The fraudulent founders of the prosperity gospel movement — including Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland and Frederick K.C. Price — helped lay the groundwork for Trump. Poor white suckers made them rich. And perhaps it is no coincidence that Trump and the granddad of the prosperity gospel — Oral Roberts — both founded “universities.”
That old faker Oral Roberts – the television faith-healer (who in 1987 told his flock that God would call him home if he didn’t raise $8 million in a matter of weeks) didn’t even pretend to be honest. When I spoke on his campus in the early 1980s and hung out with his son Richard, (before I quit the evangelical con-game as I describe in Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back) it was like tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole. This was a netherworld of make-believe where the family at the heart of the “ministry” were cynical unbelievers.
Oral may be dead but Trump and Joel Osteen (of Lakewood Church in Houston,) live. So does the bullshit. Trump claims he’s a businessman and Osteen claims he’s a pastor. Osteen takes in $30 million – Reported amount of donations mailed in each year. $55 million – Reported sales of his five best-selling books and other works… Even Trump’s steaks never did this well…
“Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” (Osteen’s book) has sold millions of copies to the same kind of suckers who enrolled in Trump University. “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us,” Osteen wrote in a 2005 letter to his flock.
Trump is another Osteen. Osteen’s church is a cash cow on which Osteen and his family (as it were) roll around while sucking up other people’s money. It’s a Trump-type scheme.
As was pointed out in a New Yorker article, Despite Trump University’s claim that it offered “graduate programs, post graduate programs, doctorate programs,” it wasn’t a university at all. It was a company that purported to be selling Trump’s secret insights into how to make money in real estate. According to a lawsuit filed against Trump and Trump University by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the so-called curriculum that was ultimately used was “developed by a third-party company that creates and develops materials for an array of motivational speakers and seminar and timeshare rental companies.” So much for “respected institutions.”
Nowhere has the prosperity gospel flourished more than among what we now think of as “Trump’s working class.” Told that wealth is a sign of God’s grace and favor, followers strive for trappings of luxury they can’t afford. The only person getting rich or being blessed is the fake leaders like Osteen/Trump.
Working Americans, raised on TV “reality” local sensationalist “news” and a make-believe prosperity gospel were groomed for Trump. Bait and switch was laid out in the Trump University Playbook (“Playbook”), which provided step-to-step directions to Trump University instructors on what to tell students during the seminars. . . .
Oral Roberts couldn’t have done it better. Trump University representatives were explicitly instructed to push the highest priced Elite programs. Even when students hesitated to purchase the expensive programs, Trump representatives were provided stock responses to encourage purchases, including encouraging students to go into debt to pay for the “Elite programs.”
Even Trump’s claim to be a businessman is a lie. He’s a rich brat who actually pissed away his daddy’s money. Last Monday Trump told a Colorado audience that all his business success stemmed from “a small loan” from his father. But the loan had nothing to do with the source of Trump’s inherited and then squandered wealth: the real estate and construction company his father had built.
Like Osteen Trump lies. Like Oral Roberts he’s outrageous and no one cares.
Trump took over running his dad’s company in 1974, at age 28, when it was worth approximately $200 million, according to a contemporaneous New York Times article. Given the size of that fortune, Trump has under-performed both in the stock market as well as the real estate market. Like Oral Roberts son Trump ran his dad’s business into the ground.
As noted in the Huffington Post: If the self-described business genius (that would be Trump) had taken his share of his father’s inheritance and put it into an index fund matching the S&P 500 back in 1974, “it would have been worth $3 billion today. Had he put the $200 million that Fortune magazine determined he was worth in 1982 as he took over his dad’s business into that same index fund, he would be worth more than $8 billion today. And had that $200 million gone into the broad real estate market, it would be worth more than $20 billion today.”
As noted by the New York Times (“Donald Trump’s Business Decisions in ’80s Nearly Led Him to Ruin”) Trump claims he is worth more than $10 billion. Journalist Timothy L. O’Brien, author of Trump Nation, said sources within Trump’s company a dozen years ago told him Trump was worth between $150 million and $250 million ― at a time Trump was claiming a net worth of $6 billion. Trump sued O’Brien over the book for defamation and lost.
Whatever the precise number, the source of Trump’s wealth, the uncertainty of his current net worth, the recent revelation that he declared $916 million in tax losses in 1995, and his refusal to release his tax returns could eat away at the image he has peddled of himself as a successful multi-billionaire.
