A Shakedown Observed

The great negotiator's strange demand

Election Tracker | Matt Boomer | December 4, 2015

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One day, Donald Trump got the Christmas Spirit and decided to donate $5 million to Wounded Warrior Project. Hey, it’s better than the Christmas wishes I imagined him having. WWP is a wonderful organization that I have fundraised for in the past. Donate to it here. Anyway, kudos to Trump for being generous, right?

Well, not exactly. Trump, as he is fond of reminding us, is rich, to the tune of $4 billion in net worth, so $5 million should be nothing for him. But that hair needs upkeep. And between gold-plated toilet seats and sequined g-strings for his combination casino and strip club (the Taco Hut of vice) and the legal fees related to suing people who say mean things about him, there just isn’t money for wounded veterans. And even if there is somehow any left after these necessities, what is Trump supposed to do, give that money away? His money? To other people? That’s crazy.

Your toilet seats are white? Peasant.
“Your toilet seats are white? Peasant.”

Caught between his need to keep up the facade of a decent person and his aversion to sacrificing anything for anyone, Trump found a solution: threatening to boycott CNN’s upcoming GOP debate unless they pay him the $5 million.

Trump is a pro at this sort of gambit. One could view the entire run of The Celebrity Apprentice as a ploy to gain a veneer of generosity without having to make any personal sacrifices. The show’s timeless formula of putting washed-up C-listers together and watching the carnage ensured sufficient ratings for Trump to make back any money he donated personally. Moreover, the white dwarves who appeared as contestants on the show raised a good deal of the money themselves by running charity fundraisers to convince Trump of their philanthropic capabilities, which is like proving to a monkey that you are toilet trained. Congratulations, but it doesn’t really care.

Celebrity Apprentice was at least put together on a voluntary basis, and raised real money for charity. Trump’s latest maneuver, on the other hand, is an attempted shakedown. He is trying to extort money from CNN by threatening them with the ratings drop that would result from his absence.

CNN has, to its credit, called Trump’s bluff, and with good reason. Trump’s threat is, frankly, unbelievable. There is no way he is going to turn down an opportunity to get on television. We’re talking about a man who once shaved Vince McMahon’s head at a WWE match. He hosted Saturday Night Live knowing full well the hostility of each cast member to his candidacy and even endured a Comedy Central Roast. Attention is to Trump what heroin is to an addict, or what Game of Thrones is to viewers: he can never say no, no matter how much it hurts him.

Trump has yet to respond to CNN’s refusal, but I can already imagine something along the lines of “you see, the media puts pride before what’s right, and now veterans are suffering. I’m going to cut through this B.S. and make America great again!” This may work for Trump’s most obsequious followers, but some will probably notice the holes in it, making this (hopefully) another embarrassing stage in his coming decline.

Indeed, there is an easy rejoinder to Trump’s decision to demand a bribe rather than donate his own money. It is the same for him as it is for Warren Buffett and the breathtakingly sanctimonious “Patriotic Millionaires” clique, who demand their taxes be raised for the common good.  Simply: just do it.

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If you want to pay extra taxes, the solution is obvious: pay extra taxes. The IRS, as far as I know, does not prosecute people for paying more than they owe. Unless this rhetoric is matched by action, all you are doing is engaging in a self-indulgent display of faux social consciousness. The same goes for Trump: if you want to give $5 million, give $5 million. Unless that happens, this stunt is just a sad exercise in egotistical political masturbation. Which, come to think of it, is an apt description for Trump’s campaign in general.

UPDATE: Trump has responded, saying he will do the debate without the money to avoid hurting his campaign. One imagines further commentary will come later, but so far the Donald has laid down without so much as a whimper. Great negotiator, indeed.