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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/23/21

Trump's Box of Six Magic Tricks: A Revisit

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, Aug. 2018)

Hieronymus Bosch.  They did it back then, too.
Hieronymus Bosch. They did it back then, too.
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Trump's "Box of Six Magic Tricks" is a topic on which I have written on several previous occasions. Since then, much has happened to Trump and the Constitutional Democracy of the U.S. nation that he continues to be in the process of destroying, in part by using them. So, I thought that it would be worth a revisit to the subject.

For an introduction to the topic, as I said previously:

"As we all know, Donald Trump has led a charmed life. There are six factors/elements/-components of what I call his 'Box of Magic Tricks,' personal and procedural, which have created this route to a charmed life for him. They are not actually magical, but very real. I call them 'magic' because they have worked for him, over-and-over again in ways that to the outside observer can seem to be magical. He has said to himself, over-and-over again, 'this is going to work for me, I can make this work for me, this must work for me' regardless of what the objective reality is, regardless of how very few, if any other, folk could make them work in the same circumstances. And so, in a sense, that is magical.

Although neither Trump nor very many of his political allies or his ruling class supporters are conscious of the Six Tricks, they have existed, do exist and have worked for him, over-and-over again. They have protected him, and indeed have saved him, from situations one after another, from his childhood onwards, which for others in the same boat would have spelled disaster.

But one or more of them may (and I say may) finally be coming unraveled. This column explains what they are and why that unraveling might be happening. But, and this is a big BUT, because he has wiggled out of so many seemingly impossible situations in the past (e.g., the Atlantic City casinos bankruptcy fiasco) I even say might be unravelling with great care.

First, here are the tricks. A simple list it is:

1. He has always had one or more protectors and enablers, either personal, or financial or both.

2. For decades he has had a standard operating procedure when he faces an adversary of any kind. He learned it from Roy Cohn (who learned it from Joseph McCarthy): Always attack; Never defend.

3. Also learned from Roy Cohn is the mantra: when you run into a problem, whatever it is, just sue (or do the equivalent, dispute the judicial order, like a subpoena, or its equivalent, whatever it is).

4. In the whole of his business life, Trump has never been responsible to anyone else, either above, or even alongside, himself.

5. Trump has lived his life surrounded by enemies, whether in business, in his personal life, in his banking and financial life, certainly in politics and not just now. Sometimes they were real. Sometimes they were imagined. Trump has always seen anybody who has opposed him on any subject, at any level of intensity, not as an adversary to be dealt with, but as an enemy. Indeed, as its ghost-writer Tony Schwartz told us in Trump's book "The Art of the Deal," the art has not been about deal-making, but rather about opponent-crushing.

6. Trump is history's greatest con man. Yes, even the famous P.T. Barnum or the equally famous Charles Ponzi or the not quite-as-famous Bernie Madoff pale beside him. I will not detail it further here because I have devoted a whole column to the subject. As I said at its beginning (with modifications in italics):

"A variety of words have been used to describe Donald Trump and Trump's White House/Presidency. They are being used with increasing frequency as various 'inside the White House' books, like those of Bob Woodward and Michael Wolff, and 'pretty close to Trump' books, have come out and have continued to come, indeed to pour, out, since the end of his Presidency. Among appellations are: 'deranged,' 'unhinged,' 'chaotic,' 'crazy,' 'bordering on senile,' and 'mad."' Trump is often described as 'uncontrolled and uncontrollable.' Now it may be true that he is really off-the-wall doing a combination of meandering through and charging through his Presidency without much direction other than 'responding to his base.' Certainly, from time-to-time I have thought so. But the more I have watched what this man has actually accomplished, the less I think that he is just lurching through it all, and the more I think that he knows exactly what he is doing (at least most of the time)."

That is, possibly up to recently. So, let's take a look at how more than one of the Tricks may be beginning to fail him.

1. He has always had one or more protectors and enablers, either personal, or financial or both. On the financial side, in the beginning there was Dad. Over the course of his life, Dad gave him over $400 million. After his student deferments ran out, during the Viet Nam War, Dad got him the famous "Bone-Spur" deferment. Later on, when no U.S. banks would lend him money, he received large sums (it is still not known how much and on what terms) from Deutsche Bank, and apparently from various Russian and Saudi Arabian sources.

However, he no longer has Deutsche Bank, and it is unclear whether he has any similar bank with similar financial strength, that is willing to continually find him on the personal side the way Duetsche Bank did. And he apparently has $400 million in debt, coming due next year, that he has personally guaranteed. That could be a major problem, if he is, this time around, unable to wiggle his way out of it.

Of the personal and professional protectors, first came Dad of course. He died. Then came the Joseph-McCarthy-NY-Mob lawyer Roy Cohn. He died. Then came his famous "lawyer-fixer" for ten years, Michael Cohen. They have had their famous falling-out, and indeed Mr. Cohen has turned on Trump full-bore (see "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!") Cohen is now formally out-of-jail, and he has promised "more-dirt-to-come." We shall see how meaningful it is, but he was the man's lawyer and has a lot of paper.

