Planned ICE raids show Trump runs the U.S. like his business — with no idea what he's doing

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conduct a raid in Southern California
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents conduct a raid in Southern California. (Photo: Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via AP)

If all goes as threatened, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin conducting nationwide raids on Sunday aimed at arresting thousands of undocumented immigrants. Many people have been resisting this idea, including, reportedly, a lot of people who work for ICE. Plans for executing the raids remain frighteningly “in flux,” and mass protests are planned against the roundups in 10 major cities.

How will the Trump administration contain potential violence? Trump almost certainly doesn’t know, just as he has no clue how to reconcile his party’s need for suburban female voters with the inevitable images of frightened families being hauled off to detention facilities. Apart from being un-American, the raids seem kind of crazy, right?

But “crazy” in this case doesn’t have its usual connotation of being something outside of the norm. Trump ripped up the Iranian nuclear deal without knowing what he wanted instead, imposed tariffs on trade with China without knowing what tariffs were and is currently campaigning to destroy the Affordable Care Act without having an alternative for the 20 million Americans who would be left without health care if he succeeds. This very Trumpian tactic of jumping in with both feet because you like the way something sounds, but then being too ignorant or uninterested to follow through, is part of a pattern — every time he starts a sentence, really — and that goes back a very long way.

In the early 1990s, when I was his ghostwriter on the sequel to “The Art of the Deal,” a deservedly forgotten book called “Surviving at the Top,” I watched from a front-row seat as Trump, lured by the romance of aviation, paid $365 million to buy the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle. I think he fancied himself the next Howard Hughes. At the press conference, at which he announced that he would change the name to the Trump Shuttle, he said his top priority would be to “deep clean” the seats. Later, back at Trump Tower, he told industry analysts who pressed him about his lack of experience and his plans for rebranding the airline that he would deep clean the seats. He was, it soon became clear, a germaphobe who had not the slightest idea of how to run airline. The Trump Shuttle was never profitable and within three years he turned it over to US Airways in exchange for taking over its debt.

Donald Trump
Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

It was even worse for Trump, though, when he heard the siren song of the title “casino magnate,” and charged into a business that ultimately chewed him up and spit him into bankruptcy court. As I wrote, our future president, when he was running three faltering Atlantic City casino-hotels, spent a good part of his time feeling fabric swatches, since the only thing he seemed to grasp about the gambling business was that it’s nice if you can keep the carpets and drapes fresh. The math, the vision stuff, that wasn’t his métier.

He wasn’t even good at schmoozing the high-rollers, which you’d think would be relatively easy. You may recall that he once spent $100 million for a 282-foot yacht on which he envisioned riding with “whales” (customers who might lose $1 million on a single visit) up and down the New Jersey coast, currying their allegiance to the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza or Trump Marina. But before the boat was even delivered, Trump realized that “sailing is not my thing,” and he lost interest in the vessel, which never got much use, since gamblers, as real gambling executives know, prefer to be indoors gambling. I was with him one of the few times he was ever aboard the Trump Princess, at an odd little daytime gathering at which the celebrity guests consisted of a past-his-prime Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame and an about-to-be-fired local news anchor. Our perky hostess proudly told us there was a complete machine shop below deck and if we wanted to we could all get keys copied. The glamour of Trumpworld was never-ending.

When people got a peek behind the various masks that Trump wore, you could see they felt a little sad. For themselves as much as Trump. They wanted to believe that there was a brilliant young wheeler-dealer out there who could accomplish things with the capitalist system that could never be done by government. But if there was such a slick dude, it wasn’t Trump.

People in Los Angeles protest ICE raids and deportations
Crowds in Los Angeles protesting ICE raids and deportations. (Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

Once, while we were working on the book, Trump went to Brazil with a certain high-roller who was being courted by a rival casino. A small group of aides, including me, went with him. The idea was to flatter the gambler and keep him a Trump customer by visiting his businesses and showing interest in his philanthropic concerns. Trump didn’t want to go, because he didn’t want to do the things a man in his position must do, but we made it through the first couple of hours. And then, at a luncheon at a São Paulo hospital that the wealthy man supported, Trump was asked to speak.

He seemed to enjoy the chance to play the visiting American casino king. “I just want to say,” he said, “that you people speak Spanish just great!”

A silence fell over the table. In one stroke, he had insulted Brazilians by assuming it was an accomplishment for them to speak their native language — and gotten the language wrong. Was he kidding? For a moment, I thought so, because of his cocky smile.

Then the person seated next to him tugged at his sleeve and whispered in his ear — and Trump’s smile got a little bit cockier.

“Yeah, I know, Portuguese,” he continued, “that’s just a hip, swingin’ Spanish, right?”

The gambler cringed, like the rest of the luncheon guests, and, I heard, soon took his business to Caesars Palace. Trump, as far as I could tell, never gave any of it a second thought. If he gave things a second thought, after all, he wouldn’t be Trump— and he certainly wouldn’t be in a position to wreak havoc in a good number of American cities this Sunday.

Charles Leerhsen (@CharlesLeerhsen) is a biographer and historian whose books include “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.


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