Many Americans who voted for Trump thought he was a smart businessman with razor sharp elbows. As he exits today, some are now surprised to learn he was more of a gangster.
Any reasonable doubts about his nature were swept away this month when he incited an armed attack on the US Capitol. And just a few weeks ago, his supporters heard him threaten and cajole Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to apparently rig the election Trump was falsely claiming as rigged.
"There's nothing wrong with saying, you know, that you've recalculated," Trump told Raffensperger, in a recorded phone conversation that sounded very Godfather indeed. At another point, Trump said "So look. All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have."
Not surprisingly, Trump's support has collapsed a bit. It's now just 34 per cent in the latest Gallup poll, which is the lowest of his presidency and a sharp drop from 46 per cent a few weeks earlier. I know. It should be 3.4 per cent, not 34 per cent. But we're headed in the right direction.
If observant voters had invested an hour in Google they would have read ominous warning signs of gangster behaviour. They would have learned that Russian mobsters were among his investors. And that he had been fined for money laundering at his casino as far back as the 1990s.
But time is always hard to find. So I have devised a quick guide for future reference.
Not all businessmen are gangsters or even close, but all gangsters are businessmen. They're in it for the money.
So I think it's useful, if a bit unfair, to think of some businessmen and gangsters as the same critters on a sliding scale. So like the tropical cyclone intensity scale that ranks storms into five levels, allow me to modestly present the Brass Businessman Scale. It can certainly be improved, but it's a start:
These are the world's most ethical businessmen. Few in number, they truly try to balance the needs of shareholders, customers, workers and the general community. They not only don't intentionally break the law, they reject policies and practices that might have the slightest appearance of doing so. They shun aggressive tactics others in the industry commonly employ. They don't lie or even seem to. They freely give away their vast fortunes to charity and good works. Example: Warren Buffett.
After decades in business, I suspect this is probably the most common category. These folks try to support workers and the general community, but shareholders and customers come first. They don't intentionally break laws, misrepresent or cheat on their taxes. But they don't shy away from aggressive business tactics that others resent and that might be mistaken for wrongdoing. These are very good people, and honest competitors, but they can be rough. Example: Jeff Bezos.
These guys are not gangsters, but they're not wearing white hats either. They certainly protect their shareholders, but less so their workers or even customers. The general community is an afterthought. They don't break major laws, but they might knowingly cheat on irksome regulations, workers' rights, product quality or customer service. They're not unwilling to lie to the public or intentionally misrepresent important information. The worst of them will knowingly sell dangerous products and risk lives. They frequently wind up losing law suits or paying settlements. Example: Donald Blankenship. He was Chairman and CEO of the Massey Energy Company in West Virginia — the sixth-largest American coal company. He spent a year in prison for safety lapses that killed 29 people in a deadly mine explosion.
These folks are gangsters, even though some run large or publicly traded companies. They do crime, but not truly horrific crime, like murder or human trafficking. They commit tax fraud, massive if they can get away with it. They money launder. They create scams, run fraudulent businesses, sell shoddy products, cheat customers, stiff contractors, mistreat workers or rip off their own shareholders. They lie regularly, boldly and convincingly. The biggest are sued thousands of times and when cornered, pay huge settlements. And they often go to jail. Examples: Enron chairman Ken Lay, stock swindler Bernie Madoff.
These are the super storms of the business-gangster continuum. They do everything the Cat 4 guys do and much worse. They do murder, murder for hire, torture, human trafficking, pimping, kidnapping and they sell narcotics. The only reason they don't cheat on taxes is because they don't pay any taxes at all. They run crime families, mobs and cartels. Examples: Medellin cartel chief Pablo Escobar, Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, Mexican drug lord El Chappo Guzman, Don Corleone.
So there you have it. Next time a businessman runs for President, we should avoid anyone worse than a Category 2 or maybe 3.