And then there is Alan Weisselberg, Trump's long-time accountant. He kept the financial secrets and presented them in such a way, presumably, that they would survive those endless audits that Trump has always been telling us about. The book is still open on Weisselberg and whether he will turn on Trump in an attempt to save his neck.

Then, of course, there is another one-time great "Trump-protector," Rudy Giuliani, who played such a major role in the totally failed legal challenges to the accuracy of the outcome of the Presidential elections, then through his very prominent "trial-by-combat" role in the Jan. 6 Insurrection. He is now apparently out-of-favor (why is there such a long list of men who know about Trump-Turn-Abouts who apparently think that "it won't happen to me" until it does?) Rudy has been under criminal investigation by the U.S. Southern District of New York for quite some time. Could Rudy turn on Trump? An even more intriguing question is could Trump turn on Rudy?

(Oh, and by-the-way, Bannon, Cruz, DeSantis, and etc. are not Trump-protectors. They are just using their connections with him now to further own careers. Each of them wants to be Dictator in their own right. If and when the time is ripe, they would leave Trump in a sec.)

2. As for "Always attack; Never defend." It is instinctive with Trump. Just watch him when he is being opposed on matters great or small, whether he is dealing with the media, with members of Congress, with Governors, with authors or entertainers, with opposing or simply questioning political commentators, up to, let's say, the Speaker of the House of Representatives or the General Secretary of the World Health Organization. Nothing new here.

3. As for "when you run into a problem, just sue," which of course Trump now has broadened to: when you get a subpoena just challenge it in court. You may well be able to run-out-the-clock, if nothing else. This a broadening of "just sue," but it is the same kind of tactic. The ultimate goal has nothing to do with the law. It has to do with getting matters all tied up in court, on the process, not the substance.

4. As for, in the whole of his business life, Trump never having been responsible to anyone else, either above or even alongside, this is no longer true. He has large numbers of small contributors, and can keep them happy just by continuing to scream loudly in MAGA-language. But he has large donors/political-investors also. At some point, especially if he gets back into power, they are going to want specific payoffs.

5. Trump has lived his life surrounded by enemies, whether in business, in his personal life, in his banking and financial life, certainly in politics and not just now. Whether they be the Central Park Five or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Adam Schiff or Robert Mueller or Nancy Pelosi or various other progressive Democrats (particular from minority groups), or issues, particularly ones that are race-and-racism related, like Critical Race Theory (which of course is a method for studying the impact of race and racism on the United States and its predecessors), and the list goes on. Only in that there are more-and-more enemies, the Trick of how he uses enemies to project his interests forward hasn't changed.

6. Finally, indeed Trump is history's greatest con man. But is this trick, the greatest one of all for this man, beginning to fall apart? A central element of the con is that the con-artist knows that whatever the con is, it a lie and is totally aware of just how he is using, just how he is manipulating the "sucker[s]-born-every-minute" (a phrase often attributed to P.T. Barnum, but he likely never actually used it himself). Trump has used many cons over the course of his career only one of the latest to be highlighted was "Infrastructure Week," which of course never happened under Trump and now is happening under President Biden. The latest con is, of course, that the Presidential election was stolen from him. At first, it seemed that when Trump screamed "Stop the Steal" he knew it was a con, that when he (at least) encouraged the march on the Capitol that led to "Jan. 6," he knew it was a con.

But now, there are various indications in his public in behavior, in his continuing pursuit of the fiction (which, in the way he talks about it, seems to be becoming less and less fictional to him), and in particular some of the evidence that has come out in Johnathan Karl's book, Betrayal, that he really believes that what (presumably) started out to be a traditional con, again in which the con artist knows the substance to be false, is true. This could, and I will only say could, lead Trump off the cliff. And why would that be? Well, the ordinary con artist knows that what he is telling is a lie, and thus can control the settings in which the con is projected, and how it is projected. If the con artist really believes that the con is true, that can lead to all kinds of difficulties if and when one gets trapped by that truth, themselves. Of course, there are and have been zillions of people pointing out, with tons of evidence, over-and-over again, that the "Big Steal" is/was all a lie. Trump constantly screamed "fake news," when he knew he was lying. But screaming "fake news" when it is not, but you are really convinced that it is, is a horse of a different color.


Addendum. The biggest of the many big lies that Hitler and the Nazis told, in this case from the early 1920's into the mid-1930's was that the reason that the Prussian Empire lost the First World War was the "Stab in the Back" engineered by "the Jews" and the Socialists in the Reichstag in the fall of 1918 (click here). Actually, at that time the Reichstag had many Socialist deputies (many of whom were Jews) and they did vote to demand that the Kaiser sue for peace. But they did that not because they were traitors but because, due to the success of the British naval blockade, both the Prussian Army and the German people,, were on the verge of starvation. The difference between the Nazi "Stab in the back" lie and Trump's "Stop the Steal" lie is that the Nazis knew they were lying, while course by now Trump thinks that he is telling the truth.

(Article changed on Nov 24, 2021 at 6:03 PM EST)

(Article changed on Nov 24, 2021 at 6:16 PM EST)

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a ├ éČ┼"Trusted Author,├ éČ Ł he is a Senior (more...)
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