Trumped Up

April 1, 2009

Spraying bromide after bromide, the speaker continues his rapid-fire barrage. He’s like a displeased coach, a pump-it-up high-blood-pressure case browbeating the chumps. He’s Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross and there’s no coffee because coffee is for closers.

“Fake it ’til you make it,” the guy’s bellowing. He repeats it, with a coda

of cackling. “It’s a game. Write this down. Money is a game. Who wants to make money right now, today? Right now. Today. Right. Now. Today.” Suddenly he’s a malfunctioning Stepford wife. He just keeps saying it. “Right now. Today.”

Right now, today, I’m at a Donald Trump Way to Wealth seminar at the Marriott Pinnacle hotel on Hastings downtown. The bellower is Rick Brown. There’s a fairly small crowd on hand, maybe 150 strong, composed largely of various minorities, all here presumably to learn the “secret recipe for success” vaunted on the Trump website. Nobody looks that eager. With the economy melting down like a Mexican face-lift and the local real-estate market crawling deeper into a pinecoffin, I can’t blame them.

One of eight such seminars hitting the Lower Mainland this weekend, this one looks pretty low-overhead: screen, podium, clip-on mike, uncomfortable chairs. Only the Pinnacle Ballroom’s brocade wallpaper and sleek light fixtures hint at the world of twinkling riches we’re supposed to be aspiring to.

A video message from a certain Donald Trump perks the crowd up marginally. Needless to say, he too is bellowing, but I’ve lost the drift of his spiel—something about money. Money and, of course, Donald Trump.

The overly winter-bundled Kenyan guy next to me sits with arms folded. “You want money?” he asks. I feign enthusiasm with a quasi-spunky “Yes!”

“Who doesn’t?” he says.

Not everyone is so forthcoming. It’s either the economy or that special brand of Vancouver warmth keeping things chilly; the audience remains church-quiet save for coughing and the rustle of rainwear. A few queries to taciturn attendees as to what they make of current conditions and what they hope to learn here yield pretty much the same response: “To make money.”

As a clueless thousandaire with little interest in the intricacies of finance and real estate, I’m out of my depth, lost in a jungle of acronyms, a swamp of business-speak. I remind myself that I’m just here for the show, and although the show’s free I keep my guard up. The first toke is always free. But the optimism is getting to me. The housing nightmare is now a “buyer’s market,” Brown exhorts. The eradication of the middle class is a great opportunity to pick your favourite side in the wonderful aftermath. What’s it going to be, rich or poor? (Where’s the third option—barbaric warlord of an apocalyptic wasteland?)

“The Industrial Age is over,” Brown shouts. “We are now in the Global Financial Age.” Ignoring the fact that so far this age kind of sucks, he neatly illustrates the school of thought that got us into this mess to begin with: purchase a house, slap up some marble and mirrors, and spray-paint the faucets gold. Dupes buy the illusion and you’re gone long before the paint starts flaking. The ol’ fakin’ and makin’—and flakin’. More cackling.

“Is he going to talk about Surrey?” a man in front of me asks his friend. What does he think this is, some kind of seminar? Sorry, buddy—it’s a sales pitch, and here comes the hard sell. Brown goes into overdrive, demanding that people who are truly, truly serious about making money stand up and take their chequebooks to the sign-up table in back. Despite the fact that he was only minutes earlier preaching deception, he convinces about a dozen to take the walk, most conspicuously a beaming Gordie McHockey kind of guy who seems to think he’s won a T-bone at a meat draw.

Are there no casinos? Are there no lottery kiosks? Perhaps it’s simply some persisting notion of the North American dream at work here—bigger, faster, louder, more—in which platitude-spouting cartoon characters like Dr. Phil and Donald Trump are your teachers, where wealth plus media visibility equals wisdom.

A Trump University “enrollment” sets you back $2,195 for a weekend “wealth-building” seminar where, according to former and would-be Trump U. scholars on Epinions.com, you get another pitch for the software and the mentor program upgrade. I may not know my asset from a hole in the ground, but I can certainly spot the real wealth-building going on here, the real secret recipe. It’s not even costing them any gold paint.

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