Bankrupt? Who Cares?

No Longer a Question of Moral Character

<strong>BUCK STOPPED HERE:</strong> Though Truman’s partner in a Kansas City haberdashery declared bankruptcy, the president never did. Hear that, Donald Trump?

TRUMP’S BANKRUPTCIES: Lots of people declare bankruptcy: Venoco oil, Donald Trump, and future president Harry Truman’s haberdashery shop in Kansas City.

After its announcement in March, Venoco promised to be back on its feet after “several months.” Trump waves off his multiple business bankruptcies, which seem to do nothing to detract from his presidential ambitions.

In 1944, as a back-bench U.S. senator from Missouri, Truman’s honesty and character led Democrat movers and shakers to put him on the ticket with Roosevelt. He and the president hardly knew one another.

Truman became president in 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office.

Barney Brantingham

But when Truman ran for election as president in 1948, the 1922 failure of his business produced great sneers. “How can he run a billion-dollar federal government when he went bankrupt in a little shirt shop?” my parents asked.

Actually, the post-WWI recession was largely to blame for the closing. The future president never declared bankruptcy to wipe out the debts, though his partner did. Truman vowed to pay off every cent of the debt.

“Fifteen years after the store went under, Harry would still be paying off on the haberdashery and as a consequence would be strapped for money for 20 years,” David McCullough wrote in his monumental 1992 biography Truman.

Trump filed for business bankruptcy four times. The Las Vegas tower resort, which I saw last week rising all golden in the sun (when it wasn’t raining), seems to have done well, though, and he was planning a second there until the recent recession hit.

Trump doesn’t deny filing for bankruptcy, explaining that doing so is a common business practice and was a smart business move for him. According to the PolitiFact website, Trump’s bankruptcies are the Trump Taj Mahal, in Atlantic City, 1991; Trump Plaza Hotel in New York, 1992; Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, including the Taj Mahal, Trump Marina and Trump Plaza Casinos, 2004; and Trump Entertainment Resorts, 2009.

CONAN O’BRIEN: He was standing on the Arlington Theatre stage, facing a sold-out crowd of mostly college-age kids, wondering aloud what he was doing there at 4 o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon. “I love Montecito,” the red-headed comedian told them. “It makes me feel almost ethnic.” They loved it and loved everything that came out of his mouth. They lined up for the Q&A session and begged him for career advice. “Work hard,” he advised. “I work hard. I get a contact high out of making people laugh.”

When he was first hired for a TV night show, “I had a very short contract, 13 weeks. So I had to fight it out” to survive to be extended for another 13 weeks. “Suddenly the Internet exploded. YouTube has changed my life, completely changed my life.” Now he’s famous in the Third World. He went to Korea and did a video standing on the North-South Korean border without sparking an international incident.

BAD JEWS: It was an evening of savage wit, two cousins ripping at one another, waging war over a religious relic left by one cousin’s grandfather. Bad Jews, by Joshua Harmon, now at the New Vic and staged by Ensemble Theatre Company, is billed as a comedy. The scant laughs are there along with the scathing broadsides of vitriol launched by the fiery Daphna (Eden Malyn) and tough Liam (Adam Silver). It’s not a play for delicate ears, but it’s memorable theater. As Ensemble artistic director Jonathan Fox, who directed, puts it: “‘You’re a bad Jew.’ As a nonobservant Jew growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, that was how my friends often labeled me.” Caught in the crossfire in Bad Jews is Liam’s blonde shiksa (non-Jewish) girlfriend Melody (Stephanie Burden), stunned by it all in more ways than one. (The play runs through May 1.)

PROOF: Higher math is a mystery to many of us who never delved into the abstract science of numbers. The questions that David Auburn’s play Proof raises is who wrote what looks like a monumental proof of a long-sought math puzzler ​— ​a now-dead professor (he reappears from time to time onstage) or his 25-year-old daughter? And is she in danger of losing her mind, as her father did? Santa Barbaran Katherine Bottoms is excellent in the challenging role of Catherine. (The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College is staging the play through April 30.


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