Thursday, February 06, 2020

Trump and Political Philosophy (4): The "Art of the Deal" and the Bible--Trump's Two Best Books

                                                    Trump Plugs His Two Best Books

                                                         Trump Autographs the Bible

Tony Schwartz--Trump's Ghostwriter

                                          The Introduction to Season 1 of "The Apprentice"

Donald Trump was elected president because of his rhetorical success in promoting the myth of himself as the self-made multibillionaire, and that all began in 1987 with the publication of The Art of the Deal.

There is a straight line from this book to "The Apprentice" and then to Trump's rhetoric in his presidential campaign.  Prior to the book, Trump was not well-known outside of New York City.  Once the book became a world-wide bestseller--over a million copies--Trump was an international celebrity known as the young brash businessman who became one of the richest people in the world because he knew how to make deals, and he did it all on his own.

When Mark Burnett, the reality-television producer, read The Art of the Deal, he got the idea for having Trump as the star for "The Apprentice."  When the show premiered in 2004, it started with Trump in the back of his limousine, being driven through New York City, as Trump says, "I've mastered the art of the deal, and I've turned the name Trump into the highest-quality brand."  An image of the book's cover flashes onscreen as Trump explains that as the "master," he will now seek an "apprentice," and this will be the show--to see who can succeed in helping him manage his building projects.

Then, on June 16, 2015, he gave his speech in the atrium of Trump Tower announcing his candidacy for the presidency; and in laying out his qualifications, he said: "We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal."

He repeated this in his campaign speeches--saying that American politicians have failed to lead the country, that they could learn how to lead by reading The Art of the Deal, but now the voters have the chance to elect the author of that book.  He also explained that while The Art of the Deal was his second favorite book, he had to rank the Bible as the best book.  Remarkably, while campaigning, he often autographed copies of both The Art of the Deal and the Bible.

When Tony Schwartz--Trump's ghostwriter for The Art of the Deal--saw the broadcast of Trump's June 16th speech, Schwartz sent out a tweet: "Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote 'The Art of the Deal.'"  Later, speaking to Jane Mayer for an article in The New Yorker, Schwartz said that he had noticed that Trump had somehow convinced himself that he had written the book himself.  And Schwartz wondered: "If he could lie about that on Day One--when it was so easily refuted--he is likely to lie about anything."

Schwartz has confessed his sense of guilt that in writing The Art of the Deal, he started the myth of Trump as the self-made billionaire that led to Trump's presidential campaign.  He has admitted that his agreeing to write the book was a selling of his soul to the devil.  When Trump asked him to write the book in 1985, Schwartz was in financial trouble and worried about supporting his family.  Trump's offer to him--half of the $500,000 advance from Random House and half of the royalties--was too good to turn down.  In fact, the sales of the book made him a multimillionaire.  But now he has tried to redeem himself by speaking publicly about what he saw of Trump's true character and the danger that poses for the country.  "I put lipstick on a pig," Schwartz has said.  "I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is."

Initially, Schwartz thought he could get the material for the book by interviewing Trump over a number of weeks.  But he quickly discovered that Trump had such a short attention span that he could not be questioned about anything for more than a few minutes before he lost interest and refused to continue the interview.  Trump was happy to talk with reporters looking for some short sound-bite comments.  But he lacked any capacity for self-reflection in talking about his life.  Schwartz worried that it would be impossible for him to gather enough information from talking with Trump to write the book.

Then Schwartz came up with an alternative way to work on this.  He got Trump to agree to allow him to listen to all of Trump's telephone calls, which is how he conducted much of his business, while also following Trump to all of his meetings.  Schwartz would then interview the people that he met through Trump and gather information and documents from them.  He did this for over a year and a half.  So over this time, he came to know Trump better than anyone outside his immediate family.  Not only did Schwartz write the book, he also kept a journal where he wrote out his private thoughts about Trump's personality and his life.  When he began speaking publicly about Trump in 2016, he used his private journal to sketch Trump's true character.

