Charles Laffiteau's Bigger Picture: The World at Home
2018-05-15 11:12:54 -

By Charles Laffiteau


What is US President Donald Trump more afraid of? That Robert Mueller’s investigation would uncover more ties between his business interests and Russian mobsters? Or that Mueller would reveal he is worth far less than the $10bn he claims? Or is he more afraid of the general public discovering he is now and has always been far less wealthy than he professes to be?


In point of fact, President Trump has a 35-year history of overstating his net worth in order to convince those gullible enough to believe him that he is a great businessman. Since there is no award, certificate or diploma that recognises someone for being a great dealmaker or business mind, Trump has always used news media estimates and valuations of his net worth as a proxy for his credentials as a great businessman.


Back in 1984, Trump called Forbes magazine while posing as a publicist for the Trump Organisation named John Barron, and tried to convince a journalist working on the publication’s annual list of the 400 richest individuals in the United States that he was actually worth five times more than the previous year’s estimate of $200 million. But Trump’s ploy didn’t work, because the Forbes journalist wouldn’t use information he couldn’t verify.

Even more amazing is the web of lies Trump has woven in order to make people believe he is one of America’s richest men.


He likes to project the image of a maverick businessman and politician who has never been afraid to speak his mind. But between 1980 and 1990, the supposedly fearless Donald Trump posed as John Barron numerous times on issues he didn’t want to deal with directly. Trump’s biographer, Michael D’Antonio, later claimed Trump borrowed the idea of using a phony spokesperson from his father Fred. But this ruse fell apart when Trump was forced to admit in a 1990 lawsuit that he had used John Barron as an alias on many occasions throughout the 1980s.


Although Trump was unable to convince Forbes’ journalists that he was a billionaire in 1984, he had already succeeded in duping them and numerous other members of the news media about the size of his bank account. Based on several books and government reports released some years later, Forbes has since discovered that Trump should never have been on its richest Americans list in the first place. For example, Forbes found it had listed Trump as being worth $100m in 1982, when he was actually only worth $5m.


While it’s now been more than 25 years since Trump last used his John Barron alias, he has continued to make inflated claims about his wealth and how he compares to other wealthy individuals. In 2000, when Trump claimed he was worth $5bn, Forbes magazine pegged his fortune at $1.6bn, even though real estate professionals in New York City said he was actually worth much less than that. Five years later, when Trump was claiming to be worth over $4 billion, Forbes estimated his net worth at just over $2bn. That same year, after author Timothy O’Brien claimed in his book TrumpNation that his true net worth was between $150m and $250m, a furious Trump sued for defamation. But Trump lost his lawsuit when it was revealed that his banker, Deutsche Bank, valued his net worth at just $788m during the course of underwriting its $640m construction loan for the Chicago Trump International Hotel and Tower.


Yet in spite of being repeatedly exposed for vastly overstating his wealth, and instead of scaling back his own estimates of how rich he was, Donald Trump began inflating those estimates even more wildly than he had ever done before. For instance, just seven months after Forbes put Trump in a six-way tie for the 153rd richest person in America, Trump claimed to be worth $7bn at his March 2011 Comedy Central Roast. The following month he reiterated the boast, saying that if he decided to run for president, his financial disclosure documents would show he was worth “in excess of $7bn.”


But as if a gap of $5bn between his own assessment and independent estimates of his net worth was not already big enough – when Trump announced he was running for President in 2015, and again in 2016 after he was elected, he put his fortune at over $10bn. This was almost three times higher than anything suggested by the journalists working on wealth rankings published in Fortune, Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek. So who should we believe: a president on record as a prevaricator, or all those ‘fake news’ organisations simply out to get him?


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas pursuing a career in public service. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011 and pursued a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy.

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