Donald Trump wants to run the American government. He has no prior experience in politics or government service, pointing instead to his career in business. But as the operator of mostly privately owned companies, Trump has primarily been in it just to enrich himself. A more illuminating aspect of Trump the business person was his stint as chair of a public traded company — a scenario in which he was supposed to be the steward of not just his own interests, but those of the company's shareholders.
What happened over the course of his decade at the helm of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts is that he ran the company into the ground, immiserating shareholders, while walking away with enormous bags of cash for himself.
Thanks to a leaked copy of his 1995 tax return, the basic story fact that Donald Trump built a mini-empire of Atlantic City casinos that crashed and burned in the early 1990s is now well-known. What's not yet well-understood by the public is the even more important story of what happened next. As Russ Buettner and Charles Bagli write in the New York Times, 1995 was also the year in which "Trump began the transaction that would eventually free him from his financial travails."
Mom and pop investors who had the misfortune to put their confidence in Trump lost nearly everything. But as a performance of low cunning, his stewardship of THCR really did verge on genius. The company itself was a dumpster fire, losing money every year Trump served as chair. But he managed to personally pocket $44 million in salary and bonuses. Even more egregiously, he offloaded personal debts onto the corporate balance sheet and had the public company purchase services ranging from bottled water to plane flights from Trump's privately held enterprises.
Along the way, he bankrupted the company and all but completely wiped out the value of its stock. If you want to be generous to Trump, the saga shows that he really does have some impressive business skills. He spun gold out of worthless casinos in a declining resort town with a dazzling efficacy.
If you want to be less generous, you see that the one time Trump's leadership skills were put to the test as an agent of middle-class people's economic well-being, he ripped them off ruthlessly and unapologetically. As president, Trump would be a custodian of the American people's interests — just as he was of THCR shareholders' interests as chair. And unless he's had a drastic change of heart, he'd be an incredibly ineffective one.