Trump Is a Market Disaster

Byron York has an interesting column explaining why Trump has such a difficult time staffing his administration. After laying out the scope of the problem and (for some reason) invoking Mao, York correctly notes Trump relies on family — especially Jared Kushner, who (after all) has only been family for eight years — where others might demand loyalty via long-term political ties.

Thus Trump’s focus on the family. After dispatching sons Don and Eric to run the business, Trump formally brought daughter Ivanka and Kushner into the White House power structure. (The president sought and received a Justice Department opinion arguing that the White House is exempt from federal anti-nepotism law.)

And Trump began to pile jobs on Kushner. The Middle East peace portfolio. Point of contact for foreign leaders. Tackling the opioid crisis. Heading the Office of American Innovation. “No human being can do all that stuff,” says a Republican White House veteran.

When Bannon appeared ready for a “gunfight” with Kushner, eyes rolled across Washington. Who was Bannon kidding? “He’s picked a fight with the only person he can’t beat,” said a top GOP politico close to the White House. And it didn’t take a top GOP politico to figure that in the end, family will win.

At least, family will win in a fight versus Bannon or any of Trump’s other hires, no matter how initially infatuated Trump might be with them. In the long run, though, it might not be correct to say Kushner, even with his special place as the husband of Trump’s favorite daughter, cannot be fired. It might be more accurate to say he will be the last fired.

But even in a column that ends up there, at the family, York makes this error:

Trump’s way of running his business, even though it made him a billionaire, was small in scale — in his Trump Tower office, he relied heavily on a tight circle of people who were either related to him or had been with him for a very long time. [my emphasis]

Trump’s way of business didn’t make him a billionaire. On the contrary, Trump has generally underperformed both the stock market and what other billionaires — ones more justifiably recognized for their business acumen — have done. What made Trump a billionaire was, in very significant part, nothing more than inheriting a lot of money. That is, what made this man whose overwhelming loyalty in life is to his family was his family. Indeed, some of the other things that have helped him accrue and keep his fortune along the way involve asymmetries like bankruptcy law which actually prevent the market from measuring business success (to the extent it ever actually does that).

Which brings me to this widely-noted point in the WaPo piece on Bannon’s declining influence, the subject of York’s piece.

Trump’s three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — and Kushner have been frustrated by the impression of chaos inside the White House and feel that their father has not always been served well by his senior staff, according to people with knowledge of their sentiments. The Trump heirs are interested in any changes that might help resuscitate the presidency and preserve the family’s name at a time when they are trying to expand the Trump Organization’s portfolio of hotels.

The kids are intervening not because Ivanka looked at dying Syrian children and wept, but because Trump’s failure as president threatens to ruin the family brand, the one thing they’ve got.

I actually predicted this some time ago: Ivanka, especially, would intervene to fix things when it became clear Trump’s disastrous presidency was hurting the family.

I raise this to point out something else, beyond that we should be appealing to Trump’s brand if we want him to change.

It’s that, for a businessman, Trump has a remarkably bad idea how markets work, because he has long defied them. So it’s not surprising that he embraces policies — his immigration policy is a mixed bag, but it does relate to markets, and his drug war and “school choice” policies are actually anti-market policies disguised as market ones — that can be justified by market spin but are actually about defying it.

We should not expect Trump to believe in measures of efficacy because he has never been held to real measures of efficacy.

One more note: It is true that Jared Kushner, by virtue of marrying Trump’s favorite child, gets grand-fathered in as a family member. But remember that Kushner has only been part of this family for 8 years, for a shorter period of time than long-time Trump associates like lawyer Michael Cohen or Roger Stone. Remember, too, that (if possible) Kushner is even more a product of inheritance and privilege than Trump.

That’s a volatile combination, even assuming that Kushner’s make-believe diplomat role, in issues he has absolutely no preparation for, doesn’t get him in a heap of trouble, which I think (especially, but not exclusively, on the Russian front) it might.

Trump works by family, Trump works by brand. But Kushner may not always serve those purposes.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. Mitchell says:

    Trump is also (an alleged) billionaire because of the tax breaks special to the real estate industry and the de facto $1B hand out of a tax credit for being an inept manager (or maybe he wasn’t so much inept as just taking too much money out of the casinos to their detriment as ongoing businesses as well as ripping off lenders and contractors — or, as we call it here, theft). The inheritance helped, but isn’t the whole story.

  2. Pete says:

    I realize trying to think “logically” about all of this risks one’s head exploding…

    Naomi Klein also has up on The Intercept a video about the Trump “Global Brand” and while her point is mainly about how to “attack” it, I focus on her points about the importance of the brand to the family and Trump which is consistent with the top post here.

    Therefore, first a question: How might Trump’s recent reversals on five (or so) major campaign positions affect the brand?

    My head scratcher: Who in the Trump family is willing to risk the brand by coming so close to a potential conflict with Russia and China over Syria and North Korea respectively?  I know Trump is a narcissist and has quite an ego, but I do not believe there is any such thing as a limited nuclear exchange.

    Pete

    • Bill Michtom says:

      Naomi Klein’s video, for those of us who WANT to undo these crooks: https://youtu.be/-mxExkIVw-c

  3. RickR says:

    Disagree about Kushner. When the long knives start coming out for Trump it’s gonna be “Et tu, Jared?” If there’s one thing he’s learned from Trump it’s that nothing matters but you’re own ass.

    As for the rest of it: Kabuki theater. I think the world sees Trump as a bad joke and the current GOP power structure as lapdogs to corporate power intent only on accumulating wealth in the hope of escaping the collapse of American empire. The world can simply wait us out. These guys will piss it all away if only to “make American (faux) great again” for 5 minutes, just long enough for them to get out of town.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Trump “works” by gaming the system, by corrupting it.  He has been able to do that, as you say, by having inherited enough money to do it and by having a personality that seems to value little else.  That and possibly enormous money and other debts owed to people for whom disappointment leads to a swim in the Hudson.

    Trump gamed his employees, his contractors, his partners, his customers, and the politicians who could say yea or nay to any deal he was committed to.  No actor was too small to game.  The only consistency I see in his career is opportunism carried to a sociopathic degree.

    Trump seems to lie more than the average developer or congresscritter.  He seems to get away with it solely because of his money and what others think he can do for them, which changes as quickly as sunshine in England.

    Trump has no management expertise; in fact, his behavior is the antithesis of it.  His brand is his fortune.  His children and heirs should be worried.  Daddy is debasing himself and his brand for all the world to see.

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