The New York Independent

Trump Agonistes: The Rise and Fall of Donald Trump in Three Acts

Donald Trump failure as president has been brought into focus by the COVID-19 crisis. (Photo: Getty)

Donald Trump failure as president has been brought into focus by the COVID-19 crisis. (Photo: Getty)

Who is Donald Trump? Where does the man end and the myth begin? Were they ever separate, or always the same?

There can be only one reckoning; dusty history will decide. But, the drama! Now that’s something else. That’s art!

“Vanity, cried the Bishop in the Robert Browning poem. “Vanity!”

“Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back? Nephews—sons mine . . . ah God, I know not!”

The deathbed often unravels secrets. This bishop should have been rejoicing a life lived piously. Instead, he was riven by fear, regret, pettiness and sin.

Such are the cruel indignities of impending death.

Is Donald Trump about to cross that threshold? We do not know. But we do know this: He is in the twilight of his life.

He is a sick man, battered by his failings, so brutally on display, and facing the imminent crumbling of his ambitions, his legacy, and most of all, the myth that shielded and empowered him.

So much dust to be separated, categorized and stored away.

So the question is this: Is he a man or a myth? One or separate?

Trump made a gallant play against the dreaded COVID-19 virus. It continues to roil the country. More than 200,000 are dead; many more are dying.

Most of its victims share his age group and co-morbidities, if not the Herculean medical treatment that put him back on his feet.

His triumphant return to the White House after just three days in the hospital was nothing short of a tour de force. For a moment, the myth still reigns.

Yet, the façade couldn’t completely mask the reality. His gallant words were punctuated by breathy gasps he could not conceal.

He looked tired, stooped, possibly in pain. A caldron of virus boiled inside, pouring out on anyone who ventured too close. How many had he already infected? Ten? A dozen? More?

“Ah, God, I know not!” the poet wrote.

Meanwhile, his toadies are doing their best to prop up the myth. They carry it on their shoulders. Are they pallbearers, waiting their turn at the cold brass rungs?

They celebrate his strength, laude his quick recovery and praise his grit. He took a bullet for the nation and survived.

Doctors and health experts aren’t so sure and the polls are casting him as an ignoble one-term president.

The myth and the man are in mortal danger. So let’s begin.

Act I, Scene I: Father Knows Best (click here)

Act I, Scene I: Father Knows Best

Fred Trump, was cold and stern as a father, yet also doting. He was determined to teach his indifferent son how to make a buck.

There is no understanding Donald Trump without understanding his “malignantly dysfunctional family,” according to niece, Mary Trump, who has made a book out of it.

Fred Trump (circa 1950). He bailed out his son throughout his life. (Photo: Brooklyn Eagle)

Fred had lived a hard-scrabbled life growing up the son of immigrants. It turned him into a ruthless workaholic. He slept four hours a night and was driven by money, she says.

He made tens of millions of dollars in the ’50s and ’60s off a federal program that earmarked funds for low- and moderate-income housing in New York’s outer boroughs.

At its height, Fred’s empire encompassed 27,000 apartments and row houses in Queens and Brooklyn. But Fred had a darker side that would leave an indelible mark on his son.

In 1963, Donald was 17, a year away from enrolling in Fordham University in the Bronx.

He still lived with his parents in Queens and spent much of his free time touring construction sites in his father’s Cadillac, driven by a black chauffeur, The New York Times would report.

“His father was his idol,” Stanley Leibowitz, one of Fred’s rental agents told the newspaper. “Anytime he would come into the building, Donald would be by his side.”

Perhaps it was just a sign of the times, but Fred had a strict policy–no blacks were allowed in his apartment buildings.

Even after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act the same year, Fred’s policy remained ironclad.

But Fred’s empire was too big to ignore. Activists had complained for years about his practices and finally caught the attention of the Justice Department.

In 1973, after holding fast to its policy for decades, Trump Management was sued for discrimination. Both Fred ,the company’s chairman, and Donald, then its president, were named as defendants.

It was a major national news story. Housing discrimination had become a major battleground in the fight for civil rights.

Donald was thrust into the limelight for the first time. He was recalcitrant and belligerent. He called the suit “ludicrous” and fought it tooth and nail. He even countersued for $100 million. He waged a two-year legal fight.

But Trump Management eventually settled the case with a consent decree. It did not admit guilt but promised to open its housing to all races. Still the case would linger until 1982 over alleged violations of the legal settlement.

In characteristic fashion, Donald declared victory.

His character had been shaped at an early age. Young Donald was used to having his way.

He grew up a son of privilege. By age 3, the toddler was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8, according to The Times.

He lived in a 23-room, nine-bathroom mansion in the leafy middle-class suburb of Jamaica Estates. That fact, as well as others, would come back to clutter his myth later.

Fred showed little interest in his five children other than grooming one of them to run his property business.

He rejected his rightful heir, oldest son Freddy Jr., in favor Donald.

Donald was recalcitrant, rebellious, a troublemaker, known for his “arrogance and bullying,” says Mary.

His sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, recalled the ease at which he could lie and cheat. Those traits were innate in him and probably Fred, too.

“He was a brat,” Barry lamented.

Fred, however, refused to give up on his son.

He packed him off to a military academy determined to mold him in his own image.

“My legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy,” Donald would later say in an interview a year before he ran for president.

Act I, Scene II: A Fortunate Son (click here)


Act I, Scene II: A Fortunate Son

Fred spent the remainder of his life–and fortune– bailing out his fortunate son.

And, no wonder.

“I did his homework for him,” Maryanne told her niece in one of several recorded conversations. “I drove him around New York City to try to get him into college.”

Donald Trump was incorrigible as a youth. It landed him in military school. (Photo: Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library)

He got into Fordham University. At the time, the school was noted for accepting dumb rich kids.

“He went to Fordham for one year [actually two years] and then he got into University of Pennsylvania because he had somebody take the exams,” Maryanne said, flatly.

“No way!” Mary cried. “He had somebody take his entrance exams?”

“SATs or whatever… That’s what I believe,” Barry said, even recalling the name of the person who sat in for him.

Brother Fred Jr. also lent a hand. He was close friends with a Penn admissions official, according to The Washington Post.

That official, James Nolan, told The Post that Fred Jr. asked him to interview his brother. And, he did.

Donald was granted admission to the school.

