BOSTON -- The crowd at the Learning Annex "Wealth Expo" had spent two full days in countless seminars and workshops being told that, at its absolute core, becoming a millionaire was mostly a matter of thinking like a millionaire. And so Las Vegas hypnotist Marshall Sylver offered to "reprogram" pauper minds to think like rich ones for a grand and change. Against a backdrop of blaring classic rock Tony Robbins led empowering shouts of "Yes!" and "I'll do it!" in revival meeting unison. Wealth guru Raymond Aaron promised during the Automatic Prosperity seminar his $700 training packet would make you rich, "Automagically."
Yet despite it all, none were greeted with the same fanfare as the final speaker of the weekend: The lights went down, screens throughout the massive convention hall lit up with the words TRUMP IS IN THE HOUSE. Black plastic inflated wands embossed with TRUMP in gold letters were proudly brandished. People stood on chairs with homemade "You're Hired!" signs, chanting same. The Apprentice theme song thundered. Gold confetti fluttered down. Finally, the developer, reality television star and the only advertised expert not selling hawking pricey passes to an exclusive seminar took the stage, a dozen dancing girls in tight tank-tops with the word "FUN" spelled out in bright red letters accompanying him.
"Come here, sweetheart," Donald Trump said to one. "Is my hair real?" She touched it and nodded affirmatively. "It may not be pretty, but it's mine," the billionaire crowed. He got an almost Beatles-esque roar in response.
Twelve thousand adoring wannabe multi-millionaire moguls did not abandon this enthusiasm when their hero declared that "a lot of people aren't cut out, genetically or otherwise, to be entrepreneurs." No one began to pogo Tony Robbins style to rid themselves of any "negative physiology" when Trump further offered that even some of those in their midst who were cut out for business would become "weeping, ineffective, scared people" under pressure. They weren't even millionaires yet -- although if bulging bags of audiobooks were any indication most believed they were well on their way -- and already Trump was warning, "I've seen so many people get hurt. I've seen so many people get screwed. I've seen fortunes taken away from people like it was candy."
The crowd cackled along with every barb, as if the idea of losing a fortune they had not yet even attained was so ludicrous as to eliminate even the slightest possibility that The Donald was speaking specifically to them. The person to my left or right? Maybe. Me? Never.
Trump's meager business advice ranged from banal exhortations to "do what you love" and "never, ever quit," to considerably spicier promulgations such as, "If someone screws you, screw them back with a vengeance, if for no other reason than people are watching"; "Get the best people and don't trust them. You've heard, 'Get the best people and trust them'? That's for idiots"; and my personal favorite, "Be a little paranoid...I see some of you here with your friend and your wife. Your friend is after your wife."
ALAS, IF IT WAS ONLY WIVES we had to worry about! Hearkening back to his 2000 tome The America We Deserve, Trump painted a fairly bleak portrait of "what this country is doing to destroy itself." The national leadership is making "big mistakes, dramatic mistakes, maybe the biggest mistakes in the history of this country" and "angering the world." With Bush, "everything is a lie." Rumsfeld is an "idiot" who got us bogged down in a "stupid" war. Weak diplomats are making us "the laughing stock of the world." Condoleezza Rice is a "very fine, very nice woman," but he'd rather have "a horrible woman doing what she's doing if she was effective." In a Dobbsian moment, he complained nations like China and Saudi Arabia "are making more money than any countries in the history of the world because of American stupidity."
It cannot be a good sign for the Republican Party that thousands of hopeful entrepreneurs, most of whom had recently attended workshops on minimizing their federal tax burden, cheered this assessment with enthusiasm. No one seemed to blanch when Trump insisted the end might be drawing nigh.
"You know, we're a powerful country, but Germany was a very powerful country," he said. "Maybe relatively more powerful than us. And all of a sudden the world ganged up on Germany and they knocked the crap out of Germany."
