Colson: To Trump, politics is gambling without chips
June 21, 2016
Politics, as an art form and as a contact sport, certainly has a lot in common with gambling.
You start with the premise that a bunch of cash is needed to make headway in either arena, along with the understanding that intelligence does not necessarily play a role in the question of who wins and who loses.
The assumption, among gamblers and politicians, is that the odds favor the one with the most money — he or she is well-equipped to wear down any other gamblers at the table.
Maybe that's why Donald J. Trump is in this year's presidential race.
He thinks he understands the casino business, is certain he is the smartest person in any room and believes politics is just gambling without the chips.
Given that Trump has long pointed to his dealings in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as an example of his "huuuge" success as a businessman, it is instructive to realize that this "success" actually has been one big failure after another.
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Oh, sure, he was pretty good at putting together groups of investors who, more than 30 years ago, ponied up the money for him to buy his way into casinos either already in business or under construction in Atlantic City.
But to accomplish that, all he had to do was lie like a juvenile delinquent sitting under hot lights in a police interview room. And when things went bad, he sure knew how to take the money and run.
Trump, you see, was dealing with big-buck investors who have a very strong motivation for thinking that other big-buck folks are smart and visionary and able to do the things they promise. They have to believe that in order to keep believing in themselves.
Casino investment, looked at in this way, resembles nothing so much as a daisy-chain of self delusion and arrogant self-puffery. In other words, a perfect Trumpian setup.
So why wouldn't investors put up millions to cash in on Trump's dream of being the man who pushed Atlantic City ahead of Las Vegas as the gaming capital of America?
Unfortunately for them, and for Trump, the dream died over the course of a 25-year train wreck despite the fact that Trump started out, by 1980, by becoming "a commanding figure in Atlantic City, with his casinos accounting for nearly a third of its gambling revenues and employing more than 8,000 people," according to one published account.
By 1990, though, things were starting to come unstuck.
Trump was in the middle of opening his third casino (the $1 billion Trump Taj Mahal), but his shell game of financial wheeling and dealing of the previous decade had left a veritable trail of tears in its wake.
Investors lost millions, and contractors either never were paid for the massive construction projects they undertook for The Donald or were paid pennies on the dollar as Trump's casinos underwent serial bankruptcies and crashes.
A New York Times review of Trump's business practices linked to Atlantic City revealed that Trump actually had put a number of contractors out of business, or nearly so, by not paying them for their work.
At the same time, Trump was milking his stable of investors for more and more money to prop up a fabulous construct of debts he had amassed to keep his empire afloat.
Starting in the 1980s, Atlantic City's fortunes in general took a nasty hit as the once-ripe crowds of gamblers evaporated under the weight of a nationwide recession, and things got worse as money dried up and casinos started looking seedy.
Trump's three casinos — Trump Plaza, Trump Marina Hotel Casino and the Taj — were cannibalizing one another for customers, revenue was plummeting, and Trump was dancing a whirling waltz of cash-shuffling and asset transfers to stay afloat.
"Even as his companies did poorly, Mr. Trump did well," The New York Times reported. "He put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to the casinos and collected millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and other payments" from the dying companies.
"In reality, he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing," the newspaper declared.
If you ask me, that's why he refused to release his tax records. He knows that his rapacious dealings with investors and contractors, his refusal to pay his bills while raking in big checks for being the titular head of failing firms, all of that would not play well with the voters.
Trump is a lying, grasping, insecure baby in a bully's body whose career has been one of deceit and double-dealing, and that's the man who wants to be our next president.
Actually, Trump does not even want to be president. He's running because of some internal need to prove that he can do it, just as he did when he got involved in Atlantic City and laid waste to his own empire.
And if he were to move into the White House, he easily could wreak the same kind of ruin on our nation and the world if it fed his ego or his wallet.
John Colson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.