It was “not very difficult” to get in at the time, Nolan recounted. Half the kids who applied were accepted. Today, the school is much more selective, another fact bolstering the myth.

Over the next few years, Donald, the man, would slowly submerge into the mist of his youth.

In its place the myth would rise like the Berlin Wall, brick-by-brick, with bits and pieces of his early life cherry-picked to fit the narrative.

Donald would become very selective about what he revealed, how he revealed it and who he let in. If there were gaps, he merely filled them in with fabrications.

He would later boast that life had been full of hardship growing up. His parsimonious father would only stake him to a $1 million loan. And he made him pay it back… with interest.

He was a Horatio Alger story writ large. Except the claims were lies. More would follow.

Act I, Scene III: A Seminal Crossroads (click here)


Act I, Scene III: A Seminal Crossroads

“Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask ‘Do I live, am I dead?'” the poet wrote.

For Donald Trump, college was a way-station, more than an education. A professor recalled some 50 years later he was his worst student.

“He doesn’t read,” his sister said, disapprovingly.

In 1968, the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War, Donald Trump got a draft deferment for ‘bone spurs.’ (Photo: Library of Congress)

No matter; college played a role; it gave him shelter from one of the seminal events of his generation–the Vietnam War.

Thousands of young men were being jerked off the streets by the draft and shipped to the meat-grinder of Southeast Asia. Student deferments kept him out of bounds.

It was the fifth year–after graduating in 1968–that was the problem.

The draft hung over Donald like a dark cloud, threatening to choke off his life, as it did  so many others.

The military could break him, smother him… maybe even get him killed.

He could have joined, of course, taken his chances and embraced the life of a stoic soldier. It would have served him well later in life.

He would have proved his willingness to do his duty for his country.

After all, it had lifted his immigrant grandfather out of poverty and set the course of Donald’s charmed life.

In that sense, he owed America.

Besides, since when did rich kids end up in Vietnam? He probably would have gotten a cushy assignment stateside or in Europe.

Yet, in that pivotal moment, when Donald had the chance to prove himself… the myth took over.

He was 1-A, a prime candidate for the draft. He wanted no part of it. Instead of serving his country, he enlisted the service of a lie.

His father arranged it. He knew a Queens doctor. The doc would write an excuse. It would get him out and keep him out.

“Bone spurs,” the doctor wrote in his medical report.

It was a clear disqualifier, even though Donald had been athletic in military school and never showed any sign of “bone spurs.”

On television that night, Donald had to be watching. The news was filled with reports from the battlefield, graphic footage of young men dying before they had a chance to live.

Killing, carnage, body count… and body bags. Endlessly, day-after-day, in one of the bloodiest years of the war.

But Donald had his ticket out.

Was there a twinge of guilt? Did he think about others who were dying, maybe even in his place?

His sister doubts it. She remembered Donald as a self-centered kid, only out for himself.

“He has no principles. None. None,” she lamented to her niece. “You can’t trust him.”

She had her finger on the problem even now. “It’s the phoniness of it all. It’s the phoniness and this cruelty. Donald is cruel” she said.

If, by chance, Donald needed solace, he could find it in his father.

Fred wasn’t about to let his boy go off to war. He needed him to run the business. He groomed him for it, and that’s how it would be.

Dutifully, Donald joined his father’s company, Trump Management.

So it was, Donald had cleared the last hurdle of his youth.

Act II, Scene I: Manhattan Unbound (click here)

Act II, Scene I: Manhattan Unbound

“Life, how and what is it?” the poet wrote.

Donald was young, rich… and most of all free. What’s more, all of New York was at his feet.

And what a time it was. The city was bristling with energy in the early ’70s, coming alive after a decade of decline.

Donald was digging it all. He was a denizen of New York’s fast-paced night life, rubbing shoulders with the rich, powerful and famous.

Donald Trump is alleged to have had sex with underage girls at Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan mansion. (Photo: Netflix/ScreenCap)

There was Warhol, Mick and Bianca, Cher, Elton, Bowie, John and Yoko, George Harrison, Jack Nicolson… the list went on.

It was a decadent decade, post birth control pill and pre-AIDS. It was a golden age of excess; almost anything went, including wild hedonism. And the tales were lurid.

Roman Polanski was on the run after having sex with a 13-year-old at Nicholson’s Hollywood home.  Mamas and Papas star John Phillips was having incestuous sex with daughter Mackenzie.

Donald was hanging with a fast crowd that included financier and later convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein and his sometime girlfriend and procurer ‎Ghislaine Maxwell. What do you think he was doing?

Did he have forced sex with a 13-year-old at Epstein’s posh Manhattan penthouse, as one lawsuit claimed? Who’s to say, given the tenor of the times. 

Later, Donald would joke with Howard Stern that dodging venereal disease was his Vietnam.

Nothing blunted his business career. In 1973, Donald launch his own company, The Trump Organization, with his eye squarely on Manhattan.

His father staked him with a $14 million loan.

The same year, he met Roy Cohn, who would become his consiglieri.

Books have been written about Donald Trump and Roy Cohn.

Cohn, synonymous with the rise of McCarthyism and its dark political arts in the 1950s, knew how to work the corridors of power.

They were a perfect fit; a wily, menacing lawyer, who adversaries called pure evil.

“Cohn, with his bravado, reckless opportunism, legal pyrotechnics, and serial fabrication, became a fitting mentor for the young real-estate scion,” according to a Vanity Fair profile.

Cohn had handled the government’s discrimination lawsuit against Trump Management, and oversaw its scorched-earth legal tactics.

Trump lost his moral compass when he fell under Cohn’s influence, author Sam Roberts told the magazine.

Fred made sure he’d never be out of a work, out of a job, or out of money. Cohn made sure Donald stayed out of legal trouble.

Donald was set, except for one thing.

He was a rich nobody. Nothing could be worse for a narcissist in a sea of narcissism that was 1970s New York.

Donald was hell bent on building something far bigger, far more important than apartment buildings–his myth.

And, it would be epic.

Fred had lived a nondescript life, building nondescript housing projects. But Donald wanted something “grander, more glamorous, and more exciting,” according to his book “Art of the Deal.”

“I had loftier dreams and visions, and there was no way to implement them building housing in the outer boroughs.”

Trump Tower in New York City. (Photo: Jorge Láscar)

He tapped the same zeal his father had used to elbow his way into the real estate business, and focused on a signature project–himself.

