You’ve gotta hand it to Donald Trump: He moves fast.
Scarcely a week after taking office, he’s clipped the wings of the Environmental Protection Agency, threatened companies planning to move operations out of the country with a “border tax,” narrowed down his Supreme Court choices, made climate change denial official government policy, invented a new synonym for absurd falsehoods (alternative facts) and somehow found the time to quarrel with the ink-stained wretches of the media.
Is there method to his madness, or is he just flailing around aimlessly? He’s been portrayed by his horrified opponents as an ignorant buffoon, an unprincipled Twitter-addicted narcissist.
That’s a mistake.
Before Trump: the permanent reality show, there was Trump: the builder/businessman. He succeeded in one of the most ruthlessly competitive sectors of American business, putting together some spectacular deals in Manhattan commercial real estate. Then he took too many risks, got caught in a debt squeeze and narrowly avoided personal bankruptcy. He somehow managed to transform himself into a brand, understanding that permanent celebrity can be monetized to a degree that no one else imagined.
So how did those experiences shape him?
I spent a few years in the 1970s working as a bottom-tier investment banker in New York City before Donald Trump became The Donald (and even ran into Fred Trump’s largely anonymous son a few times). The successful real estate guys I knew were smart, tough, competitive, combative and superb dealmakers. They had to deal with unions, with city regulatory agencies, with neighborhood organizations, with historic preservationists, with rent control, with deteriorating public infrastructure, with escalating urban crime and violence and with crooked or antibusiness elected officials.
That harsh environment took its toll on the players. You had play by the rules — pay off the union bosses so you could hire immigrant labor for demolition work, support Democratic pols because they could kill or delay your projects, hire viciously competent attorneys to protect your interests, pay off the building inspectors who could hold up your projects and do what you had to do to pull a building out of the ground. Once finished, you had a whole new set of problems — they’re called tenants.
The big takeaway, as one of the players told me decades ago: “Everybody lies to you, even when they think they’re telling the truth.”
If you think that Trump has no core beliefs, think again.
Like any developer, he despises the regulatory thicket that constrains and inhibits almost every business. He distrusts liberal politicians, and believes that their policies cripple economic growth. When he say he’ll “drain the swamp,” that’s what he means. And it may be that his policy imperatives will strongly benefit Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the Pikes Peak region.
It seems virtually certain that Trump’s pick to head the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, will quickly drop the EPA’s stormwater lawsuit against Colorado Springs. On the Oklahoma state website, Pruitt is described as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” That’s good news for the city, if not for environmentalism.
Trump’s background may have led him to believe that the world is a dangerous and violent place, one where the strong need to get stronger. More military spending and better pay for the men and women in uniform means more disposable income in our region. It may also mean more spending on cybersecurity, now one of the fastest-growing segments of the local economy.
Trump’s decision to move forward with the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines was no surprise, but his insistence that both projects use American steel was a welcome twist. Similar requirements on other ongoing projects might create new markets and better prices for Pueblo steelmaker Evraz, which operates a seamless casing mill in Pueblo and manufactures other oil country tubular goods at three Canadian sites.
In signing an executive order on Tuesday to speed up environmental reviews of other infrastructure projects, Trump complained about the “incredibly cumbersome, long, horrible permitting process…the regulatory process in this country has become a tangled-up mess,” he said.
Pruitt is clearly on the same page as his new boss. Expect him to expedite the environmental impact study for the Interstate 25 expansion between Monument and Castle Rock, lopping off at least a year of delay.
So far so good — but let’s see what our ambitious new President will do next week!