Writing for Bloomberg, Timothy L. O’Brien, the author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald, takes President Donald Trump to task for “running a very long con on the American public,” adding that questioning the president’s tactics “raises a question that now has an urgency it didn’t decades ago: How long can the long con last?”
“Trump’s shtick in its early days was limited to New York, and most New Yorkers (who, of course, have good antennae for such things) knew it was awash in snake oil,” O’Brien observes. He notes further:
Yes, Trump might say he was a business titan worthy of the Forbes 400. But he wasn’t among the upper echelon of New York real-estate developers, he wasn’t a fixture of civic life, and he seemed more at home on Page Six than on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
Trump’s love of the con — borrowing billions he couldn’t repay so he could invest in splashy properties and projects he didn’t understand — drew national attention and blanket media coverage just before the game unraveled in serial bankruptcies in the early 1990s. After that debacle, Trump refashioned himself as a ubiquitous media curiosity, one who held center stage in part by being the one famous guy who could reliably be called upon to chat about sex, women and even his own genitals.
It was Trump’s “emergence” on The Apprentice in 2004, O’Brien observes, which, he says, “enabled him to extend the con once again”:
He had been spinning myths about being a can-do businessman for years, but the show allowed him to play an entrepreneurial guru in front of millions of people each week. Although it soon fizzled, Trump used the show to refashion himself as a calculating executive — one who some thought might just be talented enough to shake up the federal government.
O’Brien recalls that Trump later sued him for libel after the publication of TrumpNation, “because, among other things, the book scrutinized his years of patty-cake with Forbes to get on its rich-list while also raising doubts about whether he was a billionaire.”
According to former Forbes journalist Jonathan Greenberg, in 1984, Trump posed as “John Barron,” a Trump Organization official who attempted to convince Greenberg of “how loaded Donald J. Trump really was.” (“Barron” claimed Trump was worth five times the $200 million he was evaluated to be worth at the time.)
In 1984, this writer was reporting for the Forbes 400. At the time, Trump was valued at $200 million. Then the writer got a call.
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) April 20, 2018
As Greenberg notes:
At the time, I suspected that some of this was untrue. I ran Trump’s assertions to the ground, and for many years I was proud of the fact that Forbes had called him on his distortions and based his net worth on what I thought was solid research.
O’Brien himself notes that Trump lost the case against Forbes in 2011:
During a deposition, Trump conceded that he was so broke at one point that he had to borrow millions of dollars from his father’s estate to avoid personal bankruptcy — something he had earlier contested when I asked him about it during our many conversations for the book. (“I had zero borrowings from the estate,” Trump told me. “I give you my word.”)
Greenberg mentioned my reporting as one reason why he came to realize that Trump had hoodwinked him over the years, and cited documents that were available to me but not to him when he was at Forbes.