BY FROMA HARROP
New York real estate developer Stephen Ross was reportedly shocked by calls to boycott his businesses. The issue was the fundraiser he held last weekend for Donald Trump.
“Steve, welcome to the world of politics,” Trump joked at the posh luncheon. This was one of two back-to-back Hamptons events that put $12 million in his campaign coffers.
“Steve, welcome to the world of Donald Trump” would be more like it. No one cared that the multibillionaire supported Mitt Romney in 2012.
They do care that Ross, who has called himself “an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability,” backs a politician who attacks everything on the list. Trump has likened Hispanics to insects, calling their arrival in the U.S. an “invasion” and “infestation.” He machine-gun sprays his Twitter feed with blatant lies and conspiracy theories on a daily basis.
So it can’t be Trump’s winning personality. It must be the money.
Trump ensured that his tax bill included tax-avoidance goodies for real estate moguls like Ross [and, of course, himself]. Already worth an estimated $7.7 billion, did Ross need his taxes trimmed?
[Note that the 2017 tax overhaul slashed the deductions for real estate taxes and mortgage interest you or I take on our homes. On commercial real estate, however, taxes remain fully deductible.]
Ross’s posh event had especially bad timing. It came days after a white nationalist parroting Trump’s bigoted language against Hispanics gunned down shoppers in El Paso. Then again, what’s a little domestic terrorism when you’re getting more favorable tax treatment on depreciation?
Two things about Ross especially aggravate his affluent, urban customers. One is he built his fortune, including the sterile-but-pricey Hudson Yards development in Manhattan, off their open, multicultural civilization. His other businesses, notably Equinox gyms and SoulCycle studios, also cater to a generally progressive clientele.
Hence the uprising by the natives. They are canceling their club memberships. Equinox and SoulCycle insist that no company profits go to fund politicians. That’s not accurate. Company profits go to the company owners, and Ross is spending some of them on Trump’s re-election.
Fashion industry folk are now calling for a boycott of event spaces at Hudson Yards during the upcoming Fashion Week. Designer Prabal Gurung has already pulled his show out of Hudson Yards. The decision not to work with Ross companies, Gurung said perceptively, is “no longer about party lines … This is about choosing between two sides, the right or the wrong sides of the history.”
The other thing that aggravates is Ross’s promise that that he would speak up when he disagrees with Trump is amazingly naive. Ross’s moral authority is currently worth less than that of an empty gum wrapper.
Trump has told Ross not to worry. It’ll all blow over.
But in fact, Trump’s own real estate empire has suffered from his own toxicity. And the Trump name has been ripped off of several buildings.
Ross has given a ton of money to the University of Michigan, which named the school of business and an athletic center after him. There is now talk about scrubbing his name off the buildings.
Other fabulously rich Americans, some far richer than Ross, have refused to sell their souls for a tax cut or other Trump-granted favors. They undoubtedly like money, but they love their country more.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for one, seems determined to get Trump dis-elected. His estimated net worth of $55.5 billion is five times that of Trump’s and Ross’s combined.
The stakes here go way beyond matters of money or traditional politics. It’s about America’s future as a home for democratic norms and decency. It’s about choosing sides.