In 1978, the family made its first foray into Manhattan real estate–the renovation of the derelict Commodore Hotel, adjacent to Grand Central Terminal.

Fred made it happen. He arranged a $400 million city property-tax abatement, the largest in state history.

But judging from the tabloids, it was all Donald, the rising real estate mogul with the golden touch.

Donald was finally getting publicity.

He played the tabloids, perfectly. Before long, he was on a first-name basis with Cindy Adams, the queen of New York City gossip columnists.

She loved him! He was always good for a quote. Donald was in the room, and he could dish!

The old Commodore had opened with great fanfare, rechristened as the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

But his next project truly announced his arrival–Trump Tower on storied Fifth Avenue, home to New York’s old money elite.

Trump got off on the wrong foot right off the bat. To clear the block for construction, he destroyed historically important friezes on the Art Deco Bonwit Teller building.

The New York Times condemned Trump’s actions as “esthetic vandalism.”

Vilified in the headlines—and by New York’s chattering class—Trump’s response, according to Vanity Fair, was pure Cohn–and pure Trump. He was crass and unrepentant.

“Who cares?” he said. “Let’s say that I had given that junk to the Met. They would have just put them in their basement.”

To build the project, Cohn set him up with mobbed-up concrete firms controlled by mafia chieftains Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano.

Concrete was more expensive in New York City than anywhere else in the the country, which raised construction costs. But Cohn convinced him it was good business to do business with the mob.

Trump Tower would become the first pre-stressed concrete skyscraper in Manhattan, built without steel girders. Trump Plaza followed.

(When Salerno was eventually charged with racketeering, he hired Cohn as his lawyer.)

During construction, he underpaid or ripped off sub-contractors and became ensnarled in some of the 4,000 legal actions that would tally up against his company.

Trump Tower was tall at 58 stories, it was gaudy and it was out of character with the Avenue’s historic architecture. It was all black glass and brass, and critics hated it.

New York magazine said at the time Trump Tower had “legitimized a pushy kid nobody took seriously.”

Trump Tower was a signature property. He couldn’t be ignored. More importantly, it was a statement.

Trump had arrived–on Fifth Avenue no less.

Barbara Res, a longtime executive in Trump’s real estate company, watched as  Trump shrouded his life in more lies, exaggerations and secrecy.

He surrounded himself with yes-men, blamed others for his own failures, never took responsibility and always stole credit, she recalled in her book.

Trump lied “so naturally” that “if you didn’t know the actual facts, he could slip something past you.”

In 1982, he cajoled his way onto Forbes list of wealthiest Americans. He claimed a $200 million fortune (equal to half a billion in today’s dollars). It was mostly his father’s money. Donald’ share was about $5 million.

While Trump Tower symbolized the myth, another project was more reflective of the ruinous businessman Trump would become.

In 1988, Trump bought the Plaza Hotel, an iconic symbol of old-money New York. He borrowed $425 million and refurbished it into a condo/hotel.

The project went into bankruptcy two years later. Trump reorganized. But within five years, he was out of the project.

He lost the property, but not before off-loading $300 million in debt on Citibank and investors from Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

It was a pattern Donald, the man, would repeat over and over again, most spectacularly in Atlantic City.

The seaside resort had legalized gambling in 1977. It was a shit show from the beginning, infiltrated by the mafia and ripe for someone like Donald.

His casinos marked the high–and the low–point of his real estate empire.

To break into the market, he sold long-depressed seaside resort a fantasy. To get city tax abatements, he pledged to build scores of low and moderate income houses to replace the city’s slums. It was even written into the deal.

He was taking huge risks on the flagging city. But he was Donald Trump.

His first project, Harrah’s at Trump Plaza hotel and casino, was a distressed property when he bought it in 1984.

So was Trump Castle. He picked up the unfinished building from the Hilton Corp. for $320 million.

He had no qualms about doing business with mobsters in New York, and he courted the New Jersey mob as well to smooth the way for his Atlantic City properties.

They were part of a retinue of labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained to head his personal helicopter service, according to journalist Wayne Barrett, who wrote the seminal Trump biography, “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall.”

Casinos, by their nature, are huge cash machines. Trump milked his to fund a monumental spending spree.

He bought, Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, in 1985.

In a five-year span, he bought an airline, Trump Shuttle, a superyacht, the Trump Princess, a knock-off football team, The New Jersey Generals, “The Miss Universe” pageant and set up Trump Model Management.

But his third casino proved to be his undoing. He’d bought the Trump Taj Mahal in 1988.

The deal was leveraged to the hilt with $675 million in junk bonds. Trump spent profligately to finish it.

Construction topped out at $1.1 billion.

By then, his casinos, zapped of cashflow by his profligate spending, were throwing off huge losses. Trump started stiffing his lenders.

In an effort to bail out his son, Fred Trump walked into a casino one night and bought $3.5 million in chips just to help him meet a debt payment. It wasn’t enough.

The project was in bankruptcy a year later.

In all, his over-leveraged hotel and casino businesses filed bankruptcy six times between 1991 and 2009.

The financial collapse stripped away his casino properties and many of his other holdings. But his banks had deemed him too big to fail.

He not only escaped personal bankruptcy, but he also collected a $450,000 monthly fee to help unravel the mess he’d made.

His bond holders, subcontractors and other investors weren’t so lucky. They were on the hook for billions of dollars in debt. The myth had sold them out.

Of course, none of the promised housing projects were ever built.

During the ’80s, Trump had borrowed an estimated $4 billion from 70 U.S. banks. After the casino fiasco, not one would touch him.

Trump, the man, was ruined.

But miraculously, he’d salvaged Trump, the myth.

And, the myth was about to salvage him.

Act II, Scene II: Into the Shadows

Act II, Scene II: Into the Shadows

In advertising, it’s known as “Marlboro Friday,” Apr. 2, 1993.

It was the day cigarette manufacturer Phillip Morris did the unthinkable. It slashed the advertising budget for its iconic Marlboro brand.

Consumers were no longer swayed by traditional symbols like the rugged cowboy who emblazoned cigarette ads.

Advertisers need a new schtick, and they found it.

Over-the-hill actors, musicians and even self-manufactured celebrities like Kim Kardashian could trigger an avalanche of consumer buying by lending their name to a product.

