Art of the Grift



Later, when he’d charm family and friends with stories of how often he broke into my locked, third floor apartment—climbing over the roof, vaulting down to my tiny patio, jimmying the sliding doors— Cousin Bobby would roll with laughter about what an easy mark I was. What a rube! How he ran up my cable bill. How I must have stocked my fridge just for him. That I was always good for gas money.

It was not uncommon for me to come home from work to find Cousin Bobby holed up in my apartment. He lived hours away. He never called in advance. He didn’t have a key. But there he’d be, dirty clothes piled by the washer, something burnt in a skillet on the stove, and Cousin Bobby sprawled on my couch, TV blaring.

Donald Trump reminds me of a more sophisticated Cousin Bobby. Forget The Art of the Deal. Theirs is The Art of the Grift.

In 2012, Trump tweeted, “President Obama’s vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars—Unbelievable!” Yet a D.C. watchdog group estimates Trump and his family have already spent more on vacation travel than the Obama and Biden families combined over eight years.

Guarding Trump Tower—where the president has not set foot since the inauguration, but where his wife and son continue to reside—has so far cost taxpayers (that’s you and me) $50 million. Imagine if Michelle Obama had stayed in Chicago with her girls, so they could finish out the school year, at a cost of $500,000 per day.

April is all about taxes, and the most interesting thing about Trump’s taxes—the ones he still refuses to release—is not how much he has, but how much he owes. To whom is our president indebted, and for how much?

And it sure was some coincidence how Ivanka Trump received three trademark approvals from China on the same day she sat with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar a Lago for dinner.

Though, as Cousin Bobby would say, it’s family, and it’s only money.

Since Trump’s inauguration, vacation planning for travel to the U.S. is down. Foreigners normally spend millions sightseeing here, but fears of travel bans, phone history searches, social media monitoring, and being wrongly detained have resulted in a notable decline. A decline we can ill-afford, as the U.S. travel industry employs eight million Americans.

There are those who will say, so what. Those who will argue, like Cousin Bobby, that money is not everything. What real American could have voted for Hillary Clinton with her unsecured emails, Benghazi and a Supreme Court pick on the table?

If it’s the unsecured emails, what, then, should we think of Trump’s continued use of an unsecured cell phone.

How easily could a skilled operative listen to his every phone call? What happens when someone hacks his Twitter account and threatens, say, North Korea or Russia or Iran?

If it’s Benghazi, make note that all of our outposts are currently at risk, as “President Trump has not yet nominated a State Department official to oversee the security of diplomats abroad.”

If it’s abortion, the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood is huge win, right? But free birth control accounts for 34% of Planned Parenthood, preventing an estimated 579,000 unwanted pregnancies per year.

It is a statistical fact that defunding Planned Parenthood will increase, not decrease, the rate of abortions in the U.S.  Are we to be proud of this?

Meanwhile, back at the Mar a Lago resort, our president hides his tax records and vacations on our dime, the First Lady holes-up in Trump Tower, and Ivanka takes a seat next to the Chinese president and gets her trademarks.

What do we get? We get to feel righteous about emails and Benghazi and abortion. We should get t-shirts: Donald Trump went to the White House, and all I got were these lousy, meaningless talking points.

A few years ago, Cousin Bobby showed up needing $1,300 to keep the bank from repossessing his car. For the first time in decades, I said no. And I haven’t heard from him since.

No matter how artful the grift, there comes a point when you’ve had enough of being had. When you learn that the grifter never goes bankrupt. You do.

I imagine Trump, like Cousin Bobby, waxing on behind our backs about how naive we are. What rubes! Laughing, as they say, all the way to the bank.