Despite what the op-ed pages of the New York Times might have one believe, there really is no unified theory of Trump — an overriding explanation for his entrance into public life last summer and, ever since, his utter domination of the Republican presidential race. 

One of the most common “theories of Trump” is that he says what others think but are too afraid to say, such as racist and sexist slurs that scapegoat Americans’ economic anxieties. But even if what he says is factually — and morally — baseless, that almost does not matter; like Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” the only narrative that matters to Trump and his supporters is the one that confirms pre-existing tropes about women and minorities. However, the particular theory of Trump’s rise matters little when compared to the one thing with which all Americans have to reckon: Trump’s candidacy poses a fundamental threat to the American Dream as we know it. 

Trump claims that “the American Dream is dead,” a common refrain from his stump speeches, and in a March 30 Quinnipiac poll, according to Politico, “in [a] ... sample where Trump’s name was included, as in ‘Trump says that the American dream is dead,’ 68 percent of Trump voters said they agreed with him, a difference of 23 points from Trump voters who were not prompted.” This means that the image of Trump himself helps prompt this belief that the American Dream is dead. 

 According to Trump, immigrants killed it; Mexicans killed it; women killed it; liberals killed it. Hillary Clinton killed it; that Kenyan socialist in the White House killed it. 

Trump uses these scapegoats as the killers of the American Dream and presents himself — a terrible if flamboyant businessman — as the embodiment and thus savior of the Dream. But let’s be clear about Trump’s version of the American Dream: Its icon is a failed businessman, its ideology is bigotry and its appeal is a falsified sense that life is a zero-sum game.

Oddly enough, people have acknowledged for quite some time the fact that Trump has a pretty awful business record. In May 2011, when Trump was much more jokingly considering a run for the presidency, Rolling Stone put together an online slideshow titled “The Many Business Failures of Donald Trump,” a list which included, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump Shuttle, Trump: The Game — yes, this was an actual board game — and, of course, Trump University, the subject of multiple lawsuits. 

Haven’t heard of those? There is a reason for that. Trump’s appeal is that he can “fix it” by virtue of his deal-making acumen and negotiating prowess, but clearly, that is not the case.

But even if Trump were a successful businessman — after all, he did not lose all of his dad’s inheritance — this still begs the question of what tactics he uses when in business. The story of Atlantic City resident Vera Coking, for instance, ought shine some light in that area. 

As reported in an Aug. 19, 2015 article in the Guardian, Vera Coking lived in Atlantic City for over 30 years before Donald Trump built Trump Plaza in the 90s and needed extra space for a limo parking lot. Although Trump bought land nearby, some property owners, like Ms. Coking, refused to sell, so Trump used eminent domain to evict her. The business, like many of Trump’s other ventures, ended up failing miserably. 

The Coking story fits into Trump’s troubling pattern of using the power of money and the backing of the law to uproot anyone and everyone who gets in the way of his interests. For Trump to win means that someone else loses. Trump’s business ventures demonstrate his belief that life is a zero-sum game, wherein one person has to lose in order for another to win; Trump’s campaign for the presidency relies on the same zero-sum appeal. Donald Trump — sexist pig, racist bigot, failed businessman — is trying to repackage the American Dream in the only way that has worked for him, but it will not work for Americans. 

Take Trump’s adversarial stance against immigrants, for example. As economics professor Art Carden notes in his Aug. 28, 2015 Forbes article, “illegal immigrants actually raise wages for documented/native workers” because “we get more productive when we have more trading partners, and the arrival of undocumented workers with limited English skills frees up low-skill American workers who can then specialize in tasks that require better English.” Trump’s nativism is not only factually baseless but also economically counterproductive. 

It is easy to write off Trump’s campaign, as many “theories of Trump” have done, as simply the latest example of what has been a long time coming for the Republican Party. 

Maybe that is even correct. But by so blatantly peddling the narrative that life is a race-baiting, zero-sum game, Trump’s campaign dismisses and denies the real American Dream: the inclusive, accommodating, powerful-if-imperfect message found at the foot of the Statue of Liberty — the belief that there is something in America for everyone, if we only recognize our interdependence on each other. 

The American Dream is not dead, but if Trump has his way, I am not sure any of us will want the American Dream any more.