It was the age of celebrity branding. George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon hyped Nescafe Nespresso; Jerry Seinfeld shilled for Acura; Jennifer Garner pushed high-interest credit cards.  The list went on.

Trump had it, too.

His 1987 book, “Art of the Deal,” had cemented the myth. And, in the world of branding, that was money.

Despite his business failures, his name was still synonymous with quality, wealth and prestige.

To make a buck, he slapped it on almost anything: vodka, steaks, deodorant, water bottles, vitamins, menswear, a board game, pillows, eyeglasses, coffee, lighting fixtures and more.

(By the time he ran for president, 17 of the 19 Trump-branded products had failed. The two survivors were based overseas, in Panama and Turkey, respectively.)

He also licensed his name for hotel towers he no longer could afford to own or develop himself in Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Panama City and Toronto.

Even Batu, the largest city in Russian satellite Azerbaijan, could claim a Trump tower.

(It would ensnarl Trump in allegations of laundering money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the deal.)

While Trump was on the outs with most U.S. banks, European institutions were lending him hundreds of millions of dollars.

Trump acquired a vacant, 70-story office building at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan in 1996, renovated it and slapped his name on it. It became the Trump Building.

Two years later, he was minority partner in an $878 million deal for the General Motors Building. (The group flipped the property for $1.7 billion in 2003)

Lehman Brothers, which infamously collapsed in 2008, triggering a Wall Street meltdown and The Great Recession, financed it with a $700 million loan, according to The Times.

Trump’s fortunes took another turn for both the worse and better in 1999.

After suffering from dementia for six years, Fred Trump died at 92. His wife followed a year later.

Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their children. It should have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances.

The estate touch off a monumental family squabble.

Donald’s brother, Fred Jr., who had died a broken man in 1981 from an alcoholism-induced heart attack, was at the center of the dispute.

Maryanne and brother Robert Trump sued, charging that Donald had exerted “undue influence” over his sick dad to cut Fred Jr.’s children out of the will.

Fred’s estate was finally closed in 2001 by both the Internal Revenue Service and New York State tax authorities, and his wife’s estate was closed in 2004, according to Robert Trump.

The Trumps paid $52.2 million, or about 5 percent in estate taxes, reduced through various schemes, suggesting properties had been grossly undervalued.

(In 2004, Trump’s four surviving children sold the apartments they acquired in 1997 (then valued at $41.4 million) for $737.9 million, The New York Times revealed in 2018)

The proceeds allowed Trump to revive his business career.

In 2001, he completed Trump World Tower, a 72-story residential tower near the United Nations building.

From across the East River, the black glass obelisk looks like tony Manhattan giving the middle finger to low-brow Queens where Trump grew up.

It was a real fuck you to a host of rich neighbors. The tower blocked their expansive and highly valued river and city views.

Oil billionaire David Koch, Victoria Newhouse, wife of the publisher S .I. Newhouse, former Citibank chairman Walter B. Wriston and William H. Donaldson, founding partner of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities, sued in court to no avail.

Trump won city approval of the tower without public hearings or environmental studies. At the time, his pal, Rudy Giuliani, was the mayor.

(Trump bragged during the 2016 primary election about paying for political favors. “I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me,” he said.)

A year later, Trump acquired the former Hotel Delmonico in Manhattan, converted it to luxury condos and rebranded it Trump Park Avenue.

During his construction spree, $350 million in cheap Chinese steel and aluminum was used to build The Trump International Hotel Las Vegas in 2008 and the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago in 2009.

What’s more, the foreign purchase was hidden through “various corporate entities, including holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands,” according to a Newsweek expose published in 2016.

“The report… showed us yet again that all Trump does is run his mouth and pad his pockets,” the AFL-CIO said in an angry statement.

It wasn’t Trump’s only foreign adventure.

Somewhere along the way, in a mystery still to be solved, Trump tapped into a vast ocean of dark money coursing around the world, looking for places to land.

The sources were shrouded by faceless limited liability companies in far-flung locations.

In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. lifted a tiny corner of the veil.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” he said during a New York conference.

Whether it was in Dubai, New York’s Trump SoHo hotel, or anywhere else, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

The revelation made sense. Trump was doing business with European banks suspected of laundering money for Russian oligarchs.

Deutsche Bank in Germany and Danske Bank in Denmark stood out.

Money from individuals tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the FSB, Russia’s secret service, was pouring into real estate around the world.

At the same time, The Trump Organization’s all-cash transactions with secretive corporations were off the charts.

An estimated 70 percent of his company’s property sales were to limited-liability corporations (LLCs), according to USAToday.

Beginning in the 1980s, shell companies bought more than 1,300 condos, owned or licensed by Trump in all-cash transactions worth an estimated $1.5 billion.

They amounted to 21 percent of The Trump Organization’s condo sales in the United States, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed.

Trump was living large, and in 1999, he plunged into another distressed market–golf courses.

Developers had binged on them during the ’80s. More than 4,000 were built in the United States, alone, during a boom in the sport.

But an oversaturated market, combined with a decline in golfers and rounds played, triggered a shakeout. An estimated 800 golf courses went out of business in the decade before Trump’s first deal.

If Fred had been alive, he might have put his foot down. Cohn, who often steered Donald clear of  trouble, wasn’t around to advise him, either. He’d died of AIDs in 1986.

Michael Cohen, his new consiglieri, was no Cohn. The mob lawyer could always talk frankly to his protégé. Cohen was just another “yes” man.

Trump was clearly unrestrained.

A golfer since college days, he went on a spending spree not seen since the heady days of his casino fiasco.

In 1999, Trump opened his first golf course, the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, near his Mar a Lago estate.

When the financial crisis hit in 2007 and 2008, he began building or scooping up properties around the world.

He’d raked in $427.4 million from “The Apprentice” and licensing and endorsements and used the money to finance many of his deals, according to The New York Times.

By 2016, he’s spent $400 million to buy or develop 17 golf courses worldwide.

The spree did not go unnoticed. Controversy erupted, again-and-again, over the source of his money.

At least 14 transactions were all-cash deals, according to reports.

In Scotland, he was under fire for allegedly laundering Russian money to build or buy golf courses at Menie estate in Aberdeenshire in 2012 and Turnberry golf resort in Ayrshire in 2014.

Trump had paid cash, a reported $60 million, for Turnberry.