In fairness to the world, the ganging up didn't exactly occur "all of a sudden." There were some extenuating circumstances, annexations and whatnot. Regardless, Trump's prescription for a failed U.S. policy "angering the world" hardly seemed the olive branch: Select twenty "mental killers," he said, men and women who are "just brutal, unbelievable, negotiators" and send them out to renegotiate international economic and political agreements. "Those countries wouldn't have a friggin chance against us," Trump said. He refused to name names, but assured us that these negotiators "are people who don't make friends easily, believe me. They are garbage in terms of going to heaven. Chances are they'll end up in hell. But I want them negotiating for me."
Send brutal hellbound mental killers to renegotiate political treaties? I can't say I'm entirely against it. (What supporter of John Bolton could be?) But whether that repairs relations with our supposed International Buddy Brigade is questionable at best.
SOMEHOW, THOUGH, ALL this led back to his television show, which Trump apparently hopes we will still watch even as the next Great Depression leers. Trump was approached with several reality show concepts before Survivor creator Mark Burnett pitched him the The Apprentice. The problem was, most producers wanted to just follow Trump around the office. Trump insisted this would not work.
"I meet with terrible people," he said. "I meet with some real scum. And these are people who don't want to be on television, although they'd make great characters. They would make the bad people on television as played by actors, look like the nicest people you've ever seen."
A ringing endorsement of Trump's business partners, if nothing else. Later, at the launch of The Apprentice Trump pointed out a "very handsome" star who his wife informed him was Rob Lowe. Lest we get the wrong idea, however, Trump insisted, "I don't really like men. I like women. Of course, when I die they'll say I was gay, you watch." Of course? Why of course? Trump continued: "You see these guy's guys, like Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, when they die they're gay." Grant and Flynn aren't two names the immediately pop into one's mind alongside Trump's, but... "I don't care if someone was gay or not. I mean, I grew up in New York. Forget it. I couldn't care less." Finally, perhaps dipping a toe in The Lady Doth Protest Too Much waters, he continued, "But just for the record, I'm not gay."
So then why did Trump bring up Lowe's oddly persistent pretty boy looks? Why, to show how unlikely his rise to "major fricken television star" truly was.
"[Rob Lowe's] show lasted two weeks," Trump said. "He was thrown off the air like a dog. Whoopi Goldberg, thrown off the air like a dog. There's nothing nice about television business. It's very simple: you don't get rating you get cancelled. If you come up with a cure for cancer and it doesn't get ratings, they won't even broadcast it. That's how bad these frickers are."
And what did he say to the big time Hollywood agent who had begged him not to do The Apprentice when he called to congratulate Trump on hitting number one...and to ask for a $3 million commission?
Why, "You're Fired!" of course. The man next to me stood up and cheered, fist in the air. The "You're Hired!" signs were held aloft and given a vigorous shake.
AS IF TO DOVETAIL HIS POLITICAL thoughts with his television persona, Trump talked about being confronted with Sacha Baron Cohen -- he of Borat fame -- in the guise of hip-hop journalist Ali G.
"These guys were asking very prestigious politicians of the highest distinction, when they got the interview under totally false pretenses, extremely personal, obnoxious and stupid questions," Trump said. "And [the politicians] wouldn't leave. You know why? Because they didn't want to insult him. That's part of the problem with America."
Most of the last third of the speech was devoted to the importance of prenuptial agreements, his own ("If I didn't have a prenup with Ivana I'd still be in court," Trump said, doing a pitch perfect imitation of Ivana protesting, "I did not know what I was signing!") as well as Paul McCartney's lack of one ("What did she ever do? She never went on Ed Sullivan. She made him miserable for three years and now she wants $400 million"). Trump assured the crowd his current prenup was "even better" than the one he had with Ivana.
AS THE EVENING CAME to a close, Trump got about as near to sanguine as one assumes he ever does.
"Look, I'm going to kick the bucket," he said. "My kids are going to fight over my estate. They're going to say I'm an idiot whatever I do." Still, moments later he added, "I like to think of myself as victorious." When he encouraged the crowd to think similarly they banged their TRUMP wands together and roared for all they were worth, in an endorsement of a screw-the-world-I'm-rich ethos that the positive visualization crowd never really had a chance against.
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