“These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
December 2023


Just Say No

The Iowa caucuses are coming soon, then the primaries, and we see warnings increase that Donald Trump might be elected president for the second time. He still says it would actually be the third time, the second having been stolen from him. Robert Kagan recently wrote an important piece titled “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.” Trump still commands nearly all the media attention, proving as my son Jesse has said for years, that celebrity trumps (Trumps?) everything. All his years cultivating press attention and television audiences have honed The Donald’s public relations skills to a fine edge. Despite warning America and the world about what he would have in store for us should he win—vengeance, the Insurrection Act, isolationism, surrender to autocrats abroad, extermination of “vermin” at home, a purge of the government and loyalty to him above all other qualifications—he leads (or has exploited the cowardice and self-interest of many in) the Republican party and has a distressingly large following among some potential voters.

Make no mistake, his threats are real. With The Donald, what you see, if you’ll look, is what you’ll get. As he told me during the 18 months I served in an effort to contain his greed, “You know what I do to someone who screws me? I screw him back—in spades.” For Trump, “screwing” means disagreeing, protesting, or preventing him from doing what he wants. And his goal is always money and power for himself. He pursues that goal without a shred of inhibition from a moral compass or fidelity to the truth.

My Trump war began when the visionary founder of Resorts International, Jim Crosby, died suddenly in 1986 at age 58. Crosby had transformed the Mary Carter Paint Company into a casino company, built the casino business on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, renamed it Resorts International, and he foresaw the legalization of casino gambling in Atlantic City. He’d bought an old hotel, refurbished it, and was first in line when New Jersey opened the door to gambling. Crosby meant for his family to control the company forever and set it up with weighted voting stock and ordinary shares, his family owning most of the weighted voting shares. A bachelor, Crosby’s will created several lifetime income trusts for former girlfriends, to be funded by some of his control stock. And in case the company paid no dividends, as it then did not, the trustee of each of these trusts could convert control stock to ordinary stock and sell it in the market while maintaining control. Ever sentimental, Wall Street immediately doubled the price of the control stock, recognizing that the trustee would have to sell stock to create cash for the women, or distribute control stock to them, and this put Resorts “in play.”

When the Crosby family could come up with no better alternative during the following year, they put the control stock up for sale and The Donald bought it at a significant premium to the share price before Jim Crosby’s death and a cost of nearly $100 million. Soon after that a campaign of intimidation began. Resorts had three independent directors, none of them with business experience. The company was struggling to finance and complete a large expansion in Atlantic City, modestly named the Taj Mahal, and The Donald almost immediately used that struggle for his advantage. He complained to the directors that he had been defrauded, that he had not been given true facts on the expansion project, and that he was going to sue and destroy them. He called them, screaming, at home at night. But Trump offered the terrified directors a way out—sign this management agreement and it will all be fine, because I, Trump, am the master builder and I will fix this.  One of the directors and I had a long professional relationship and he urged me to sign on as the independent directors’ financial advisor. The proposed management agreement would give Trump money the other shareholders would not get, since there was no dividend being paid. And the management agreement was long on duration and short on obligations and performance standards due from Trump’s organization to the company. After their first meeting the independent directors labeled The Donald a latter-day PT Barnum.

This story could go on much further, involving fights, negotiations and litigation, but its point lies in the finale to the first chapter. Trump got a management agreement, though less outrageous than the first, and the directors got respite from the attacks. How? By saying no. The directors sent a simple letter to the new controlling shareholder saying no to his proposed agreement. The cartoon below commemorates The Donald’s response to that letter, back in 1986. He went ballistic, but like bullies the world round, he folded.

With a future Trump White House and Justice Department full of sycophants catering to an over-the-top narcissist, what is the chance the next installment of “I want” can end well? With a president toying with “suspension of the Constitution” as Trump did, to be enforced by “my generals,” and “his” courts, the danger is clear and present.

We cannot sit by. There are advocacy groups and candidates to support, pollsters to reply to rather than ignore, letters to be written (especially to Republicans) and possibly marches to join. This effort is too important to leave to others. When Benjamin Franklin was asked whether we have a republic or a monarchy, he replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”