The Trump Story: The End Justifies the Means

The Curmudgeon has always had a hard time relating to people who work in sales.  In that field, the only way to judge your performance is by how much money you make.  If you made less than you made last year you’re not doing well.  If you made more than you made last year, you’re doing well.  If you have a beach house and your kids are in private school and you’re driving an $80,000 car, you’re doing great.

What bothers him about people in sales is that this outlook almost always degenerates into an incessant desire to know whether they make more money than the other guy and have more and better stuff than the other guy:  first the other guys in sales, then their siblings, then their former classmates and friends and neighbors.  In the end, with nothing else on which to base their judgments, they judge everyone based on how much money they make.

While The Curmudgeon has nothing against money – he wouldn’t at all mind having more of it – he generally thinks there should be more to life than how much money we make.  He doesn’t go as far as to believe that we necessarily have to be the work we do, but still, his imagination fails him when he contemplates people whose jobs are entirely about making money and not at all about what they do to make that money.  That’s probably why he’s always respected teachers, like his sister, and why he so admires his wife, who is a lawyer whose practice focuses solely on helping families with children who have special needs get the public education those children deserve and to which they’re entitled by law.  She once practiced another, more lucrative type of law, didn’t like it, and followed her heart elsewhere.

What we do, what we value, obviously varies from person to person.  We don’t all have to do work that benefits all of society but The Curmudgeon believes life is better when we do work that we ourselves value or respect in some way.  For him, that often means taking pride in the well-reasoned documents he attempts to write explaining why government should do a certain thing for a client of the company for which he works.  Sometimes those things he asks government to do are reasonable and for good causes and sometimes… not so much, but even then, at least he can take pride in a job well done.  He knows a carpenter who reads this blog who, he imagines, takes pride in the things he builds.  It can be a cook who feeds people, a bookkeeper who helps keep a small business running and able to pay its employees, a cable company technician who restores customers’ television and internet access, it can even be the person at the DMV who helps you renew your driver’s license.

Which leads us to Donald Trump.

He can call himself a real estate developer, but really, Donald Trump has spent his life in sales, selling himself, his brand (oh, how The Curmudgeon hates that term), and his ridiculous projects, whether luxury hotels, casinos, bottled water, or any of the other nonsense people can live perfectly happy lives without.  Say what you want about politicians, and The Curmudgeon has certainly said a lot in this space about politicians over the years, but most of them believe in things and enter into public life to attempt to pursue those things.  We may disagree with them about the value or virtue of some of those things and more than a few of them seem to lose their way as time passes, but underlying their efforts is usually a belief in something and a desire to make that something come true.

But not Donald Trump.  He, ultimately, is all about making money.  He obviously keeps score based on how much money he makes and how much he makes in comparison to others, and in his case, he appears to lack any values other than making money and any respect for those who don’t make a lot of money and don’t experience a great deal of success along the way.

How else do you explain all those multi-millionaires and billionaires in his cabinet?

It’s clear that his philosophy is that the end justifies the means because the only barometer he appears to use when judging people – and the guy is all about judging people – is their financial or professional success and in such stark terms it’s similarly clear that he believes anything people feel they need to do to gain that success is justified.

It was this belief that it’s all about the money, and that the end justifies the means, that led him and his father to exclude minorities from their housing developments in the 1970s because they believed that doing so would make their apartments more desirable to non-minorities and, in turn, enable them to charge more to rent those apartments.

It was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to stiff so many small businesses and vendors that build and repair things and provide supplies and equipment and materials for his various real estate developments.  Why should he share his money with them, even though they did what he hired them to do, when he can keep it for himself?

It was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to take his casino company through bankruptcy not once and not twice and not three times but four times, stiffing creditors left and right along the way, and then, when his companies emerged from these bankruptcies, shamelessly boast that he himself was richer than ever – and then later to tell us with a perfectly straight face that “every great businessman does this” even though we all know that’s not even remotely true.

It was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to sue the author of a book whose characterization of his net worth was much lower than Trump publicly boasted that it was.  Why would this possibly matter to a man worth billions?  Because it’s his only way of keeping score and judging his worth in comparison to others and someone had suggested that his score wasn’t as high as he claimed it to be.

And it was this belief that it’s all about the money that led him to start a school to teach others how to make money in real estate and then give those tuition-paying students so little of value in return.  Why should it matter to him what THEY got when what HE got was their tuition money?

The same holds true for how he measures success and how he wields his method for doing so.  A television news personality, for example, can’t be very good at his or her job, in the mind (and public utterings) of Donald Trump, if he or she doesn’t have good ratings because in that mind, the only way to judge someone in that line of work is by those ratings.  From this inexplicable perspective, the best reporters must surely get the best ratings, so those without the best ratings surely must be inferior in some way.  In the bizarre world that is Donald Trump’s mind, the National Enquirer, with a circulation of about 700,000, is superior to the Washington Post, with a circulation under 500,000.  If the Post is so good, he appears to believe, why do so many more people read the Enquirer?  Don’t the numbers prove that the Enquirer is superior to the Post?

