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David Cay Johnston: a worthy adversary

by Mark Cuminale
Tue, Apr 3rd 2018 10:00 pm

Inside the McCue Auditorium, a voice of righteous indignation called for action from attending students and community members. 

“It’s our government — we need to act like owners,” Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnston said. “We need to recognize that Donald [Trump] is our employee. He’s actually our subordinate, he works for us. We don’t work for him.”

Coming off the success of “The Making of Donald Trump,” and “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America,” Johnston has become an ultimate authority on President Trump, and his flamboyant braggadocio makes him a worthy adversary. 

He strutted back and forth in front of the audience in a navy blue suit and tie with two ballpoint pens — his weapons of choice — clipped neatly inside the pocket of his white dress shirt.

The lecture, entitled “Under the Rug: Johnston Talks Trump,” was brought to campus by Brockport’s Society of Professional Journalists on Thursday, March 29. Johnston spoke without notes for nearly an hour before taking questions from the audience.

“The first and most important thing I want you to hear and take away is that we will get through this,” Johnston said. “We need to recognize that Donald Trump is not the disease. He is the symptom. He is the symptom of the disease that has been growing in this country for about 40 years. Americans have been giving up on democracy.”

Johnston’s unlikely foray into investigative journalism began when he was 17-years-old. Already having fathered a child as a high school senior, Johnston needed work.

“I was asked by the local weekly paper to write a feature on [my] school, and it took me  six hours to write 400 words,” Johnston said. “Then they sent me to cover the school board — where the superintendent knew who I was, but none of the trustees did — and that was the second story I wrote.”

Like Trump, Johnston sees himself as an outsider, and he credits his investigative abilities to his non-traditional journalistic beginnings as a young reporter in San Jose, California.

“Because I wasn’t trained, I did things that other journalists wouldn’t do,” Johnston said. “I wrote about how taxpayers were getting ripped off in various ways. Suddenly, I had a following, and The San Jose Mercury News was recruiting me.”

Now at 69-years-old, Johnston’s expertise extends beyond journalism. For eight and a half years, the award winning journalist taught regulatory law of the ancient world at Syracuse University College of Law without a law degree.

“I am a worldwide recognized authority on taxes,” Johnston said. “I have lectured on taxes on every continent except Antarctica. My next book will propose an entirely new federal tax system for the United States — a project that I spent years working on until I got to the point where none of the experts I’ve talked to can poke a hole in it anymore.”

Johnston, a registered Republican, believes his economic insights were the model for Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“How did Donald Trump get into office? He ran for president on an economic platform that I layed out in a series of best-selling books,” Johnston said. “Donald doesn’t read books, but I know he watched me on television. I know he asked people about things that I had said, and his campaign comes right out of my books.”

Though Johnston sees the connection between Trump’s campaign platform and his own writings, that doesn’t stop him from slamming the president every chance he gets.

“The man doesn’t know anything. He literally doesn’t know anything,” Johnston reiterates. “He doesn’t know a Sunni from a Shia, which is sort of, kind of important considering what is going on in the world these days.”

Johnston doesn’t spare any feelings when it comes to his predictions of what the future holds if American citizens remain inactive.

“What will happen is that someone who has all of Donald Trump’s charisma is going to come along [without] Donald Trump’s deficit,” Johnston said. “Someone who’s actually smart, who’s actually educated, who actually has management skill — someone like that is going to come along who also wants to be a totalitarian leader, who wants to take away … all of your rights.”

Johnston travels around the U.S. speaking on economics and investigative journalism, doling out advice to the nation’s next generation of journalists and financial experts

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