Donald Trump’s wealth is no reason to denounce him – Alastair Stewart

Donald Trump is said to be America's richest ever president but almost all of them were wealthy (Picture: Carlos Barria/pool photo via AP)
Donald Trump is said to be America's richest ever president but almost all of them were wealthy (Picture: Carlos Barria/pool photo via AP)
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There’s a silent beauty to the way President Donald Trump speaks. I’m serious. If you watch enough of his public speeches, they take on a musical life of their own, writes Alastair Stewart.

He begins with some prepared remarks, gradually throws in a personal aside and then hits the chorus, an entirely off-script diatribe about how great he is, how rich he is and how he (or whatever the subject of his ‘speech’) is the best thing that ever existed.

“Any man who must say ‘I am the King’ is no true king,” declared Tywin Lannister in TV series Game of Thrones. Watch any video of Trump speaking and you soon see that there is a painfully obvious chip in his psychological make-up. Most interviews contain at least five or six qualifications as to his intelligence, wealth or abilities. Much has been made of Trump’s reputed ignorance, particularly by White House insiders and writers like Michael Wolff in Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward in Fear: Trump in the White House.

There is a quiet inference, of course, that Trump is woefully unqualified to be president but has somehow accrued great wealth; Forbes places the estimate at $3.1 billion, and the Trump White House refuses to release his tax returns.

To his detractors, the President is a snake-oil salesman and who doesn’t know what he’s selling. To Trump’s acolytes, his treasure chest is evidence enough that there must be something behind the eyes, a grand plan forming to explain the verbal deluge, surely, right?

Trump seems to exist because of his money and he himself has propagated myths about it for years. The Trump name, plastered over property across the world, is a going concern alongside his luxury real estate. And he has licensed his name to a range of novel items – Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka and Trump: The Game (all went the way you might have predicted) – and a plethora of retail projects.

As Michael Wolff notes, there’s a pretence that the “Trump brand stood for power, wealth, arrival” and no one has been more gobbled up by the myth than its namesake.

In nearly every interview with Trump up to the beginning of the Apprentice TV show in 2004, you’ll find a multitude of discussions with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman about money or his bucketfull of co-written books on wealth creation.

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This was the raison d’etre behind The Apprentice in the first place – Trump is famous for being rich, and rich because he’s famous.

Fame because of money might seem vacuous, but Trump’s ‘rich man’ persona is ignoring an obvious fact about American presidents. According to 24/7 Wall St, all but nine of America’s 45 presidents were millionaires (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars). President Trump might be America’s first billionaire leader, but George Washington would have a net worth of half a billion in today’s money.

Typical sells for American presidential candidates include their business, military, political or legal credentials. Nearly all candidates are independently wealthy, as the American political system virtually mandates. No nominee has ever been brazen enough to come out and say “hey, I can make you rich just like me. If I can manage a big business, I can manage a country” – or certainly no serious contender until Donald J Trump.

Money makes the world go round, and that’s been the implicit covenant between elected officials and the American public for centuries.

A rudimentary defence of Trump argues that you can think he’s stupid, but he’s still a billionaire and you’re not. That logic might be thought to justify his anti-establishment credentials but it just solidifies Trump as an old norm.

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For all Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric, he’s still one of Forbes’ 400 richest Americans. The wealthiest one per cent now owns more of America’s wealth than at any time in the past 50 years. The US presidency can’t belong to anyone, it never could. Show me a poor man elected to the office, and I’ll be more impressed at the elevating power of American politics.

Pundits and rivals like to argue that because he’s wealthy and a political schizophrenic, it follows that Trump’s views the presidency as the proverbial codpiece; the crowning achievement in a life of significant material gain.

There can be no defending Trump’s extreme positions but presuming his money is a key reason for his political extremism is the wrong route to denouncing him. Ronald Reagan was laughed at because he was a millionaire actor and yet he has gone down in history as the man who won the Cold War and created the neoliberal consensus. Trump is remarkably consistent in his ghastly garnish of the hyperbolic and the political. If the President’s speeches are a homage to every populist conceit, it’s a grand celebration to be sure.

Extreme personal wealth is the rule and not the exception with the American presidency, even if Trump’s team were the first to complain the disclosure forms were too short “for a man of Mr Trump’s massive wealth”.

If anything President Trump is symptomatic of the US political system and, at some stage, Americans will need to address why so many of their leader are so lavishly rich.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He writes regular features on politics and history with a particular interest in nationalism and the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart