Home News A long time in coming: Donald Trump, from TV to trial

A long time in coming: Donald Trump, from TV to trial

It was 20 years ago exactly on this date, April 15, 2004, Tax Day. President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, had both released their 2003 tax returns two days earlier. And that night was the season finale of NBC’s new hit reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”

The show had premiered in January and for 15 consecutive weeks, every Thursday night, America was exposed to 60 minutes of a man properly dismissed in New York as an empty self-promoter, but who conned the country to believe that he really was a business genius.

Seeing some of the titles of the episodes two decades later makes you smirk and wince: “Meet the Billionaire” was the 90-minute premiere, followed the likes of “Sex, Lies and Altitude,” “Respect,” “Ethics Schmethics,” “Dupe-Lex (a.k.a. Real Real Estate, Trump Style),” “Wheeling and Dealing,” “A Look Back.”

The two-hour wrap-up was awarded three stars from Daily News TV critic David Bianculli: “Naturally, the end of the show made clear that both Trump and ‘The Apprentice’ would be back for another round. Given the ratings and attention this first season has garnered, that’s only good business. And the series, from start to finish, was a very good show.”

Ratings-wise, it was hugely profitable for NBC, coming in third after that year’s Oscars and a post-Super Bowl edition of “Survivor.” But the damage it would do to America was incalculable.

There were eight men from the fake Versacorp facing off against eight women from the phony Protégé Corp. Contestant Bill Rancic won the competition that final night, but the country lost.

The look back (to borrow the title of the Week 11 recap) is because that silly TV show made Trump more than anything, beaming him and his Trump Tower into millions of homes. So when he launched his improbable campaign for the White House in 2015, lots of voters knew him as that successful New York real estate developer, when he was nothing more than a talented and charismatic showman.

Today begins jury selection to find 18 of Trump’s Manhattan peers (12 jurors and a half dozen alternates) to decide his guilt or not. District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s grand jury indicted Trump for committing 34 felonies related to illegally hiding payments to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet during the final days of the 2016 campaign from talking about an old tryst.

If he was never president, no one would ever care about Trump’s sexual flings and cheating on his wife with a porn actress. No one would ever care about him having paid her off. No one would ever care about how he listed the payments.

It’s the same for his $454 million civil judgment won by Attorney General Tish James. Had he never been in the White House, his shady business practices would have been left alone. Ditto for the two defamation verdicts won by E. Jean Carroll. And, of course, Trump would never have had the opportunity to steal classified documents or to try to overturn the 2020 election, the subject of his three other criminal trials.

These trials show how much a disaster his four year term was for him and the nation. And it all started with that TV show, which peaked 20 years tonight. We have yet to see how low it can go.


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