Trump’s Corruption Brand Scars America

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The casino and Trump both flop

In a consumer, capitalist society, marketing, and branding are everything. This powerful combination of marketing drives sales and reputation and motivates customers to purchase otherwise nondescript commodities as if they had a magical attraction that would make their lives better, more prosperous, longer, and more pleasurable.

Marketing accounts for a large percentage of any corporation’s market value.  One study of companies in the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) Index found that 70% of the market capitalization of its top 100 companies was intangible.  At the same time, 20 years ago, that value was set at 20%.  Today, brands are considered a company’s “most important single company asset.”  In the book Brands and Branding by Rita Clifton and John Simmons (The Economist Books, 2003), one study by Interbrand and J.P. Morgan found that a brand could account for one-third of shareholder value.

Brands apply to people, too, if they want to commercialize their reputation.  Think Kim Kardashian, Michael Jordan, Snoop Dog, Martha Stewart, and Sean Spicer.

Branding makes a mark in American popular culture and the consumer’s mind to generate revenues.  Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, Jessee Hames, and John Dillinger all had reputations as America’s Top Gangsters, but that was before t-shirts and posters could be sold to generate revenues. 

Then came Trump, a second-generation gangster, making money selling Bibles, hats, shirts, Bibles, flags, bumper stickers, ties, wine, and political access to the federal government through the Republican Party.  This is an open secret, and as Trump becomes more desperate to raise money to pay lawyers, judgment, campaign expenses, family salaries, and living expenses, he is probably busy right now selling the naming right to the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments.

Trump’s branding is corruption.  He stands out as a politician who is corrupt at the national level because his followers think his message is consistent with their beliefs about government.   Trump is also the first president to not believe in the American political system.  This is astounding, but it makes him notable because he challenges the status quo, and even without evidence, he attracts attention.  As a sociopathic liar and convicted criminal, Trump also has an influential brand association with his followers, many of whom accept his criminally-centric values.

The other side of branding is the customer.  To Trump followers, perception is reality, so the candidate’s quality is based on perception, not objective truth.  That’s why it is challenging to argue facts with a Trump supporter.  Their perception is different, plus they have the convenient alternative of social media, ranging from QAnon to FOX, which presents a different reality than anything a rational person holds

Trump and his corruption brand would repulse any American with morals and ethics.  But that is not the case.  About half the nation believes that Trump should be re-elected president, which should send chills down the spines of any American.

Who are the Trump supporters, and why do they embrace his criminal brand?

Psychologists have analyzed Trump supporters and found them in all social classes, age groups, religions, locales, educational levels, and income brackets.  What’s missing is the common element.  Do trump supporters embrace his criminality, lawlessness, adultery, tax evasion, and attacks on less fortunate people?  They do. 

Would these same people commit adultery, cheat on their taxes, and not pay tradespeople and creditors?  It looks like they would.  This means we have a whole element of society that is scofflaws and disrespects government at all levels.

Trump’s corruption brand is his biggest asset. It is for sale, and it is expanding by going to the lowest common denominators among people who are gullible or willing to step into the MAGA gutter. Trump supporters can hide behind the rationale that the government is too big, too intrusive, too inbred, and too corrupt, but these are not new beliefs. They have been common in political discussions for decades.

Trump’s corruption is different.  It is a more extensive form of horror that mirrors his mental illness.  He is a perpetual liar, trust twister, and vindictive manipulator.   He is the product of a corrupt Manhattan society comprised of educated, inbred, white males in power positions whose allegiance is to each other’s positions, not necessarily to each other personally.  It’s a standardized, self-protective, self-breeding creation that ensures things look different to reflect the times but never change.

Trump was not originally part of this corrupt society.  His father, Fred Trump, was unethical enough as a real estate developer and landlord but was not part of Manhattan society.  His son was excluded, too, until he met Roy Cohn, one of the most despicable humans in American history, who helped him buy his way into the Manhattan brand of corruption.  But even then, Trump was considered too daring, uncomfortable, and declasse to fit in.

People can feel his mental illness, and it made them uncomfortable, as if they would get sucked into his gutter crowd that would come to haunt them in front-page headlines about a payoff or crime spree scheme.  The instincts of these people were correct.  Trump did not disappoint.  He delivered an adult film star front-page headline that would have slimed any of the people in Manhattan society who cavorted in Trump’s circles.

When Will Trump’s Brand Fade Away?

So, will Trump’s corruption brand have a long history after he is gone?

Maybe.

Some followers will not accept his election loss, but what would they do?  If their brand is defective, what can they do?  Ask for a refund.  Take the damaged, tainted merchandise home and let it decay in the garage.  The MAGA Republican party can fade away and further decline until it is led by the likes of Marjorie Taylor-Green, Ted Cruz, Steve Bannon, Matt Gaetz, or Eric Trump, but these are third-rate leaders who cannot generate the mental-illness-fueled hate that drives Trump. 

Trump followers will be a danger to their neighbors.  These are the political ancestors of the people who denied that the South had lost the Civil War.  They will blame everything and everyone.  They may dominate the airwaves and the social space for years until they are ignored as crazed fanatics.

Trump’s corruption brand will take time to decay.  As past brand experience has shown, brand categories break into small groups over time as product differentiation progresses.  Computers started as a single category but were soon divided into mainframes: personal computers, laptops, and workstations.  Similarly, beer, broadcast networks, and autos became more available as different brands.  Politicians are different because no two candidates are alike.

The good news is that the U.S. should not see a sociopath rise to a high position again.  George Santos is an example, but he fooled enough people to get elected.  Trump should have been ejected from normal society long ago, but there are management theories that say egomaniacs and sociopaths run corporations today.  Their energies, however, are focused on money and manipulating their boards and employees.  A few will enter politics, but they should be spotted quickly and be driven from the race as soon as their origins are exposed.  As the Trump corruption brand is acknowledged and dissolves,  more rational Americans can kick it to the gutter where it should have remained in the first place.

Brand expert Marty Neumeier evaluated the Trump brand in 2018 according to ten parameters of brand characteristics.  In every case, he found that the Trump brand failed to meet the criteria for a vital element in every category; from brand strength, purpose, vision, difference, authenticity, creating a positive environment, empowering employees, and innovation, the Trump brand failed.

That was in 2018.  In 2024, Trump’s reputation and brand are weaker.  His federal indictments, Stormy Daniels payoff trial, mishandling of secret documents case, and constant attacks on law enforcement and his opponents, real and imagined, have all pointed out that he is mentally unstable and vindictive.  These are not the traits of survivable brands.  Let’s hope the Trump brand sinks back into the gutter again soon.

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