USA Today's Low Innuendo About Donald Trump and His Golf Courses
When Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy in June of 2015, no one (including yours truly) gave him anything resembling even an outside shot. Trump and his candidacy were a laugh line. The previous assertion is not a political statement as much as it’s fact.
Whatever readers think or thought about Trump’s policies (this column was and is very critical of his views on trade, immigration and the dollar, among others), the expectation was that the New Yorker’s unlikely bid was a near-term brand-building stunt, and that his even harder-to-imagine nomination for president would lead to major losses for the Republican Party well down the ticket. Notable here is that Republican pessimism and Democratic elation about Trump’s near-certain November drubbing was the broad expectation before the Washington Post’s October 7 release of Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush about his groping ways. Pessimism about Trump’s electoral chances after the tape’s release morphed into sheer dread among Republicans. Trump would not only lose to Hillary Clinton, but would do so in historic fashion to the Party’s long-term detriment.
All of the above requires mention in light of USA Today’s front page story from Wednesday, titled “Golfers pay millions and gain close contact with president.” The innuendo within was head-scratching to say the least. While there’s so much about President Trump to criticize and dislike, USA Today’s thinly veiled assertion that executives and lobbyists have made Trump’s golf properties the 21st century version of the “smoke-filled room” should cause even his most ardent critics to rise to his defense.
The article’s opening sentence was that “Dozens of lobbyists, contractors and others who make their living influencing the government pay President Trump’s companies for membership in his private golf clubs, a status that can put them in close contact with the president.” Implicit in the latter is that Trump’s clubs have become satellite “Gucci Gulches” in the aftermath of the election.
As the article went on to note, “Members of the four clubs Trump has visited as president – in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia – include at least 50 executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials.” Seemingly more sinister for the conspiracy-minded and partisan is that “Two-thirds [of the executives and lobbyists] played on one of the 58 days the president was there.” Cue the dramatic orchestra music.
What USA Today described as an “investigation” apparently “shows that, for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally.” Oh dear? The better answer to what is ridiculous is Oh please. USA Today needs to get its Trump derangement under control simply because its breathy reporting here amounts to a resource-sapping distraction thanks to the nothing quality of an investigation conducted by no less than five of its reporters.
While the newspaper would like to create the impression that Trump’s clubs have become crony havens, it’s worth pointing out that the 45th president is presently threatening to errantly rip up the U.S.’s free trade agreement with South Korea despite USA Today’s revelation that “a lobbyist for the South Korean government” is a member of one of his clubs. That Trump is apparently pretty accessible on his properties (the article indicates that he’s “surprisingly approachable”) ignores that no matter their glad-handing ways, presidents of the United States can’t just be walked up to, not to mention how difficult it would be for club members to bend Trump’s ear on policy matters given the protective nature of presidential handlers. And then we can’t forget that the president in question is Trump; he of little ideological compass. Does any reader seriously believe that Trump’s casual conversations with members have or would become policy?
As for the investigation’s reveal that two-thirds of the executives and lobbyists had played golf on one of the 58 days that Trump visited his clubs, where does one begin? For one, Trump’s visits have mostly occurred on weekends. Ok, but golf is a weekend sport for most, particularly for working executives and lobbyists, and was that way long before 2017. Odds are that all four of the alleged Trump favor factories masquerading as golf clubs experienced surges of usage on weekends long before Trump was elected. But even if not, simple logic dictates that tee times on Trump courses would increase on days when it’s assumed the President of the United States might be on the grounds. For USA Today’s stat about executives and lobbyists to be even remotely revealing, the newspaper would have to show that the four clubs’ other non-executive and non-lobbyist members (apparently 4,500+) stayed away in notable fashion. Not very likely.
Which brings us to the next basic truth about Trump and his golf clubs: love him or hate him, he was a draw long before he was President. Not only are Trump’s golf courses known to be very good, Trump has been a people magnet and attention grabber for a very long time. In that case, it’s a safe bet that executives, lobbyists and regular members “coincidentally” booked tee times based on Trump's rumoured golf times well before the real estate/branding mogul was elected president. And it seems they did. It turns out that the members were active users of Trump’s clubs well before November of 2016.
Indeed, as USA Today perhaps unwittingly acknowledges, “Trump’s U.S. golf clubs are among the most lucrative outposts in his empire, bringing in about $600 million in 2015 and 2016, according to his financial disclosure reports.” Ok, but when 2015 began Trump wasn’t even a candidate, and then in 2016 he was the candidate with toxic coattails. Despite this, his golf courses were thriving. This matters simply because Trump's investigators never indicated how many of the “50 executives” and “21 lobbyists” were members of the four Trump golf clubs in question before he was elected. The statistic would only have passable relevance if the executives and lobbyists paid up to join after the elections in 2016.
Importantly, "after" as applied to Election 2016 is crucial simply because it was once again well known that Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton. For one to have watched the news on November 8, 2016 was for one to witness a knowing quality to the election coverage. That Clinton was going to win was a given; the only question realistically being one of how much she would win by. And what would her mandate be upon winning by a landslide?
Ok, but Trump’s golf courses were thriving well before November 8, 2016 by USA Today’s own admission, and when it was well known Trump wouldn’t be elected president, let alone get the nomination. Despite this, the newspaper wants readers to believe that something untoward is at work now thanks to executives and lobbyists allegedly having access to a “surprisingly approachable” president whom they’re also enriching through initiation fees and dues. The insinuation is low, and it confuses symptoms with problems. Even if it were true that Trump's golf-course conversations had policy implications, the latter would be a sign of a government that's grown too large and too expensive such that there's something to be gained from lobbying it, as opposed to a sign that Trump's ownership of private golf clubs has compromised him.
So while USA Today will remain an essential read no matter what, its reporting on Trump increasingly leaves a lot to be desired. There’s once again so much to legitimately criticize Trump (and presidents in general) about, and that’s why the newspaper’s waste of space and resources on what amounts to nothing is so disappointing.