Politics / August 1, 2023

Breaking: Donald Trump Is a Terrible Boss

The former president’s legal reckoning now includes charges of intimidation and harassment of his employees. It’s one of his oldest habits.

Chris Lehmann
Trump golf
Former US president Donald Trump looks on from the 18th green during day two of the LIV Golf Invitational at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., May 27, 2023. (Rob Carr / Getty Images)

The burgeoning indictments, arraignments, and pending court dates facing former President Donald Trump are picking up such momentum that it’s easy to overlook a thread that runs through all his legal woes: He’s run so badly afoul of the American justice system not merely thanks to his sense of entitlement and his disregard for any curb on his appetites, but also because he treats the workers in his immediate orbit so poorly.

This was the clear moral of the latest twist in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, which special prosecutor Jack Smith has amended to include a clumsy effort on Trump’s part to erase security footage allegedly showing the transfer of his document cache across the resort property to conceal it from investigators. Smith has named Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira as a new defendant in the case, and added new charges against Trump alleging efforts to alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal evidence and inducing someone else to do so. (Smith also filed a supplemental Espionage Act charge relating to Trump’s display of papers outlining a prospective invasion of Iran.)

Smith’s new filing outlines how De Oliveira, under Trump’s orders, collared an IT security worker at Mar-a-Lago named Yuscil Tavares to make the damning video footage in question disappear. According to the new indictment, De Oliveira led Tavares to a room on the compound known as “the audio closet” and had a workplace confab “meant to remain between the two of them.” According to the indictment, De Oliveira informed his employee that “‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted,” referring to a hard drive containing digital footage of other Mar-a-Lago employees observing the boss’s order to conceal the documents. Tavares replied that he didn’t know how to do any such thing—and what’s more, that he didn’t believe he had a right to. De Oliveira did what most middle managers do in such straits: He repeated himself, reiterating the unworkable directive that it was what “the boss” wanted done, and asking “What are we going to do?”

The short answer De Oliveira was looking for, of course, was “We’re going to do whatever the boss tells us.” And to get that reply, he apparently went all the way down the Mar-a-Lago workplace hierarchy to conscript a pool maintenance employee into neutralizing the damning digital footage by giving the server a good soaking.

You’d think that his diligence would have earned De Oliveira additional plaudits from the boss, but such things are rarely vouchsafed to the workers of Trumpworld. Indeed, for all his evidently earnest efforts to serve as Trump’s surrogate enforcer, De Oliveira not only earned himself a federal indictment of his own but, as one of Trump’s underlings, he also fielded his own share of paranoid suspicions from the boss’s orbit. The indictment relates how Walt Nauta—Trump’s personal aide and the codefendant in Smith’s original Mar-a-Lago complaint, as well as in the present superseding one—leaned on still another Mar-a-Lago worker to ascertain whether the property manager could be trusted. “Someone just wants to make sure Carlos is good,” Nauta reportedly said, in a typical Trumpworld flourish of mobspeak. Once Nauta was able to convey assurances to that effect bosswards, Trump extended an offer to hire De Oliveria an attorney—which is all that De Oliveira can likely expect from the boss as he hopes to avoid a prison stretch in the months and years ahead. (De Oliveira has already had to delay pleading in the amended case, since his Trump-procured lawyer doesn’t work locally.)

This latest vignette of botched workplace intimidation fits in with a long litany of Trump-orchestrated abuse of workers. Back when he was a rising real estate baron in Manhattan, Trump hired a crew of 200 undocumented Polish workers to demolish the Art Deco facade of the storied Bonwit Teller building as he set about building Trump Tower. The wrecking job came in defiance of earlier promises from Trump to have the building’s historic facade preserved—and amid the ensuing media furor, Trump simply stiffed most of the contractors he hired. (This outrageous abuse eventually yielded a $1.4 million settlement in a class-action suit filed by the workers.)

