My favorite story about young Donald Trump finds him alone with his friend Sandy McIntosh after a baseball game at New York Military Academy in 1963. When Trump talks about hitting a home run, Sandy reminds him the ball was caught for an out. “No,” Trump said firmly. “It was a homer.” Valuing friendship over truth, Sandy agreed.
The tale of cadet Trump and the home run shows a future president inventing the secret sauce that he would use throughout his life. The main ingredients are lying, cheating, and manipulation. He uses the mixture so consistently that others expect it with every Trump experience. Just as McDonald’s would never change the ingredients in that orangey goo on Bic Macs, Trump can not pursue a goal without using the technique that has worked so well for long. Besides, wins notched by cheating deliver a little extra tang.
As any head chef might, Trump has employed others who had a knack for his way of cooking. Michael Cohen, the one-time self-described “fixer” who would “take a bullet” for the boss, was himself a shadowy businessman before he was hired by Trump. He conspired with Trump until he was raided by federal investigators and began cooperating with them. Paul Manafort, now awaiting sentencing for his crimes, was recruited to be Trump’s presidential campaign manager even though, or perhaps because, he had spent many years advising dictators and autocrats. These were just two of many helpers who could be trusted in Trump’s kitchen because they knew the techniques.
The secret sauce analogy helps explain both the president’s everyday lies — 5,000 and counting — and the brazen deceptions revealed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing the links between Trump and Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election. In court filings in the prosecutions of various Trump associates, Mueller has placed then-candidate Trump at the top of a scheme to evade campaign finance laws, and avert scandal, by having Cohen pay off porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both women evidentally had sex with a married Trump.
Although they are different in magnitude, Trump’s cover-up scheme and open lying, about everything from the size of the crowd at his inauguration to the notion that Finland prevents forest fires by raking, flow from the same source. He long ago realized that while suckers play by the rules, he could gain by ignoring them. When he graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which declined to publicize class rankings, he naturally declared himself to have been a top student. In fact, he wasn’t among the 56 students on the dean’s list in his graduating year. After school, he began promoting himself as a real estate mogul when, in reality, he was just his father’s apprentice. He won the right to renovate a huge hotel site at Grand Central Station with paperwork that the key parties never signed.
As Trump broke the rules, he trained others to accept his behavior. When he promoted himself with fake phone calls to reporters or announced that the British royal family was scouting apartments in Trump Tower, the press in New York played along. When he declared himself New York’s top developer on the TV show “The Apprentice,” no one seemed to care that this was a lie. After Trump humiliated his first wife, Ivanna, with a tabloid sex scandal, his cruel treatment of his second wife, Marla, was par for the course. That Trump would have affairs with Daniels and McDougal shortly after his third wife gave birth seems like business as usual. Indeed, as the details to the payoffs have been revealed, the awful way in which he betrayed Melania Trump barely gets a mention.
The harm perpetrated by Trump against his wife was a personal matter. But the deceit that he and others made routine in his campaign and in his administration has historic implications. His campaign finance deceptions were a fraud against the American voters. More grave is the way that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner ignored diplomatic and security conventions to establish a relationship with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who evidently authorized the murder of American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Kushner continued in true Trump fashion, advising the prince on how to “weather the storm’’ after the murder was revealed.
In case after case, Trump and his associates have shown they can’t resist breaking the rules. They don’t seem to realize that what worked in the business of real estate and media promotion might not apply in every arena. Of course, a Big Mac without that special sauce wouldn’t be a Big Mac. A Trump White House without deception wouldn’t be a Trump White House, so it seems our political diet won’t be changing any time soon.Michael D’Antonio is the author of “The Truth About Trump.’’