President Trump would like you to know that though he is one of the world’s great businessmen and is possessed, in his own words, of a “very, very large brain,” he cannot be held responsible for employment practices at the clubs he owns because he has no idea what goes on there:
President Trump said Friday he did not know about the dozens of undocumented workers employed at his golf courses over many years because he no longer runs his business.
Trump’s eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric, have taken over management of the Trump Organization while their father is president.
But groundskeepers, maids and kitchen staff interviewed by The Washington Post in recent months say they worked without legal documents at Trump’s clubs long before he entered politics and made illegal immigration his core issue.
Standing outside the White House before departing for his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., reporters asked Trump about his knowledge of undocumented workers employed there and at his other clubs.
“Well, that I don’t know. Because I don’t run it,” Trump said. “But I would say this, probably every club in the United States has that, because it seems to me, from what I understand, a way that people did business.”
“A way that people did business.” Ah yes, “people,” who “did business” in this fashion at some point in the past. So he is simultaneously arguing that everybody does it and that he knows nothing about it.
Of course, the truth is that Trump absolutely did business this way. Not only has The Post extensively documented (see here, here and here) that multiple clubs he owns have employed undocumented immigrants for years, similar practices have been a feature of his businesses since early in his career. A few highlights:
- Trump Tower in New York was built in part by undocumented Polish laborers who later sued Trump, citing “nightmare memories of backbreaking 12-hour shifts and of being cheated with 200 other undocumented Polish immigrants out of meager wages and fringe benefits.” As one put it, “We worked in horrid, terrible conditions. … We were frightened illegal immigrants and did not know enough about our rights.”
- Trump Model Management, the modeling agency Trump created, brought in foreign models and instructed them to lie to customs officials and claim they were tourists when in fact they were coming to work, according to a Mother Jones investigation. The models were housed in squalid apartments for which Trump charged them exorbitant rent, leaving them with minuscule pay for the work they were doing.
- At Mar-a-Lago, Trump regularly hires foreign workers to be cooks, waiters and housekeepers, claiming he simply can’t find Americans to do the work. But he seems to try as hard as possible not to find Americans, doing the bare minimum required by law to fill the positions before looking abroad. He takes out two small ads in the Palm Beach Post, to which an applicant can reply only by mail or fax, not in person, online or by phone.
If you’re wondering whether the MAGA hat-wearing Trump fans who chant “Build that wall!” at his rallies would be disturbed by any of that, you surely know the answer. Trump has trained them well on where their anger and hatred should be aimed, and it certainly isn’t at the employers who hire undocumented workers.
Blaming employers would require thinking about immigration as a system, one with multiple actors and conditions that create incentives on the ground. This is precisely the way Trump discourages people from thinking about the issue. His preferred analysis is that immigrants are bad; they’re coming here to take your job and kill your family; and therefore we need to build walls. Employers just aren’t part of the equation.
Besides, as Trump once said about maneuvering through the tax code (or perhaps just cheating on his taxes) to avoid paying a dime to the federal government, “That makes me smart.” It’s clear that one of the guiding principles of his business career and indeed his entire life is that there are no ethical or moral guidelines to which one should adhere; the only question is what you can get away with.
That is the philosophy he brought to government as well, and his supporters couldn’t be happier about it.