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From that moment on, Trump became notorious for skating on debts to workers he hired whenever he could. (It bears noting that Trump adopted this practice, like so many other ugly features of his public career, at the behest of his chief business and political mentor, Roy Cohn.) Throughout the ensuing five decades, Trump has consistently derided, exploited, and discarded the workers surrounding him as either lickspittle sycophants or plain suckers. In his indictments, Smith is clearly betting that figures like Nauta and De Oliveira will recognize the pattern and turn state’s evidence as a result. 

There’s certainly an overwhelming preponderance of evidence to nudge them in that direction. Trump notoriously turns on a dime to claim that the people he hires are themselves ignoble hustlers on the make, betraying and undermining him at all turns. He routinely trots out this refrain to discredit the powerful insiders he’s cultivated and thrown aside—former vice president Mike Pence, Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley, former attorney general Bill Barr, current FBI Director Christopher Wray, and on down to former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany—as well as the retinue of admirers he recruits as instrumental stooges, like his former legal fixer Michael Cohen.

So it’s scarcely surprising that the maximum leader of the American political and business world typically behaves as though the ordinary workers in his orbit are completely disposable. According to a 2016 USA Today Network report, Trump’s business properties have been on the receiving end of more than 60 lawsuits alleging failure to pay workers, while also netting 24 Fair Labor Standards Act violations. Trump also racked up an additional 200 mechanic’s liens for unpaid contractor work. Add in the temperament of an accused serial sexual assaulter, and you have a nightmare for anyone unfortunate enough to be doing actual work at Trump’s behest. Even at the higher levels of Trumpworld, employee attrition is rampant, one veteran of it told The Guardian:

“He says he’s going to get the best people around. But he doesn’t do that—he never has. Because he doesn’t listen to them, and then they leave. And if anybody is ever credited with doing anything good, he gets rid of them because he hates when anybody else gets credit.”

In view of this horrendous track record, it’s been nothing short of a mindfuck to see Trump lauded on today’s right as a heroic defender of the lost honor of the white American working class. But one consoling karmic moral of Trump’s late-career legal and political debacles is that low-level workers have supplied key testimonials contributing to his undoing. During the House’s January 6 Select Committee hearings, Cassidy Hutchinson, a junior aide to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, testified in vivid detail that Trump was keen to egg on the insurrectionist mob gathered in the capital, directing security personnel to move them past metal detectors at the site of his speech that day, since “they’re not here to hurt me.” She also relayed eyewitness accounts from other White House personnel that as the president sat in the limousine to take him back at the White House, he grabbed for the steering wheel and lunged at the driver, “toward his clavicle,” bellowing, “I’m the f’ing president. Take me to the Capitol now!”

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Hutchinson also described how Trump reacted to an AP interview with Barr in which the former attorney general dismissed Trump’s demented claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from him: by hurling his lunch against the wall. “I first noticed there was ketchup, dripping down the wall, and there’s a shattered porcelain plate on the floor,” she told the committee. “The valet had articulated that the president was extremely angry at the attorney general’s interview and had thrown his lunch against the wall.” Nor was this an isolated incident, Cassidy noted: “There were several times that I was aware of him either throwing dishes or flipping the tablecloth to let all the contents of the table go onto the floor.”

In Trumpworld, it’s always the valets, the chauffeurs, and the junior aides absorbing the worst fallout from the great man’s petulant ego rampages. They’re also the ones left cleaning up after the boss’s ever-growing roster of self-created messes, and the vicious tantrums that he throws when they predictably don’t work to his venal advantage—just as formerly it was the waitstaff, the casino workers, and the construction staff who were rudely shoved aside in the Trump Organization’s serial bankruptcies and branding orgies. There’s a reason, after all, that Trump ascended to reality-TV superstardom on catchphrase conveying a clueless boss’s trademark posture of unanswerable privilege: “You’re fired.” It would be a beautiful thing if, at long last, a few of the workers he jerks around for megalomaniacal sport might be able to respond in kind.

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Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is the D.C. Bureau chief for The Nation and a contributing editor at The Baffler. He was formerly editor of The Baffler and The New Republic, and is the author, most recently, of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).

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