By Don Bauder
From 1973 to 2003, I was financial editor and financial columnist for The San Diego Union and, later, Union-Tribune. From 1987 through 1999, I penned 26 columns blasting Donald Trump, then a gambling casino developer, real estate entrepreneur, corporate raider and con artist who hoodwinked banks into loaning him billions of dollars, most of which was flushed into the sewage system when the Trump empire collapsed.
During most of the period, Trump was a media darling — not just among the tabloids, but also reputable publications.
When Trump was riding high, he talked of running for president on a third party ticket. In 1987, I wrote sarcastically that he is “being touted as an ideal U.S. president.”
I noted that “Newsweek declared in a recent encomium that Trump [had become] the young darling of the Yuppies ‘without a taint of corruption.’” Since Trump was tied up in two mob-infested industries — Manhattan real estate and New Jersey casinos — this was proof that weekly news magazines didn’t do their homework.
After Trump’s empire came asunder, I asked in a column of Dec. 29, 1999: “Do we want a casino developer as president?” Never did I dream we would get one.
But let’s go back in time. On Dec. 20, 1987, I reviewed Trump’s book (actually by a ghostwriter) “The Art of the Deal.” The headline on the review was “Trump is fantastic, and he’ll tell you so.”
In the review, I made fun of Trump’s claim that he wasn’t motivated by money or publicity, and his boasting of his influence among power people — financial jailbirds Ivan Boesky and Mike Milken, and mob lawyer Roy Cohn, for example. I wrote: “Frankly, this book is an embarrassment — to New Yorkers, who apparently adore the young man; to the business community; to capitalism.”
I noted that Trump made a boast that has become painfully true since 2017: “The only person I have to please is myself.” Amen. He has proved that as president.
Then I wrapped up the review with this statement, which turned out to be prescient: “Trump’s book may go down as a classic. The New York real estate bubble has already burst, and the casino business may be the next to go flat. This book may be the ultimate in famous last words, penned at the peak.”
Trump, who was in the corporate takeover game, became a symbol of a vile society — vile to me, anyway. I wrote in December 1989: “Over and over, we heard people like T. Boone Pickens and Michael Milken and Donald Trump and Ivan Boesky tell us how the only happiness is a rising stock, how a board of directors’ only constituency is to shareholders … ad nauseam.”
That year, noting that Trump was trying to take over American Airlines, I wrote that Trump, already deeply in debt, had taken stock positions in casino Caesar’s World, slot machine monopolist Bally Manufacturing, Holiday Corp. and Resorts International, a mobbed-up Bahamian casino in which he engaged in a battle for control — luckily, losing, because Resorts junk bonds became the smelliest in the garbage heap.
Trump built it all on borrowed money. “Trump was leveraged to the eyeballs,” I wrote on June 5, 1990. “Thus blinded, his eyes shifted from Ivana to Marla.” Of course, Marla didn’t last, either.
On June 5, 1991, noting that Trump was financially underwater, I wrote that Trump might be “the ultimate baby boomeranger,” although he wouldn’t necessarily have to live at his parents’ home. “The swaggering Trump came to symbolize” the 1980s, I wrote —”junk bonds, corporate takeovers, limited partnerships of all kinds, derivative instruments (index futures, etc.), real estate fever, state lotteries, lending games through offshore tax-haven banks, pyramid schemes of all kinds.” They were “all based on debt,” I lamented.
On Aug. 30, 1990, I wrote of “Donald Trump, the erstwhile billionaire, now deep in the red, but still writing books of self-adulation.” This book was “Surviving at the Top.” We should have realized then what a liar he was.
On July 25, 1993, I wrote how Trump was suing to block gambling on Native American lands. Trump “made fun of tribal citizenship by suggesting that he might become a Native American himself. (Why in the world would any ethnic group want Trump?)”
In May 1990, after the craze was dying out, I wrote, “Here is the most sobering message. Throughout the insane, hyper-leverage days of the 1980s, on whom did the American press shower the kudos? Trump and Milken. Who, according to the press in those days, embodied the spirit of American enterprise? Trump and Milken. Milken went on to prison. Trump went broke.”
On Aug. 22, 1990, I wrote: “And Donald? Well, remember when he was adulated as a billionaire? Figures from the New Jersey Casino Control Commission disclose that Donald has a negative net worth of as much as $294 million. Trump has $3.21 billion in debt, and his assets are probably worth about $2.91 billion on the market today.”
And after he went broke, he somehow got to be president and got away with hiding his finances.
How Trump recovered financially — if he did — is still a secret, as he viciously fights New York’s legal attempts to get his tax returns.
Somebody bailed him out. Was it foreign enemy money? Was that bailout money snaked through offshore institutions, such as in Cyprus, where the Russians stash their ill-gotten gains? Don’t expect to find out.
It’s now clear that Trump doesn’t care if he loses the election in a record-breaking landslide. He intends to pack the Supreme Court and take his attempt to reverse the outcome to the court that he packed. If voters had understood what Trump did in the 1980s and 1990s, he woundn’t have gotten to the top.
But who read a daily newspaper in the southwest corner of the U.S. where it was all spelled out?
Don Bauder retired in September 2018 as a columnist for the San Diego Reader. He lives in Salida, Colorado.
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