such trivial sums, a few tens of millions one way or the other. But we know Mr. Trump’s campaign was not self-funded.
The argument that he was not bribable when self-funding was the most credible of what Mr. Trump claimed were the advantages of electing a rich POTUS.
He claimed that government runs “like a business.” While the claim is nonsense on its face, it assumed that Mr. Trump was a successful businessman. That assumption was hotly contested and Mr. Trump would never release the documents that would prove his point.
A POTUS needs to be well educated in political science, history, and economics (at least) or hire a staff that is. That education can take place at a university or by experience in government.
Mr. Trump holds an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School of Business and he has no experience in government. I did not know the Wharton School offered an undergraduate degree, and Mr. Trump’s academic records are almost as tightly sealed as his financial records. We do know that he has claimed academic honors he never earned.
Mr. Trump has not done well hiring staff. Most of his Cabinet resigned in the first two years over ethical issues and the major qualification he seeks in hiring for the West Wing is sycophancy. He is not inclined to ask for advice if he had anyone to ask. Even if offered good advice he seldom cares to follow it.
There is plenty of room for humor in these facts, but Mr. Trump does not take jokes well. Hence, the empty seat at the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Compare John F. Kennedy, who once opened a telegram in front of an audience he claimed was from his father, Joe. He then read:
Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.
Neither would Mr. Trump pay for a landslide. His record says that he would slip and slide to a hair thin victory and then claim it was a landslide.