Who knew? Mar-a-Lago, theme park for the rich and famous, has a bargain basement…

‘Breaking News: The Trump library to be built at an undisclosed site somewhere in the basement of Mar-a-Lago will be equipped with a SCIF-like facility containing a fully functioning commode and burn pit — with a banner outside that reads “Enter At Your Own Risk.” Those who enter will be asked to empty wallets before passing through a coin-operated body scanner to check for party affiliation and email address.’

The monetizing of Mar-a-Lago is all that is left in the Trump organization’s deft plan to turn the storied Palm Beach landmark into a MAGA-themed amusement park complete with clowns and a daily insurrection reenactment. Trump’s PAC is feverishly turning out donation requests from Maga’s donor list of suckers and addled true believers who view Trump as an idol. In return, Trump sees them as his personal casino junkies who respond to his demands for more money with an addictive pull on the one-armed, orange-coiffed bandit:

“I need every single red-blooded American Patriot to step up during this time. Please rush in a donation IMMEDIATELY to publicly stand with me against this NEVERENDING WITCH HUNT.”

and,

“These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, was raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents.”

— Save America Joint Fundraising Committee email request

The above appeal raised more than $1.7 million in less than a week.

The stored-away boxes of highly sensitive documents that were legally seized by the FBI on August 8 are simply manifestations of the myriad crimes and underhanded ploys employed by Trump over his lifetime. He didn’t learn to be a crook and scofflaw after he was inaugurated, it was steeped in his DNA by mentors like his reportedly anti-semitic and racist father and Roy Cohn, surrogate father and McCarthy-era prosecutor of the Rosenbergs. Cohn was the disbarred and disgraced New York “fixer” whose clients included among others The Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Aristotle Onassis, and mob bosses, John Gotti and Tony Salerno.

Needless to say, another of his clients, Donald Trump, learned to navigate the rough-and-tumble of New York politics and real-estate development at his knee. Of Cohn’s role in the trial that led to the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, another of Trump’s lawyer-defenders, Allan Dershowitz was quoted as saying that the couple was “guilty… but framed.” Dershowitz spoke about the Cohn-Trump relationship in a 2018 Frontline interview:

“Well, I think they have something in common. Neither are particularly ideological; they’re pragmatic. Roy Cohn didn’t really have any ideology, even anti-communist ideology. He was somebody who rewarded loyalty and punished disloyalty to him. I think there’s a lack of ideology in many respects in President Trump. They want to win…”

- “Trump’s Showdown,” Frontline, July 10, 2018

But Cohn’s student got his post-grad degree in the one subject both excelled in — -grifting. A quick Wikipedia review of Cohn’s career reveals:

“Throughout Cohn’s career there were accusations of theft, obstruction, extortion, tax evasion, bribery, blackmail, fraud, perjury, and witness tampering. Cohn was known for his active social life, charitable giving, and combative and loyal personality. His combative personality would often come out in the threatening letters he would send to those who dared to sue his clients.”

These are traits that Trump adapted for use in his business dealing throughout his career and had adopted whole-cloth when he ventured into politics.

Those who ask, “Why would Trump take top-secret and sensitive documents home with him?” need only to imagine the value of these secrets to enemies, or the price a world leader might pay to conceal an unflattering personal tidbit. To an active narcissist, just having secrets locked in the basement might be enough. After all, Trump did tell an aide that he would take the boxes with him because they belonged to him. But the mere potential for kompromat, the power to extort an adversary; and the ability to raise money, or control others by merely suggesting a deeply-held, dark secret may be enough to hold them hostage to Trump’s feckless whim.

Yes, Mar-a-Lagoland’s Basement of Horrors needed a few skeletons and nuclear threats. One could imagine the sense of power that Donald would feel owning secrets that rise to the level of national concern. Had he planned to use them as a hedge against indictment and possible incarceration? Were they a fundraising ploy to fund the latter years of a Trump dynasty? Had the documents already been put to use in schemes to ease Putinesque sanctionsor to garner favor with Saudi royals? All of the above?

The answer is that while we may never find out, it is a fool who fails to realize that Trump viewed the boxes containing national secrets as lucrative vendible assets. For a man whose life has been reeling out of control, who has few secrets left to uncover, holding secrets of others could be an act of vengeance, a measure of control. The treasure he wanted to hoard in the basement has, since their seizing, become a treasure trove for litigators. In a way, the circumstances surrounding the stolen boxes filled with secrets may finally have revealed Trump’s fatal flaw. Like many of the groupies and doormats who made way for his excesses, he dared to overreach- and he got caught.

Mar-a-Lago is a fanciful place filled with all kinds of amusements, all manner of adult indulgences, haunted and otherwise. The one thing it lacks is a “Fun House”, and that was by design. Donald Trump in a stunning lack of wisdom and restraint never learned the lesson that life taught his mentors, greed and happiness are rarely partners.

Of all the historical parallels to a “Trump-like character” (never thought those two words could exist together either) in history or literature, the former president most reminds me of Volpone, the Sly Fox.The play is about greedy men and the lengths they go to enrich themselves. It opens with the main character,Volpone, supposedly on his death bed promising to place old men in his will in return for the same from them. The older and far more vulnerable dupes are aptly given bird names — -a vulture, a raven, and a crow- for Volpone’s plan to work they must be just as greedy as him. Yet, their fortunes are the target of his avarice. In the end, all characters’ sins are punished as the court strips Volpone of his money and condemns him to life in prison. His final humiliation is worsened by the knowledge that he has been betrayed by his servant. Could Trump spurred on by his own greed likewise be undone by a former loyalist turned snitch?

Jonson would caution the ex-president to look inside for blame. All the damage is self-inflicted and so predictable:

“What a rare punishmentIs avarice to itself!”

— Volpone, by Ben Jonson, Act I, sc, iv

Trump is about to be outfoxed by his own arrogance and duplicity. Famous for overstating his intelligence with scant evidence he is finding out that true geniuses are generally more modest. While I wouldn’t expect 45 to be reading a Jacobean classic, he might do well to read the CliffsNotes version. The FBI seizure of documents at Mar-a-Lago reads like the conceits which lead to the unraveling of Volpone’s schemes. In the end, as he is sentenced by the court his final words drip with self-pity and a gnawing awareness:

“This is call’d mortifying of a Fox.

While we may entertain the hope that Trump would have a similar epiphany, his shamelessness argues against it. Let’s pray his final Act has no sequel.

Originally published at https://www.dailykos.com on August 25, 2022.

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Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.

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Vince Rizzo

Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.