Then, he sunk as much as $200 million into renovations and new construction, adding a new course, rehabbing an old one and fixing up the lodgings.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie charged that “Trump’s known sources of income don’t explain where the money came from for these huge cash transactions.”

“There are reasonable grounds for suspecting that his lawfully obtained income was insufficient,” he said.

Golf courses are a low-margin business even in the best of times. Expensive to build and expensive to maintain, they demand high fees from members to stay afloat.

Not surprisingly Trump’s courses gushed losses.

Turnberry, alone, lost an estimated $23 million in 2016, according to The Post. The finances were just as bad at other courses.

Most of  Trump’s core enterprises — from golf courses to his Washington hotel — were losing millions, if not tens of millions of dollars year-after-year, according to The Times.

Behind the façade of success, Trump was teetering on financial ruin, again.

Act II, Scene III: Reality Bites (click here)

Act II, Scene III: Reality Bites

By the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, Trump would need another miracle to keep the myth alive. He got one in 2004.

Reality television had been around since the dawn of television. Most were quiz-show-like formats.

But a new brand of reality show soared in popularity. They featured real people in real-life situations, often pitted against each other in unusual circumstances.

Mark Burnett, a British-born American television producer, pioneered the genre with the show “Survivor.”

He was fishing around for another idea that wouldn’t take him to so many exotic locations. He came up with “The Apprentice,” billed as the ultimate job interview.

Burnett needed a high-profile host, preferably a corporate CEO. Donald Trump immediately came to mind.

Trump, who had been vigorously licensing his name at the time,  had exactly the profile Burnett wanted.

But even Trump was skeptical of the idea. Reality television “was for the bottom-feeders of society,” he told friends.

He was right. Over 14 seasons, Trump molded what would become his political base out of reality television fans across the country, so-called non-college educated whites.

Before the show, he was perceived as a self-promoting dealmaker who built glitzy towers. He was a twice-divorced philanderer on his third wife, and a TV huckster who slapped his name on cheesy products.

But “Apprentice” fans saw him as something else; a tough-minded, straight-shooting business mogul who ended each episode by coldly telling a contestant: “You’re fired!”

It was totally on brand. Trump grew into the character.

The show did more to cement Trump, the myth, in the minds of the American public than “Art of the Deal” could ever do. The show averaged between six and seven million viewers each episode.

The format was as simple as it was inane. Contestants were given mundane tasks to test their business acumen.

Then, Trump would choose who had succeeded in a boardroom setting that often included daughter Ivanka and various executives from his company.

In 2008, the show’s eighth season, the format shifted to feature celebrities competing to win money for charities.

Trump often humiliated them, which played to his fans as well as his own ego.

His insecurity around celebrities went back to his days on the club scene; he was regularly snubbed.

It was, perhaps, the only glimpse of Trump, the man, to pierce the myth on the show. But behind the scenes, the real Trump was on full display.

Noel Casler, an “Apprentice” and NBC staffer for six years, painted a far different picture of Trump off-camera.

Trump routinely crushed up Adderall and snorted it because of nervousness and difficulty reading, “often after flying into a rage and cursing out the Script Dept., because he couldn’t read a three-syllable word.”

His racist tirades and use of the n-word were legendary and often recorded by the audio crew, Casler says.

(Burnett has refused to release the tapes.)

Trump’s drug addiction triggered incontinence, requiring him to use adult diapers. He also had an STD and a creepy relationship with daughter, Ivanka, Casler said.

“He snorts Adderall as his maintenance high. When he gets too wired, this is tempered with benzodiazepines,” the standup comedian, claimed.

Casler, who also worked for Trump’s “Miss USA” and “Miss Teen USA pageants,” said Trump routinely hit on teenage contestants.

“He’d line ’em up like they were pieces of meat. He’d be like ‘You, you, and you. If you want to win, I’m in the penthouse suite. Come and see me.'”

Casler long recognized Trump as a master conman. “He knows what he’s doing, in the sense of advancing his own interests. He is like a Godfather,'” he said in a wide-ranging interview.

(Trump often bragged about walking into dressing rooms while the girls, even the teens, were in various states of undress to “check on things.” He could do it, he asserted, because he owned the show.)

“Trump wants music to play when he walks in a room, he wants to get high and he wants to grab women; Ivanka and Jared want to rule the world.” Casler said. “I fear them more.”

“The Apprentice” hardly seemed like a platform to launch a political campaign.

Trump had talked about running for president for years, usually when he was grousing about some government action he didn’t like.

But he’d been largely apolitical. His personal and business interests, more often than not, drove his political interests, mostly on the local level where he focused most of his campaign contributions.

He registered as a Republican in Manhattan in 1987 and changed party affiliation five times. He was a Democrat in 2001 before switching back to Republican eight years later after Barack Obama was elected president.

He flip-flopped on issues almost as much.

He supported the Iraq war in 2002, before coming out against it.  In 2003, he had a financial interest in opposing the war.

Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts planned “to sell $485 million in junk-grade bonds, but the uncertainty of war complicated Trump’s bond sale,” according to The Newark Star Ledger.

For most of his adult life, he’d supported abortion. His views only shifted when he seriously began considering running for president.

At the same time, he developed a particular animus for Obama. Trump was an outspoken advocate of the so-called “birther” movement.

He repeatedly claim, falsely, that Obama was born in Kenya. He pushed it even after it had long been debunked. But it won him wide support among hard-right and white supremacist groups.

He didn’t run for president because of “The Apprentice,” but without “The Apprentice” there would be no candidacy, according to the show’s executives and producers.

Act III, Scene I: The Rise (click here)

Act III, Scene I: The Rise

“Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage,” wrote the poet.

Washington was on trial following the 2008 financial collapse. The government had let Wall Street run wild until it imploded under the weight of its own greed.

Tens of thousands of families were ruined and evicted from their homes. Many more saw their life savings reduced by half. Yet, not one Wall Street mogul was prosecuted.

The bitterness and resentment created by the Republican Bush administration spilled over into the 2008 election.

Obama took office in the midst of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. He spent the next eight years, nursing the nation back to financial health.

By the 2016 election, dissatisfaction with Washington still ran high. The door was open for an outsider, and the Fortunate Son stepped through it.

Trump’s decision to run for president was driven by the same insecurities and ego that molded his business career.

Despite years of campaign contributions and cultivating Republican bigwigs, Trump was viewed by party stalwarts as too fringe to win a national election.

