Writings and observations

Trump 52: Trickster

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A little off the heavyweight track this time, close in some ways to a minor anecdote, but for what it says about what sort of personality is rattling around in the skull of Donald Trump it feels likes a disqualifier alongside the bigger deals.

This comes from a May 13 Washington Post article saying that, back in the 1990s, Trump had periodically placed phone calls pretending to be his own spokesman (though there were people who would speak for him, even then), and went by the names of “John Baron” or “John Miller.” (Barron is the name of one of his sons.)

On those calls to media people, “Baron” or “Miller” would play the role of the huckster’s huckster, talking up the wonders of Trump, both business and personal. The basic idea was to pitch stories, glitzy or salacious, about the personal brand. What he said wasn’t, in that context, especially unusual; what was, was that Trump was impersonating someone else.

Trump has denied doing it. “You’re telling me about it for the first time and it doesn’t sound like my voice at all,” Trump responded earlier this year on the Today Show. “I have many, many people that are trying to imitate my voice and then you can imagine that, and this sounds like one of the scams, one of the many scams — doesn’t sound like me.”

But that was one problem: It did sound exactly like him. And no PR people who might plausibly have been associated with Trump in that time, going by those Miller or Barron names, ever have turned up.

On the scale of harmful or hurtful things to do, this one ranks pretty low. But there’s a context, as the writer Michael d’Antonio (a Trump biographer) wrote in Fortune:

He used Baron, and later, Miller, to avoid trouble, float ideas, and even spread gossip about himself. In all these cases he sought to protect and polish the Trump image, or brag in ways that would be unseemly, even for a man who is synonymous with self promotion.

. . . The first known case I could find was in 1980, when Trump used “Baron” to fend off reporters who called about the destruction of important art work that was supposed to be preserved as he tore down the Bonwit Teller department store to make way for his Trump Tower. In 1984, Baron appeared again as the spinmeister who put the best face on a Trump setback in Atlantic City. And he was the one who spoke about the rumor that Trump was buying the famous 21 Club. In 1985, it was Baron who suggested that other owners in the upstart United States Football league help pay the salary for the quarterback Doug Flutie who had signed with Trump’s team, the New Jersey Generals. During a legal dispute in 1990 Trump admitted, under oath, that he had used the name, saying, “I believe on occasion I used that name.”

What does all this suggest about Trump? Certainly it’s another indication of a man playing outside the rules and with scant regard for honesty.

D’Antonio concluded, “The important questions that should arise as we stand on the political sidewalk and watch Trump at work, though, have nothing to do with what he’s saying — but his inclination to use such trickery and deceptiveness when dealing with the public.” – rs

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