Donald Trump has not held back this election cycle when it comes to speaking his mind about the non-white population of the US. He’s recently stated that a judge could not be impartial regarding the lawsuit Trump is embroiled in over Trump University (it’s not a university), and he famously kicked off his election campaign in startling fashion by calling Mexican immigrants rapists. These are just two of the many prominent and offensive things Trump has said in his campaign…but it’s fine because he eats taco bowls, right?
Ironically, while Donald Trump has held up Mexican drug cartels as something Americans have to be protected against—and justification for his infamous wall—he and the cartels have a couple of things in common. Primarily, their business practices.
In the documentary Cartel Land, there is a scene that lays out the first similarity—naming rights. In essence, this is the licensing of their respective names to different organizations. Cartels, in their search to expand their business models, have taken to leasing their names to various local gangs as long as these gangs give them a portion of their earnings. The cartels even will provide the gang with “merchandise” such as hats or shirts that bear the cartels insignia so that gangs can posture as part of the cartel. This is beneficial for these gangs because it lessens the chances other gangs may attack them or try to move in on their turf.
Trump’s few successes in business have primarily come from just being born in wealth, but the secondary reason is leasing out his name. There are many instances where this branding is his only involvement in a project, as opposed to the building of the actual structure. As Bloomberg reported earlier this year:
“…An examination of his operations abroad reveals that, while he has made many millions selling his name, he has chosen a number of inexperienced — even questionable — partners, sometimes infuriated buyers and associates and moved late into saturated markets, producing less income than advertised.
A number of naming-rights deals over the past decade have involved investors paying him multimillion-dollar sums, sometimes with a percentage of condo sales or a management fee to run hotel operations. In some places, such as the Philippines, there are strong early sales with projects due to be completed in the next few years. But others have gone far less well, descending into legal conflicts amid claims of broken promises and empty apartments.”
Essentially, other organizations or individuals pay cartels and Trump for a name and the “benefits” that come with it. For Trump, that may be the glamour associated with his name, but for cartels it’s the implicit threat of violence.
Another practice that both Trump and cartels find themselves regularly engaged with is the subcontracting of labor. In 2014, there were nine major cartels working with around 43 gangs in Mexico. These cartels lean on smaller gangs to carry out tasks, whether that was transporting drugs or executing violent acts. InsightCrime.org reports that this isn’t solely a Mexican phenomenon:
“As in Mexico, Colombia’s criminal organizations have become dependent on subcontracting out work to these smaller groups. Even the Urabeños — the only Colombian narco-paramilitary organization that still has a national reach — uses smaller criminal structures known as ‘oficinas de cobro’ to carry out key services (such as assassinations and moving or storing drugs) on their behalf. The dynamic appears to be very similar in Mexico, with organizations like the Zetas using gangs like ‘Sangre Zeta’ and ‘Comando Zetas’ to act as subcontracted labor.”
Trump, similarly, regularly subcontracts his labor for the various projects that he actually has more of a stake in than just his name. In one of his more now-notorious properties, Mar-a-Largo, Trump decided not to hire 94 percent of American job applicants, while instead pursuing more than 500 visas for foreign workers. Additionally, an investigation by USA Today revealed numerous instances of lawsuits against Trump for not paying contractors, or violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. For example, in 1990, during construction of theTrump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, Trump failed to pay at least 253 subcontractors in full or on time.
Finally, both cartels and Trump have incorporated populist sentiments into their business models. For Trump, we see it most starkly in his current presidential campaign. He has seized on economic unrest and sporadic terrorism to push forward a message colored with racial implications, hinging on anti-immigrant and economic tirades. Similarly, the Sinoloa Cartel, according to Fast Company, “cultivates a populist image and claims to adamantly oppose kidnapping and the murder of innocent civilians. These beliefs govern organizational behavior—who they are, what they do, and what they won’t do. And theses credos are far more actionable and authentic than the “values” posters hung in corporate cafeterias.” One of the biggest draws for Trump this cycle has been his “authenticity.” People appreciate his calloused rebuttal of “PC culture” and are thrilled by him “speaking his mind.” However, in my mind, these are two business brands that while claiming authenticity, fall far short.
While the end results of these parallel practices might reap different results, it’s worth pointing out that Trump shares the same practices of those he claims to despise most. Following initial escape of the Mexican drug lord El Chapo, Trump had some Twitter thoughts. He wrote: “El Chapo and the Mexican drug cartels use the border unimpeded like it was a vacuum cleaner, sucking drugs and death right into the U.S…likewise, billions of dollars gets brought into Mexico through the border. We get the killers, drugs & crime, they get the money!”
He didn’t realize it, but with those words, Trump was also describing his own business. I’m guessing the irony escaped him.