Have you ever encountered anyone else – anyone else – who thinks this way?

You’ve no doubt noticed that he talks constantly about television ratings.  How many times have we heard him boast about the ratings of television news programs on which he is a guest?  He thinks we’re tuning in to hear what he has to say when in reality we’re tuning in to hear the next asinine thing he has to say.  The sad thing is that in his mind there’s no real difference:  attention is attention, no matter what the reason.  In the case of those television programs we watch when he is on, Trump is the sore in your mouth that your tongue can’t resist, the auto accident on the other side of the road you have to slow down to see, the last sliver of cake on the plate that you just can’t leave there.  You can’t resist because you see such a strong likelihood that you’ll be rewarded in some way.

Finally, this leads to one of his apparent core beliefs:  that lying is acceptable because it is a means toward an end.  He expanded upon this idea in his book The Art of the Deal.

I play to people’s fantasies.  People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

“A little hyperbole”?  He means “a little lying,” confirms that he does it, and declares it acceptable and justified.

He also wrote about his desire for attention – and his indifference to why he receives that attention.

Even though the publicity was almost entirely negative, there was a great deal of it, and that drew a tremendous amount of attention to Trump Tower,” he writes. “Almost immediately we saw an upsurge in the sales of apartments. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, and in truth it probably says something perverse about the culture we live in. But I’m a businessman, and I learned a lesson from that experience: good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.

Even if you have to lie to get it.

And that is our final destination today:  the capacity of the president of the United States to lie.  He does it easily, he does it naturally, he does it almost gleefully, he does it without apparent hint of conscience.

And most of all, he does it often.

Consider the many, many lies he told on the campaign trail:  about how he had opposed the war in Iraq, about how he could revive the coal industry, about how he wouldn’t try to cut Medicaid, about the rising crime rate, about the rising rate of assaults on police officers, about the porn movie made by one of the women who accused him of sexual assault, about some of the organizations that endorsed him, about the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S., about the thousands of people in Jersey City who cheered the collapse of the World Trade Center, about where Barack Obama was born, about Hillary Clinton’s health, about…

You get the idea.

He lied his way into the public’s consciousness.

He lied to people to get them to vote for him.

And now, as president, he continues to lie.  He lies about how many jobs he has saved and how many he has created, he lies about how much he has accomplished, he lies about how health care proposals wouldn’t hurt people, he lies about how many illegal immigrants voted in the presidential election, he lies about how many people attended his inauguration, he lies about his phones being tapped, he lies about prisoners released from Guantanamo, he lies about…

You get the idea.

Think about how he easily he lied when he suggested that he had tapes of his White House conversations with former FBI director James Comey and his ultimate revelation that he did not – and the total shamelessness he exhibited when he revealed that he did not, that he had only suggested he had tapes to attempt to influence Comey’s testimony before Congress.

He lies easily, he lies naturally, he lies often, he lies without hesitation or shame.

Because he has no shame.

Because he has no moral compass.

Because he doesn’t know the difference between good and bad or right and wrong.

Because he and his values ultimately are defective.

He does this all so easily and without hesitation because the man seemingly without values really does have one core value:  that making money is the most important thing of all and winning is the second most important thing and that anything he needs to do to achieve either is automatically justified.

Because he fervently believes that the end always – always – justifies the means.

Another problem with the lying is that when the leader lies it fosters a culture of lying.  Consider, for example, Donald Junior’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.  He lied about even having such a meeting, lied about his understanding of the standing of the person with whom Junior was meeting (that very first email said “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”), lied about the subject of the meeting, and lied about who else was at the meeting.  This kind of lying doesn’t happen in a vacuum:  it starts at the top, with his father/boss, and works its way down through an organization, as we’ve seen from people like Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and others.  After a while, it’s impossible to tell whom to believe and whom not to believe and it’s hard not to end up choosing to believe no one.

And it all comes from the top:  from Donald Trump and his easy, conscience-free, incessant lying and his belief that his lying is justified.

Which may be okay for a guy in business – okay, we all know it’s really not, but we’re giving the conscience-free the benefit of the doubt for the sake of this particular discussion – but it’s not okay for someone who is supposed to be the leader of the free world.

The rest of the world already sees this; in fact, it has long seen this.  They see him for what he is and they’re appalled that we don’t.  They saw it well before the election and were astonished to see that Americans even took him seriously, and now, they continue to be amazed.  People in other countries cannot believe that Americans have been fooled by this snake oil salesman.  They cannot believe how he conducts himself when he interacts with world leaders, when, more than anything else, he demonstrates that he’s no leader at all.

And that is what we’re stuck with today:  a defective, soulless, dishonest, self-deceiving person leading our country – and dangerously leading it to places people don’t want it to go and where they, and where we, are destined to be most unhappy once we get there and need years to return to the place we once occupied.

The thing with means and ends is that in at least some cases, one might argue that the ends are so worthy that maybe, in some way, they might really justify those dubious means.  But not with this guy:  at least from this perspective, those ends are just kind of sad.

And the rest of us are paying a price for that now.

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