Until Donald Trump came along, the Yiddish word “chutzpah” was often defined as the kid who kills his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. From now on, though, it has to be Trump’s handling of a loan he got in the mid-2000s from Deutsche Bank. He was personally into the bank for $40 million when, it seems, the orphaned killer must have come to him in a dream. He blamed the bank for tough economic conditions and sued it. He asked $3 billion in damages.
Oh, the gall. Oh, the effrontery. Oh, the total lack of shame. But also, oh, the genius of the move. The Trump Organization was going through hard times. And who was responsible for the hard times? The major banks, the greedy, avaricious SOBs of Wall Street. Trump put it this way: “Deutsche Bank is one of the banks primarily responsible for the economic dysfunction we are currently facing.” Elizabeth Warren, among countless others, would agree with him.
According to the New York Times, which has dug up this gem of a story for me (the check’s in the mail), Deutsche then countersued, demanding its money and labeling Trump’s maneuver “classic Trump.” But the bank was wrong — or at least premature, because then Trump threatened to de-Trump his own building. He would remove his name, thus reducing the value of the building but, in my view, giving it some class. In the end, one division of Deutsche Bank loaned Trump the money to pay off the division of the bank from which he had gotten the original loan. Trump won.
I am in awe. As a fellow Queens, N.Y., real estate person myself — my parents once owned a house there — I deeply admire chutzpah. It is a Queens trait, maybe something in the water. It is entrenched in the culture of that borough which is to doubling down what Russia is to vodka: You sue me, I sue you for twice as much, and then we settle and go on to sue still others.
But my admiration comes tempered with foreboding. You will notice in the above back-and-forth over the loan a total lack of honesty. You will notice that people say things they do not mean and they make agreements they honor only if they choose to. Words often mean little and usually mean nothing. Trump’s lawsuit was merely a tactic to buy time. (He learned such tactics from his friend, the entirely unethical lawyer Roy M. Cohn: disbarred, disgraced but a hero to Trump.) Trump was counting on the bank to cave. It did. It took money out of one drawer and gave it to Trump, and he put it into another drawer. Anyone who could do that could build a wall at the border and make Mexico pay for it. Maybe he’ll extend them the money. Who knows? Lawyers can do anything.