Quick: What is the most important thing the following people have in common?

  • Michael Flynn
  • Reince Priebus
  • Steve Bannon
  • Omarosa Manigault
  • Tom Price

Yes, they and many more like them were all fired or forced to resign.  But that’s not the most important thing, not the most revealing thing they share.

The correct answer: They were all hired by Donald Trump.  They were all people that Trump believed would help him carry out whatever mission he believes himself to be pursuing.

But in less than a year—in some cases much less—all of them and dozens more turned out to have been disastrously ill-chosen, judged not by Trump critics and opponents, but by Trump’s own lights.  And even the most extensive lists don’t really tell the tale.  They don’t include the walking dead: people like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump wishes would just go away.  And it does include alleged spousal batterers Rob Porter and David Sorensen, whom Trump hired and then fired (through John Kelly, the chief of staff whom Trump brought in to replace the fired Priebus but may soon be cashiered himself) but now bizarrely seems to think were dismissed without due process–which he himself, as their employer, could have easily have afforded them.

It’s an astonishing performance for someone best previously known for judging talent, someone elected in large part based on his success in business.

Of course, we all know that both those premises were delusional. Trump was no business genius.  Quite the contrary.   He doubtless went into the casino business under the assumption that any business whose customers know that they will almost all lose their money almost all the time must be governed by the axiom that a fool and his money are soon parted.  The axiom holds true; but the gamblers at Trump casinos were not the only fools in the transaction, and Trump was forced into bankruptcy—four times.*

In fact, the New York Times has reported, “Mr. Trump’s casino business was a protracted failure. Though he now says his casinos were overtaken by the same tidal wave that eventually slammed this seaside city’s gambling industry, in reality he was failing in Atlantic City long before Atlantic City itself was failing.”

The myth of Trump’s business acumen, especially in picking employees, was further inflated by his involvement in the long running “Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” reality shows.  But of course the Apprentice shows did not require Trump to serve as an actual executive, hiring and firing.  He wasn’t an executive—he just played one on TV.  According to one contestant, Trump didn’t even decide whom to fire each week.  “The show’s producers from NBC made those calls,” singer Clay Aiken, who competed on both Celebrity Apprentice and American Idol, told the Washington Post, “giving Trump instructions through a teleprompter on his desk that looked like a phone.”

In truth, Trump achieved business success and wealth, not by starting and running enterprises, but by fronting and licensing his name to businesses run by other, more capable, people.  (Perhaps he could even have been a modestly successful president had he followed that business model in the White House.)

How many customers and viewers believed that Trump was actually running Trump University or that he was really hiring and firing on Celebrity Apprentice?  It’s impossible to know.  But maybe at least one person believed the myth of Trump the successful businessman: Trump himself.  And maybe that contributed to his effrontery in undertaking the colossally bigger challenge of the presidency.

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