“I realized that unless I actually ran, I wouldn’t be taken seriously,” Trump told The Times in 2016.

Even top  Republican strategists failed to realize “The Apprentice” had turned Trump from an easily caricatured Richie Rich into a pop-culture truth-teller, wrote Marc Fisher in The Washington Post.

“He was an evangelist for the American gospel of success, a decider who insisted on standards in a country that had somehow slipped into handing out trophies just for showing up.”

Trump faced a formidable opponent in Democrat Hillary Clinton. She disclosed her tax returns and released her medical records. Trump refused to do either.

Hillary, however, had been so roughed up by two decades of Republican smears, her negatives were almost as high as his.

She’d weathered them all: Benghazi, unfounded allegations about the Clinton charitable foundation, a bogus conspiracy over the sale of a uranium mine and worse.

During the campaign, Wikileaks selectively published private emails stolen by Russian operatives from her campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee.

Trump played them up to the hilt.

But her use of a private server for government emails while Secretary of State would prove to be her undoing. Republicans blew it up into a four-year investigation that ended when FBI Director James Comey refused to bring charges in July 2016.

Then, he wrote a letter to Congress that he was reviving the email investigation based on what was claimed to be new evidence.

Republicans in Congress promptly leaked the letter 11 days before the election. Comey cleared her again a week later. But it was too late.

To Trump, politics was like his business; it was a zero-sum game. It played to his instincts and his narrative.

Cynically, his campaign had capitalized on an uptick in populism and lingering resentment over the 2008 financial crash.

White, blue-collar workers felt like they’d been sold out by the monied elites. Their jobs were being shipped overseas, not the bankers’ or the establishment’s. They profited, as they always had.

Immigrants seemed to be filling what remained of the low-wage jobs at home.

Trump said he alone could fix it–the cheating foreign nations, the influx of immigrants, the supposedly lopsided treaties, the globalists–and they believed him.

He played the outsider, who promised to “drain the swamp.”

The serial philandering, alleged sex assaults, porn stars, shady deals, decades of failed businesses and long association with mobsters, foreign oligarchs and one, Jeffrey Epstein, were all defining elements of his character.

In the damning 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape,  Trump, himself, even spelled out his singular lack of morals and ethics.

He bragged about trying to “fuck” a married woman and boasted that his celebrity allowed him to grab women by the “pussy” whenever he wanted. “They let me do it,” he crowed.

More than 20 women accused Trump of sex assault, which seemed to confirm the contents of the tape. But Trump called them all liars.

Voters believed the myth, brought to them weekly over 192 episodes of “The Apprentice.”

Clinton still won the election by 3 million popular votes. But Trump won the White House by the slimmest of margins. A scant 77,000 votes across three states tipped the Electoral College in his favor.

He’d won an improbable race that everyone thought he would lose, including himself.

Don Jr. said his father “looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears—and not of joy,” Michael Wolff would write in his book.

Trump was horrified, he said.

He just wanted the fame from a high-profile campaign, not the job of president. And with good reason.

The nation’s capital has its own peculiar culture. It’s always been a button-down town governed by long-standing protocols, traditions… and laws. Credentials count; truth counts.

Trump had neither the patience nor the desire to learn the tedious details that go into governing.

“Nothing contributed to the chaos and dysfunction of the White House as much as Trump’s own behavior,” Wolff would note.

“The West Wing was in disarray, with Bannon, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner all operating in a free-form environment. Bannon, especially, saw his role as creating the “soul” of the White House, according to Wolff. And Trump’s own behavior was credited as not befitting the White House.”

Trump treated the presidency like a side-gig. He refused to give up his business interests as other presidents had and exploited his office to pad the Trump Organization’s finances.

He took off to play golf more than any other president. His 144 jaunts to his own courses–his last a month before the election– cost taxpayers an estimated $141 million, according to a Government Accounting Office report.

The Trump International Hotel in Washington became a haven for foreign diplomats, lobbyists and deal makers seeking to curry influence with the administration.

Saudi Arabian lobbyists spent $270,000 alone in a three-month period.

“He is one great big example of exploiting public office for private gain,”  Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told Time magazine.

Trump still had his myth; but it began showing cracks the very day he took office.

It was over a small and obvious detail.

He claimed the crowd assembled on the capital grounds was the largest to ever witness an inauguration. More importantly, it was far bigger than either of Obama’s two terms.

Trump had always draped himself and his projects in superlatives. It was a tactic that had worked for him in the past to paper over the corruption and chaos of his business career.

But the lie was easily disproven, causing Trump to explode.

Like a furnace that belches fire when its doors are flung open, all of Trump’s insecurities, narcissism and ego came roaring out.

He claimed the media had misrepresented the number of people attending his inauguration, despite photographic evidence to the contrary.

White House spokesmen went into overdrive to back him up.

The controversy boiled for days longer than it should have, leading to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s infamous claim to “alternative facts.”

Trump had run headlong into a Washington buzz saw. The media, playing its traditional role, had snapped on the fabrication like a steel trap. But not all of the media.

Back in the golden era of media barons, an old saying went: “The press was free to anyone who owned one.”

But the Internet changed all that. Now, anyone really could own the electronic equivalent of a press.

A media bubble formed around the president populated by sycophants and right-wing pundits. The echo-chamber repeated and reinforced even his most outlandish lies and exaggerations.

Without that, the president might have been reined in a lot sooner. The damage may have been curtailed.

He would have realized, he needed to reach out, build on his razor-thin coalition and pull people in from the other side.

Instead, he did what he always did; he fell back on lies and misstatements.

Trump arrived in Washington with a suitcase full of promises.

He would build a wall (Mexico would pay for it), deport all undocumented immigrants, ban Muslims, allow guns in classrooms and cut taxes.

He would reject climate change, overturn Roe v. Wade, end the Iran nuclear deal, repeal Obamacare, bring back coal and steel jobs, boost fossil fuels, end NAFTA and launch trade wars against cheating foreign nations.

But his populism, outside of a few symbolic gestures, quickly fell by the wayside.

Instead, his agenda morphed into the usual Republican corporatism and trickledown economics.

Act III, Scene II: The Myth and the Plague (click here)

Act III, Scene II: The Myth and the Plague

For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.” –Albert Camus

The arc of Donald Trump’s business and political career finally collapsed on the 1,355th day of his administration. The COVID-19 pandemic shattered the myth and nearly killed the man.

