Journalist Jonathan Greenberg writes for The Washington Post on Friday about how President Trump conned his way onto the Forbes 400 list in the 1980s by inflating his wealth and using a fake name to pose as his own spokesman.
Trump's fraud might have been nothing more than an amusing caper in which the only victim was another rich person deprived of his or her rightful place on the list, but Greenberg captures the significance in this key passage:
His confident deceptions were so big that they had an unexpected effect: Instead of believing that they were outright fabrications, my Forbes colleagues and I saw them simply as vain embellishments on the truth. We were so wrong.
This was a model Trump would use for the rest of his career, telling a lie so cosmic that people believed that some kernel of it had to be real. The tactic landed him a place he hadn’t earned on the Forbes list — and led to future accolades, press coverage and deals. It eventually paved a path toward the presidency.
Trump is not in the White House merely because he was on the Forbes 400 list. But Greenberg's valid point is that Trump's shameless — and sometimes dishonest — style of self-promotion helped him build the image of success personified, which he later parlayed into a winning campaign to “Make America Great Again.”
The pseudonym Trump employed when talking to Greenberg, John Barron, is one he used on multiple occasions. He sometimes spelled the name “Baron” or went by John Miller but, whatever the spelling or the surname, Trump's aim was to boast about himself, without appearing to boast about himself.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, The Post published a recording of a 1991 interview that “Miller,” who was actually Trump, gave to People magazine. On the tape, “Miller” asserted that Trump is “starting to do tremendously well financially,” and that “actresses just call to see if they can go out with him and things.”
Also during the campaign, a former editor of the New York Post's Page Six gossip section penned a confession in Politico Magazine: “I helped make the myth of Donald Trump,” Susan Mulcahy wrote. “And for that, I am very, very sorry.”
“If you worked for a newspaper in New York in the 1980s, you had to write about Trump,” she continued. “As editor of the New York Post’s Page Six, and later as a columnist for New York Newsday, I needed to fill a lot of space, ideally with juicy stories of the rich and powerful, and Trump more than obliged.”
A May 1984 New York Daily News column by Mike Lupica illustrates the extent to which Trump “more than obliged.” Referring to Trump, then 37, as the “Boy Builder,” Lupica describes Trump's dogged pursuit of media coverage:
I was buying the papers at my quaint little newsstand when all of a sudden the Boy Builder jumped off the rack from the cover of Gentlemen's Quarterly, tapped me on the shoulder, grinned his sappy grin and said, “Gotcha.” The headline in GQ read: “Donald Trump Gets What He Wants.” I thought about running. I gave up. I bought the magazine.
The Boy Builder and I went back to my apartment for coffee. He gets what he wants.
If it isn't GQ, then it's Sports Illustrated, which a couple of months ago did a major fawn over Trump that included everything except baby pictures. If it isn't SI, it's the New York Times Magazine (I like to look at the pictures). Trump was waiting for me there not long ago; I reached down for the Sunday papers on my doorstep and before I knew it, Trump was scrambling eggs for us. I read an NFL draft story in the New York News. The first quote was from Trump. He was in Monday's paper, too.
Lupica's column ran in the same month that Trump had one of his phone conversations with Greenberg, as “John Barron.” Acting in person or under an assumed name, Trump relentlessly thrust himself into the press, then reaped the benefits three decades later.