However you slice it if Trump had just invested his daddy’s money with a stock fund like any other ordinary American home owner he’d be worth more than he is today after a career of mismanaging his fortune.
By 1990, Trump had amassed $3.4 billion in debt, much of it in the form of high-interest junk bonds. He was personally liable for $832.5 million of that. He had bought a yacht for $29 million, the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan for $407 million and a failing airline for $365 million. All were losing money.
As noted by the Times:
Casino regulators in New Jersey warned that “the possibility of a complete financial collapse of the Trump Organization is not out of the question.” The Casino Control Commission concluded in 1991 that “Mr. Trump cannot be considered financially stable, a condition for renewing his casino licenses at Taj Mahal, Castle and Plaza.” Still, it did not pull the plug on him.
His airline, Trump Shuttle, lost $34.5 million during just six months in 1990.
In addition to actual losses from his other businesses, the nearly $1 billion total in losses probably also includes paper losses on Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings through the use of depreciation rules that allow real estate developers to deduct the cost of a building over a number of years.
By the end of 1991, the amount of cash that Mr. Trump had personally available to him had fallen below $1.7 million and was expected to fall below $800,000 within months — a small cushion given his monthly expenditures.
At the end of 1990, when Mr. Trump was facing an $18.4 million interest payment, his father sent a lawyer to the Castle casino to buy $3.3 million in chips and leave without cashing them, providing his son with an infusion of cash.
According to the Times, by 1993, Trump was still in dire straits. “He dispatched a company executive to ask his siblings if he could borrow $10 million from their respective shares of the family trust. Mr. Trump received the loan, according to people who were involved and spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering him, and went back for another $20 million the following year. Mr. Trump has denied borrowing from his siblings.”In 1996, the year that the tax records obtained by The Times were filed, Mr. Trump basked in the glow of news reports marking his apparent return from financial abyss. One such comeback article appeared in The Times in April of that year.
“This just represents the best point in my life,” Mr. Trump told a Times reporter as he settled into a stretch limousine. “I think it says that what I’ve been doing over the years has been right.”
Fundamentalist Christian fake leaders impacted the vibe of the Republican Party that at last produced an Oral Roberts/Osteen clone. Usually people cite this impact because of the Republicans to the right on various issues — gay-bashing and attacks on reproductive rights. The real shift is spiritual as the rise of Trump makes clear: Republicans have abandoned the task of representing the interests of their voters and instead are exploiting their voters the way Osteen and other televangelists — charlatans all — exploit the true believers.
Pre-Trump Ted Cruz was the most prominent example. The Houston Chronicle lamented ever endorsing Cruz, comparing him unfavorably to his predecessor Kay Baily Hutchinson. Hutchinson actually bothered to represent her voters, putting a priority on the state’s economic development.
The Oral Roberts/Osteen-all-flash-no-substance “model” took over the GOP. They were ready for Trump.
Call this the Sarah Palin coup completed by Trump and then some…
Grandstanding rather than governing is the whole deal. Shut down the government!
Trump’s GOP is the evangelical model: fundraising rather than true ministry.
When Trump loses I’m betting this “baby Christian” will find his true home at last in evangelical circles. Long after he runs out of secular suckers the evangelical mythology machine will welcome him. The folks who do not believe in evolution or climate change will be ready. Trump’s fraudulent “university” was a perfect dry run. Trump need only ask his supporter Jerry Falwell Jr. for pointers on how to make his next move.
Or maybe Trump can take heart from a fundraiser Oral’s son Richard wrote soon after he narrowly escaped jail: “Dear friend,” Richard wrote to potential donors. “Out of work? In debt? Perhaps you feel like you can’t sow anything anywhere because your financial situation isn’t good right now.” Richard continued, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The Trump “brand” is trash. It always has been. If Trump is remembered for anything it will be for taking down the Republican brand and for further trashing what’s left of the evangelical brand as well… given that according to polls some 74 percent of white evangelicals say they are voting for Trump. What a perfect ending to the prosperity gospel story.
What did you expect? These same folks used to send Oral Roberts money and today they believe in Joel Osteen, and think that the Bible is true– but that global warming is a hoax. What a perfect epitaph for the white aging evangelical and dying religious right movement: “They voted for Trump.”
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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
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Please read about my journey through then out of the religious right and Republican Party.