On Oct. 6, 2020, Trump was like Mao after his swim in the Yangzi, or Hitler after the July 20 Plot.  He strode out onto the White House balcony to send a message.

He was still alive and still in charge.

Trump was dressed in his presidential blue blazer, white shirt and red tie. But his pancake makeup was discolored and uneven. His right hand was visibly bandaged from intravenous tubes. His breathing was halting and raspy.

He stood at attention and pulled off his surgical mask in a dramatic gesture, another Riefenstahl moment in an administration full of them.

He could have been square with the American people. He could have told about his own fear of dying. Instead, he simply lied.

“Feeling really good!” the president tweeted.

“Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

In those early days, when the virus was just becoming known, Trump had a choice to make; level with the American people or play the angles in a bid to save his own re-election.

Like much of his life when he faced adversity, he chose the expedient way out; he lied and dissembled.

Trump and right-wing Fox News talking heads went absurdly overboard dismissing the danger of COVID-19.

It was as if President Roosevelt addressed the nation after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and wished Hawaii well in its war with Japan. After all, it wasn’t the president’s responsibility. Hawaii wasn’t even a state!

But, if by chance Hawaii won, why, he would gladly step in and take credit.

Of course, that never happened, but it is an accurate reflection of the Trump administration’s response to the COVID crisis.

Trump’s negligence as president became more-and-more glaring as the COVID-19 pandemic raged. He not only failed to act when he should have to curb the virus, he continued to mismanage the crisis.

As the pandemic grew exponentially around the globe, Trump spun an alternate reality of lies, deceptions and denials that significantly delayed the U.S. response and put tens of thousands of citizens at risk.

With confirmed cases of the coronavirus escalating rapidly, government officials almost overnight shut down large sectors of the economy in February.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump infamously said in March as the virus rampaged.

He said addressing the pandemic fell squarely on each state. The were left to scramble for scarce medical supplies without a coordinated national plan or  widespread access to testing.

Trump failed to realize the pandemic and the economy were inextricably linked.

If Trump had only acted quickly, declared a national emergency, devised a nationwide plan to contain it and marshalled resources, serious economic damage could have been avoided and lives saved.

But he didn’t.

Instead, Trump saw it as a “blue state problem,” because the virus was more pronounced, at first, in states with ports of entry like New York and California.

“If you take the blue states out, we’re at a level that I don’t think anybody in the world would be at. We’re really at a very low level, but some of the states — they were blue states and blue-state management,” he said as late as September in a news conference.

What little national effort there was came in fits and starts. Trump, personally, was defiant and recalcitrant every step of the way.

He quarreled with his health experts, refused to wear a mask until he was cajoled into it, ignored social distancing and required the same from his cabinet officials.

His gullible supporters followed suit, turning masks into a political issue.

In June, Trump held his first COVID re-election rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Ok. Supporters tightly packed the arena with few masks and no social distancing.

It was the first Trump rally since the February shutdown. It quickly became a super-spreader event. Tulsa’s health director reported nearly 500 new cases of Covid-19,“likely tied to the event.”

Longtime Republican and former presidential candidate Herbert Cain attended and did not wear a mask. He died from a COVID-related illness four months later.

It should have been a grim warning. But Trump was undeterred. He lobbied governors to reopen their economies, despite rising cases, and continued holding rallies.

Republican governors largely complied, Soon the virus became a red state problem, surpassing New York, which had driven cases down.

Trump acted like he was immune. He wasn’t. At two White House events, participants were packed tightly together and few wore masks.

COVID-19 caught up with him and more than a dozen members of his staff.

Trump was admitted to the hospital less than 24 hours after he announced that he and first lady Melania Trump tested positive.

For 72 hours, his condition was touch-and-go. A team of doctors battled to contain the virus. Trump reportedly asked: “Am I going to be one of the diers?”

He had a high fever. His oxygen level dropped Friday morning, requiring supplemental oxygen to help him breathe.

His oxygen level fell again on Saturday. He was dosed with dexamethasone, a steroid used to treat serious lung conditions, in addition to an experimental monoclonal treatment and the anti-viral drug Remdesivir.

It was enough to get the man back on his feet. But COVID had shattered the myth.

Act III, Scene III: The Denouement (click here) 

Act III, Scene III: The Denouement  

“And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought with tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know,” wrote the poet

William Barr (left) is falling in line behind the President on Michael Flynn, leading to calls for his resignation. (Photo: ScreenCap)

Attorney General William Barr was a late-comer to the Trump administration. Perhaps, that’s why he was such a fervent acolyte.

In a demonstration of his fealty, he suddenly, out of the blue, absolved former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI about his Russia connections.

His conviction was one of the key outcomes of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The investigation drew a direct line between the Trump campaign and Russia’s efforts to manipulate the election.

It produced 37 indictments, seven guilty pleas or convictions and compelling evidence that the president obstructed justice on multiple occasions.

Mueller also uncovered and referred 14 criminal matters to other components of the Department of Justice.

Trump associates were shown to have repeatedly lied to investigators about their contacts with Russians.

Trump used a dodge he’d followed in dozens of civil suits. He refused to answer questions about his efforts to impede federal proceedings and influence the testimony of witnesses.

If any other American engaged in the same efforts to impede federal proceedings the way Trump did, they would likely be indicted for multiple charges of obstruction of justice, according to a letter written by 1,000 former prosecutors.

On the day after the Mueller report was released, Trump was on the phone trying to coerce the Ukrainian premier to announce an investigation of Democratic rival Joe Biden. 

The administration was holding millions of dollars in military equipment over his head.

A whistleblower unraveled the scheme, leading to Trump’s impeachment in the Democratic House, only to be acquitted by the Republican Senate.

Trump had sworn over-and-over again the Russia investigation was a hoax. Now, Barr was making it, if not a hoax, surely a farce.

It moved CBS reporter Catherine Herridge to ask: “When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written?”

In his own cynical way, Barr answered, capturing the essence of Donald the myth.

“Well, history is written by the winners, so it largely depends on who’s writing the history,” he replied.

“Eureka!” cried Archimedes. “That’s it.”

Trump is a winner!  He’d always been a winner!

“We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning,” he proclaimed during the 2016 campaign.

Trump does not apologize. He can’t apologize. He’s too busy winning!

