A Perpetual Motion Con Machine

By Michael Willard

Before taking a test to determine if I were college qualified, I spent a London weekend in Soho drinking ale and ogling night butterflies who paraded wares in doorways, a sight the district was famous for in the 1960s.

We were randy 17-year-olds and even the whiff of such caused hormones to jitterbug. We were, though, too timid and broke to sample the merchandise. We were teen gawkers.

With a little luck and youthful energy, my friend and I still managed to hop a train to my American High School and somehow, showed up at the appointed test hour, bleary-eyed but fresh off new adventures to relate and exaggerate.

I needn’t have taken that ACT test. My aim was not to get into Wharton, the future alma mater of President Trump. I couldn’t, at that point, see a Wharton or a Podunk U. education with a really big telescope on a really big mountain.

It never occurred to me back then to pay someone to take the test for me. When the scores were posted on a classroom door weeks later, my marks were so far south that I had to get on my knees at floor level to see how I did.

I bring up ancient history by way of comparison to Trump who, according to his niece, forked over cash to muster an SAT score that allowed him to attend Wharton, which, he tells us, is the creme de la creme. I have no doubt it is.

On the other hand, by hook and crook, I still managed to graduate from a respectable and inexpensive university after two rookie years at a junior college where I bagged groceries at night and on weekends to pay tuition.

In a supreme irony, I would in the 1990s advised a governor friend who would later serve as CEO of the College Board, the group that administers the SATs. This is the genesis of my angst, which falls short of a certified rant.

It is more, I would suppose, a popcorn pop of a complaint in the middle of a raging pandemic which this very day has claimed 135,000 Americans. The fact is I’ve never been a whiner. You fall down. You get back up.

I’ve been through this cycle through a half dozen careers, careening from a monied big shot with a yacht, a plane and several companies to hoping the Social Security check arrives on time to buy grub.

At days end, you hope to have more toys than troubles. It’s a crapshoot for many of us, but we generally have fun playing the game.

However, I have a daughter who took those damn SAT test at least a dozen times, trying like a good soldier to save her parents needed dough for college. If she scored sufficiently high, she could and did win merit scholarships.

No big deal, you say. Maybe. I’m an older guy with two kids still in universities.

Valya is not a native English speaker. She is Ukrainian and attended Ukrainian public schools. Her mother’s dogged determination got her into an American prep school which, over time, allowed her to compete for scholastic honors.

While I was taking her to the SAT test site multiple times, her mother was trudging off most Saturdays over two years to gain her executive MBA. Olga has her eyes now on a doctorate.

Nothing is given to them. They earn it.

The point is this:

Throughout Trump’s life, everything has been a gimme, and I assume it started even before he paid a smart kid to take his SATs. He later graduated to larger cons impacting thousands — Trump Casinos, Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Airlines, and Trump Wine, to name a few.

Then, in 2016, we were introduced to the grandest scheme of all: Trump’s version of America. He was Harold Hill, the erstwhile sleaze from “The Music Man” but with none of Hill’s redeemable qualities.

In trying to undo everything his predecessor accomplished — from action on climate change and health care to trade and nuclear progress — his long ago cheating on a test is small potatoes.

It does, however, show the President has always and will always be what he is, a non-too-smart fellow in the cockpit of his perpetual con machine.

(Painting: Self portrait)

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I am a novelist, painter, songwriter and essayist but my day job is elevating the profile of authors, entertainers and business executives.

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