Among the accusations made Wednesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James against former President Donald Trump is that he is not as wealthy as he claims. It’s a charge that could threaten the Trump brand and his political future more than any criminal charge.
It’s not just academic; Trump’s whole sales pitch to us is that he can – well – sell. He’s been telling us for years that he deserves our respect and admiration, and even our votes, because he’s so successful financially.
Trump’s whole sales pitch to us is that he can – well – sell.
But according to the lawsuit, Trump’s representations of his wealth, like so many of his claims, may just be outright lies. James’ office sued Trump, three of his adult children and others for fraud and misrepresentation based on years of alleged financial wrongdoing, in a case that could be deadly for the Trump empire. (In response to James’ allegations, Trump’s attorney said Wednesday that “no wrongdoing has taken place.”)
Maybe we should put the word empire in quotes. The alleged overvaluations of the Trump Organization are obvious. To cite just a few examples from the lawsuit: it alleged that Trump’s Manhattan penthouse was overvalued by 400%, that the Trump Organization valued rent-controlled apartments at $50 million when the real value was closer $750,000 and that Mar-a-Lago was valued by the Trump Organization at $739 million, when the actual value is around $75 million.
If the allegations in James’s lawsuit turn out to be true, Trump hasn’t accidentally misjudged the value of some of his properties; he grossly overvalued his properties exorbitantly. He did it, allegedly, to get favorable loans, insurance and tax treatment. He failed several times and finally landed in the most powerful office in the world.
But Trump’s alleged financial fraud isn’t just about getting bigger loans or paying less tax. Trump, like an ordinary con man, allegedly inflates the value of his wealth to fabricate a fairy tale about himself and his financial prowess.
In many ways, its history reflects a common American narrative of relentless pursuit of wealth and opulence. We all know the story of Anna Sorokin, the now infamous fraudster and swindler who pretended to be a wealthy German heiress to infiltrate elite circles in New York society, tricking banks and lenders into funding his fabricated lifestyle. She ended up getting a prison sentence, was the inspiration for a Netflix series, and is reportedly landing her own reality TV show.
Trump, like an ordinary con man, allegedly inflates the value of his wealth to fabricate a fairy tale about himself and his financial prowess.
Trump, of course, has never been convicted of any crime, and you could say he’s the elite circle, not an outsider; but James’ allegations imply that he got to where he is today via fraudulent actions. Only in his case did he win the presidency and usher in a precarious era of instability for our country.
Trump is no stranger to being a party to legal proceedings, and it’s not hard to guess how he will respond to the latest allegations. We know his extrajudicial tactic will be to call the trial against him a political witch hunt. We know that his strategy in court will be to delay, delay and delay.
Trump’s alleged wealth and billionaire status is a key part of his campaign narrative. We can trust him to lead the country, because look how well he managed his businesses, he implored us.
If the allegations are proven, Trump is a common con man with an unusually large platform. But like scammers and fraudsters, it relies on our attention and conviction to thrive. James’ suit could bring down Trump’s business. But only our decision to turn away from him can bring down Trump.
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