Trump Towers drips with grandeur. It is one of the most spectacularly lavish edifices in New York City. Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if the sinks overflow in the washrooms, or if the flowers on display are plastic.
Trump’s Taj Mahal in Atlantic City is also an ostentatious temple of decadence and unimaginable wealth. But the doormen’s uniforms probably are moth-eaten, and the carpets likely haven’t been replaced in years.
Trump is a showman, and his empire is all about show. That’s terrific — unless that affinity for spectacle seeps into the making of sound business decisions. And that’s where The Donald is losing it.
He fired Stacie J. in Thursday night’s third episode of this season’s “The Apprentice.” You knew she was cooked. The other women had their daggers out for her since she picked up the Magic 8-Ball in the first episode and freaked out the room. When she entered the boardroom with the other women to face Trump near the end of Episode 3, she had as much chance as a stray cat during Hurricane Ivan.
But it’s the context of her firing that is the real issue.
She should not have been the one getting her verbal pink slip Thursday night. Oh, she was a goner, all right. Eventually. But not Thursday. Not in that third episode when her team, Apex, went over budget in their Crest toothpaste promotion. Stacie J. should have survived at least for another week.
The culprit in Episode 3 was Maria. She deserved to get fired. Because of her screwup, the ladies’ team went over budget by more than $5,000 — 10 percent of their budget. Maria was given the responsibility of hammering out a deal with the printer, and she did not secure a concrete number. Instead, the team was hit with last-minute overages, and an otherwise successful venture instead met the wrath of The Donald’s menacing stare and poofy hair.
We can only hope Maria never gets a job in the U.S. Treasury.
The Donald seems to be gripped by the urge to shock rather than to make prudent decisions. The week before, he jettisoned Bradford. Now, there are many among us who felt that Bradford deserved it because he made the boneheaded decision to waive the immunity he was given by Trump. It was a rash move, fueled by boardroom bravado, and Bradford should have been whipped with a wet noodle for it.
But he didn’t deserve to be fired.
In the second episode, he proved himself to be the best individual on either team during the ice cream escapades. He had more imagination, more energy and more leadership ability. Those qualities are essential for the success of any business endeavor. His presence would have been an invaluable asset — if he were given a pass on his relatively minor gaffe. But he wasn’t.
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If Stacie J. deserved to be fired at all, it should have been during Episode 1, when confusion on the women’s team reigned and her inability to contribute to the team had a direct impact on its failure. And if not her, then Ivana, the unsuccessful project manager in Episode 2, should have been fired. If Ivana were a traffic cop, there would be gridlock everywhere. She would deserve to be fired if she were self-employed. She was a lame leader.
The Donald is in it for The Drama
But The Donald hasn’t forgotten that he’s on television, and drama comes first. If he had Bradford and Stacie J. in the fold today, his corporate world would be far more solvent than it is now that they’re gone and Ivana and Maria remain.
Trump bit on the bait for drama when he noticed the rest of the women were going after Stacie J. like she was on the half-price table at Jimmy Choo. It’s not a problem, really. I enjoy watching young, upscale, college-educated men and women attack each other with businessworld bloodlust. That’s why “The Apprentice” is so popular. It lifts up the American Dream so you can look underneath it and see all the insects battling for dominance.
Yet this particular assault on Stacie J. seems to have been out of proportion for her sins. So she picked up an 8-Ball and began speaking in a strange and incoherent manner. Haven’t we all been there? Let those among us who haven’t consulted a fortune-telling device in a room full of rival strangers while babbling in a disturbing way cast the first stone.
One of the reasons we look up to The Donald is because he is so self-assured. He made it big, and he’s intent on making it even bigger. But he got that way because he doesn’t allow his emotions to get the best of him when millions of dollars are at stake. He looks at the big picture and makes cold decisions for the benefit of his businesses.
The Donald of television has usurped The Donald of business.
Maybe he’s drunk from his own “Apprentice” fame. Perhaps he believes that people tune in not to see The Donald do business, but rather to see a better-dressed Jerry Springer incite riots among junior executives. And maybe they do.
But fair is fair. If “The Apprentice” is really designed to reflect The Donald and everything he stands for, the people who get fired should be the ones who err. They should be the weak links, the incompetents, the Ivanas or Marias. They should represent Trump’s demand for excellence, not his desire for cheap thrills and shock value.
Who will be fired next week? Here’s a hint: Pay close attention to any cat fights or unusual developments that have nothing to do with the success or failure of Apex or Mosaic. Those types of juicy items seem to be where Trump’s priorities lie these days.
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to MSNBC.com. He lives in Los Angeles.
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