Saturday, September 24, 2022

The New York Attorney General Has Refuted the Rhetorical Myth of Trump as the Self-Made Billionaire

In a previous post, I applied Aristotle's Rhetoric to the study of Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric in 2016.  I indicated that Trump's primary rhetorical technique was the argument from the character of the speaker that stressed the prudence or practical judgment of Trump as a wildly successful businessman, which would allow him as president to Make America Great Again.

One can see this argument in his campaign speeches and in his campaign book Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America (2016).  It can be put into the form of what Aristotle calls an enthymeme:

Major premise: Because of stupid politicians, America no longer wins; and America will not win again until a successful businessman who knows how to win is elected president.

Minor premise: Donald Trump is unique in his business success and his prudence in knowing how to win, because he is a self-made multi-billionaire.

Conclusion: Therefore, Americans need to elect Trump president.

In that previous post, I challenged the minor premise by pointing to the evidence that Trump's business career shows many failures from his imprudent decisions, that he was saved from ruin by his father's life-long transfer of money to him, and so he is not the self-made billionaire that he claims to be.

Now, we have a legal filing by Letitia James, the Attorney General of the State of New York, that also challenges that minor premise by showing that Trump has fraudulently overestimated the value of his wealth, which further undermines his claim to be an extraordinarily successful businessman.

Perhaps the most flagrant example of Trump's fraudulent exaggeration of his wealth is his falsely inflated appraisal of the value of his apartment in Trump Tower in New York City (see pages 75-84 of the filing).  In 2015 and 2016 (during his first presidential campaign), Trump signed his Statements of Financial Condition, which included a fraudulently inflated value for his apartment of $327 million.  This is amazing because in the history of real estate sales in New York City, no apartment has ever sold for much more than $100 million.

This value of $327 million was based on an assessment of $10,900 per square foot multiplied by 30,000 square foot of space.  There are two problems with this.  First, there is no evidence that $10,900 per square foot is a fair market price for an apartment like Trump's.  The second problem is even more obvious:  Trump's apartment is only 10,996 square feet, not 30,000!

This clearly was an intentional and deliberate fraud because many documents within the Trump Organization signed by Trump accurately state the square footage for apartments in Trump Tower.  Moreover, Trump has said that he was regularly involved in the planning and construction of his apartment.

In the deposition taken by the Attorney General's office, Trump was asked about the fraudulent valuation of his apartment.  He was asked: "When you directed the use of that square footage to value your triplex, you knew that the 30,000-square-foot figure was false.  Corrrect?"  Trump answered by invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

In the 215 pages of the Attorney General's filing, there is detailed evidence that the fraudulent evaluation of Trump's apartment was only one of over 200 false valuations.  This false valuation of Trump's wealth benefited him in two ways.  First, it was financially beneficial because it allowed him to secure better deals from lenders and insurers than would have been possible if the true valuation had been known.

James's filing estimates that the financial benefit from the fraud was at least $250 million, and that is the basis for James's asking the court to impose a fine of $250 million as a "disgorgement" that deprives the wrongdoer of illegal benefit (4, 12, 18).  James is also asking the court to prohibit Trump and his family from doing business in New York State for five years.  James indicates that there were violations of state and federal criminal laws that would expose Trump to criminal charges.

There was also a rhetorical benefit to Trump's fraudulent valuations of his wealth, because this supported the minor premise of his campaign enthymeme--that he was a wildly successful businessman as measured by his multi-billion dollar wealth.  As is indicated in the filing, Trump repeatedly instructed the people in his organization to increase the estimates of his net worth.  For many years, he complained that he was not ranked high enough on the Forbes magazine ratings of the wealthiest people in the world.  Trump personally took Forbes editors on tours of Trump Tower and his apartment and argued that they were underestimating his wealth.  

But then in May of 2017, Forbes published an article entitled "Donald Trump Has Been Lying About the Size of His Penthouse," and Trump was enraged.  This was not just a blow to his narcissistic ego but also an assault on his rhetorical argument for his election in 2016, which depended on his claim that he had earned enough business success to be one of the richest human beings on earth.

His 2016 campaign book Great Again ends with an "About the Author" section that gives a story of his business career in 16 pages, which begins: "Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence while expanding his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment.  He is the archetypal businessman--a deal-maker without peer."  

This story in the book concludes with a long list of 70 "properties" said to be "owned and/or developed and managed or licensed by Donald J. Trump," which includes everything from Trump Tower and the Estates at Trump International Gold Club in Dubai to his Boeing 757 jet and 3 Sikorsky 76 Helicopters.

Look, Reader, at this stunning list of Donald Trump's luxurious properties!  Surely these examples of his pile of wealth prove that he's the only person who can lead you as president and Make America Great Again.

James's filing makes it clear that much of this appearance of great wealth depends on fraudulent evaluations of its true worth.  Moreover, as I argued in my previous post, even the true worth of Trump's wealth was not earned by him, because most of it came from his father.

No comments: