Bradburn “was desperately trying to get [Trump] interested in” Washington’s house, said a source familiar with the visit, so he spoke in terms Trump understands best — telling the president that Washington was an 18th century real-estate titan who had acquired property throughout Virginia and what would come to be known as Washington, D.C.
That piece is funny. An underlying, even funnier thing, to me: if he really wanted to excite Trump’s admiration for George Washington, Bradburn blew it. The record of Washington’s career as both president and real-estate speculator — and of the inextricability of those two roles — offers much to intrigue and impress a Donald Trump. It’s not edifying, and Bradburn, as CEO of Mount Vernon, can’t go there, but I’m just the boy to fill Trump in:
— As an up-and-coming real-estate speculator and developer, Washington had zero regard for the law. He fearlessly seized advantage after advantage by breaking, working around, and eluding legal requirements while privately expressing disdain for them. Smart!
— He was shrewd and adroit in using personal connections with government officials to draw public wealth into fake projects supposedly benefiting the less well-off but actually dedicated to enriching himself and his upscale partners.
— He ruthlessly ripped off the upscale partners too — secretly jiggering surveys to give them the less valuable and him the more valuable assets. Very tough.
I could go on — and have — but let’s get into the whole presidency thing, because that might really inspire Trump:
— Washington had no fear of some dopey “emoluments” clause. He spent a staggering amount of energy obsessively running his private businesses, hands-on, buying and selling property and exercising management as both landlord and slavedriver, from his desk.
— Another law he had no time for, as president, was an irritating one made up by the state where the nation’s capital was temporarily located: slaves who came from outside were automatically free after six months. Always thinking, he kept his slaves on the move, shifting them in and out of state, so they were technically never there for any six-month period. Only his wife and his secretary knew about that one.
— Want to talk about how to handle problems at the border? He carried out fake peace negotiations with the western Indians, only to buy time to build a big army to crush them regardless of what they agreed to. That plan only sort of fooled some of the Indians, but it totally fooled certain wimpy, peace-loving members of Congress. He even put U.S. soldiers in harm’s way and got them killed, stirring up fear and hatred for the Indians among both the public and Congress.
— Also at the border were lowlife troublemakers who objected to his whole administration. When they got rowdy, he did not mess around but took 12,000 troops there — not just to terrify the lowlifes. He put the whole zone under martial law, with mass arrests, indefinite detentions, forced loyalty oaths. Congressional approval? Warrants? Habeas corpus? Please.
— The best thing about that military suppression of the border zone: some of his most important real-estate investments were located there, and he’d been having a hard time making them pay. Once he took action as president against Indians and troublemaking American citizens, the value of that personal real-estate portfolio went up by about 50%.
As impressive and enviable as all of that might be to Trump, if he knew about it — and as unsettling as it may be to some of the rest of us — there’s a disconnect. Washington really did do those ruthless things. He really did found a nation. He really was a brutally successful real-estate developer.
First time tragedy, second time farce.