On the campaign trail he wears winning on his sleeve.

He is the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln. He mused about being in office for 12 more years; he saw his visage among the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore.

Trump has won so many times it’s impossible to count. Well, actually, it is possible.

He uttered more than 20,000 lies and misstatements during his first term, many of the repeatedly, all in service of winning, according to a Greek chorus of factcheckers.

They have followed him “winning” like tin cans tied to a dog’s tail.

Every time he lies, the cans clatter loudly, causing him to run even faster from the truth–he’s been a disaster for the country.

“Only three miles of wall got built; Mexico didn’t pay; Hillary’s not locked up; Obamacare wasn’t repealed; the deficit’s skyrocketed; millions are unemployed; and instead of being ‘great again,’ America is the epicenter of a global pandemic,” one Twitter meme cruelly mocks.

Does Trump, the man ever confront the myth?

Perhaps, late a night, during a pause in his Twitter rants; a churning in the pit of his stomach; a moment of doubt, an instance of genuflection and, perhaps, a twinge of guilt over all of the failures and lives ruined?

Ah God, I know not!

He doesn’t see it; how could he? His sycophants won’t let him.

They keep reminding him he was right about everything: the economy, health care, the pandemic, building the wall, corralling immigrants, fake heroes like John McCain, deadbeat Gold Star dads and the scheming, leftist antifa.

The $1.4 trillion tax cut was “the biggest in the history of our country!” he Tweeted in 2017. Except it wasn’t. It was smaller than seven other tax cuts, including two under Obama.

The tax cut would add $1.8 trillion in new revenue, he boasted, more than enough to offset its cost. Except it won’t.

The signature accomplishment of his first term boosted tax savings for people in the t0p 20 percent of income by 60 percent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

“It will be rocket fuel for our economy,” Trump promised.

In fact, the economy grew 2.9 percent in the first year — exactly the same as the Obama administration in 2015. It declined to around 1.8 percent after that.

Trump clearly caught the tailwind of the Obama/Biden economic recovery and layered on a huge fiscal stimulus. He was handed the ball on the three yard line and still couldn’t get it across the goal.

Trump claims 400 miles of border wall have been built. Actually, it’s 300 miles and only three miles are new. And, Mexico hasn’t paid for it.

Farmers had to be saved from his ruinous tariff war with China with a $20 billion taxpayer bailout. And, American consumers pay the tariffs, not China, according to Morgan Stanley.

The budget deficit, the bête noir of fiscal conservatism, has skyrocketed under Trump.

Between 2017-18, it grew 28 percent, then 17 percent in 2018-19, surpassing $1 trillion for the first time since 2012, according to  The New York Times.

After four years and promises to deliver a “beautiful” health care plan, he hasn’t. Yet Trump is earnestly trying to kill Obamacare in a lawsuit before the Supreme Court.

He’s counting on his hand-picked justices to do what Congress wouldn’t–legislate a defeat–after railing that courts shouldn’t make laws.

“We are going to put the miners and the factory workers and the steel workers back to work,” Trump told a cheering crowd at Lackawanna College in Scranton the day before the 2016 election.

But US coal mining employment hit a new low at the end of 2019, may go lower in 2020, the International Energy Agency wrote in its 2019 report.

Instead, Trump sold out coal miners. He promoted fracking and natural gas production, which proved to be “coal’s undoing,” the report said.

Trump steel tariffs raised prices, cut demand and led to job losses, according to a Michigan steelworkers union. “I don’t see any policy that helped us. We are losing our damn jobs here,” the union head said.

In four years, he fanned the flames of racism and division and emboldened neo-Nazis, white supremacists and armed, hard-right terrorists.

He refused to recognize African-American grievances over systemic racism. Instead he called for “law and order” and urged police to use violence to curb protests.

Even so, as bad as his record has been, he could have finessed it.

The myth could have held. Dense facts and numbers don’t move voters.

It’s the broad brush, the feel-good, the slogans: “Make American Great, Again!”

In January, he could have run on record-low unemployment rates and rising confidence levels. He could have convinced them. Voters would have been feeling it, even if they couldn’t see it.

A month later, the world turned upside down. Trump saw it coming.

Weeks before the first confirmed coronavirus death in the United States, Trump admitted he knew the virus was dangerous, airborne and highly contagious, famed Watergate journalist Bob Woodward discovered during an interview for his book, “Rage.”

“Two hundred thousand Americans dying. I think in covering nine presidents, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Woodward said at a CNN conference.

“The visitation of the medical nightmare on the American population is staggering, stunning. It’s on his head, and he did not do enough. He just didn’t.”

Trump insists he can’t to blame for the virus, and maybe he’s right. But the virus exposed the ineptitude and incompetence of his response and his callous disregard for the nation.

He had a chance to be a man; he chose the myth.

Trump had used bluster and secrecy his entire life to paper over his failures and preserve the myth.

He insisted the nation was “rounding the corner” of the pandemic and told supporters at a rally in Ohio the coronavirus affects “virtually nobody.”

But he couldn’t talk, or lie, his way around, or out of, the consequences of his actions.

He couldn’t lie his way out of the pandemic.

On Sept. 22, 2020, the myth was finally stripped bare.

 Mueller stopped short of investigating Trump’s personal finances. But The New York Times published an eye-opening expose based on copies of Trump’s long-sought personal tax returns.

Far from being a successful, self-made businessman, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and $400 million to $1 billion in debt he has personally guaranteed.

He received at least $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate empire, much of it through tax dodges in the 1990s, “including instances of outright fraud” to keep his own business going.

His taxes are indeed under audit. Trump has been fighting the IRS for a decade to avoid paying penalties and interest on a $72.9 million tax refund that the agency is disputing. It could cost him another $100 million.

“The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.”

The brand is toxic and growing more so by the day.

Trump’s name has been removed from nine buildings since he won election. His name is even gone from two ice skating rinks operated by the Trump Organization in Central Park.

A number of investigations are also expected to come to fruition, including a New York state probe of his taxes.

When his current financial crisis hits, he likely be forced to liquidate some of his real estate holdings. Bankruptcy seems to be the only option for some of his golf courses.

Rising poverty, a decimated economy, millions of unemployed and a pandemic that shows no signs of abating are his legacy.

History will, indeed, be written by the winners. They won’t be kind.

“Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years: Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?” the poet wrote.

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