Opinion: Trump fires up the bulldozers

Back in 1982, Donald Trump was trying to seduce Holiday Inn into a partnership in a casino that he wanted to build in Atlantic City. In truth, the project was more dream than reality — Trump had acquired a parcel on the boardwalk, but nothing much had been done with it.

So when the board of directors of Holiday Inn wanted to visit the site, Trump needed to put on a show, and do so in a hurry. He called up his construction supervisor. “I told him that I wanted him to round up every bulldozer and dump truck that he could possibly find,” Trump brags in “The Art of the Deal.” “What the bulldozers and dump trucks did wasn’t important, I said, so long as they did a lot of it.”

So when the Holiday Inn executives visited the site, “It looked as if we were in the midst of building the Grand Coulee Dam,” Trump says. “There were so many pieces of equipment on the scene that they could barely move around each other. These distinguished corporate leaders looked on, some of them visibly awed….”

“A few minutes later, another of the board members walked over to me. His question was very simple: ‘How come,’ he said, ‘that guy over there is filling up that hole, which he just dug?’ This was difficult for me to answer, but fortunately this board member was more curious than skeptical.”

As we mark the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, the bulldozers and dump trucks are busy once again. We’ve seen a flurry of renewed activity on health care, as Republicans try to flog life back into the cadaver of their Obamacare replacement plan. The “broad principles” of a slapdash, hastily drafted tax-reform plan were announced, with the main “broad principle” being huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich in general, and for Trump in particular. The first “villain” of the coming trade wars — that dastardly Canada — was also announced this week.

Meanwhile, the Oval Office remains dysfunctional. The First Daughter and First Son-in-Law are treating the U.S. government as if it were a family business. The Iran nuclear deal hasn’t been ripped up; Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall, and as it turns out, neither is Congress. The administration’s badly drafted executive order on sanctuary cities has been put on hold by the federal courts, as was its earlier effort — twice — to ban immigration from several Muslim countries.

Of the more than 500 key government vacancies requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has nominated someone to fill 66. (Barack Obama had nominated 190 by now.) No replacements have been found for the 93 U.S. attorneys fired two months ago. Of some 80 ambassador posts now vacant, only one — to Israel — has been nominated and confirmed; just two others have even been nominated. We have no nominee as ambassador to Canada, with serious trade issues at stake; to South Korea, which faces a potential nuclear attack; to Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the European Union….

You can debate ideology and policy. There’s no debating the fact that the basic managerial competence that Trump promised is nowhere in sight. Instead we get what the guys at Holiday Inn got, a show stage-managed to produce the illusion of action where none exists.

Oh, and that project in Atlantic City? Holiday Inn did become Trump’s partner, and came to regret it almost immediately. Within a year of the casino’s opening, Trump and Holiday Inn were fighting in court over unkept promises. Within two years, Holiday Inn had broken its ties to Trump. Today, Trump Plaza sits empty, bankrupt and abandoned.