He observed that Trump is driven entirely by the need for public attention--an insatiable hunger for money, power, praise, and celebrity.  He does not care about anything or anyone other than himself as an object of public acclaim.  Any sign that people do not love him as much he loves himself or any sign that those working for him are not absolutely loyal to him throws him into an angry fit of rage.  He will do anything to keep himself the center of attention, which often means saying or doing what he knows will be deeply offensive to people, because that forces people to pay attention to him.  That's the whole point of his tweeting rants. And he must constantly boast about himself and insist that no one is as great as he is.  (This is what I have written about in a previous post as Trump's grandiose narcissism.)

Trump's Advice to College Students in Wisconsin: "You'll find that when you become very successful, the people that you will like best are the people that are less successful than you, because when you go to a table, you can tell them all of these wonderful stories, and they'll sit back and listen.  Does that make sense to you?  OK?  Always be around unsuccessful people because everybody will respect you."  (I should say the rest of his remarks in this speech are not as disturbing as this one.)

Here's the first paragraph of The Art of the Deal:
"I don't do it for the money.  I've got enough, much more than I'll ever need.  I do it to do it.  Deals are my art form.  Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry.  I like making deals, preferably big deals.  That's how I get my kicks" (p. 1).
Schwartz says that this is a lie.  Of course Trump does it for the money.  That's why he becomes angry whenever business journalists write stories about how he is not as wealthy as he claims--that he is not one of the richest people in the world.  That making deals is for him an intrinsically joyful art--like writing poetry--sounds nice, but it's not true.  That it really is all about the money--or about his exaggerated claims about how much he has--is indicated (as I suggested in my previous post) by his ending his campaign book Great Again with a list of 70 of his properties--commercial buildings, golf resorts, mansions, airplanes, helicopters--that's why he does it, and that's what we're supposed to admire--his pile of luxurious stuff.

Trump's lying about his wealth is part of a pattern of shameless lying.  "Lying is second nature to him," Schwartz has said.  "More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true."

In writing The Art of the Deal, Schwartz says, he knew he would need to contrive "an artful euphemism" to make Trump's lying sound innocent.  In one of the most often quoted passages in the book, he wrote:
"The final key to the way I promote is bravado.  I play to people's fantasies.  People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do.  That's why a little hyperbole never hurts.  People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular."
"I call it truthful hyperbole.  It's an innocent form of exaggeration--and a very effecitive form of promotion" (p. 58).
We have heard a lot of "truthful hyperbole" in Trump's political speeches, including his State of the Union Tuesday night.  But "truthful hyperbole" that is "innocent"?  Schwartz now says that "deceit" is never "innocent."  "'Truthful hyperbole' is a contradiction in terms.  It's a way of saying, 'It's a lie, but who cares?'"  He says that Trump loved the phrase.  The White House Press Office has used the phrase to justify Trump's lies.

That "people want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest" is an important part of the popular appeal of Trump's rhetoric.  In the second chapter of The Art of the Deal--"Trump Cards: The Elements of the Deal"--the first rule is "Think Big."
"I like thinking big.  I always have.  To me it's very simple: if you're going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big.  Most people think small, because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning.  And that gives people like me a great advantage" (pp. 46-47).
But then we have to wonder--when Trump brags about his "biggest and greatest" achievements, is this only "truthful hyperbole," or maybe not so truthful at all?  So, for example, when Trump told us Tuesday night that at the beginning of 2017, America was in a deep dark decline--economically, militarily, and culturally--and now after only three years, Trump has made America great again in every way, should we believe that?

Trump's rhetorical enthymeme is that we can trust him to make America great again, because we can see the greatness he has achieved in his business life, as described in The Art of the Deal and his other books.  But if one compares the story told in The Art of the Deal with the actual record of what he has done, one sees that much of that story is a lie.  As I have already indicated in a previous post, a big part of that lie is Trump's claim that his father gave him very little help: "My father had done very well for himself, but he didn't believe in giving his children huge trust funds.  When I graduated from college, I had a net worth of perhaps $200,000, and most of it was tied up in buildings in Brooklyn and Queens" (p. 93).  Now we know that by the time that young Donald was 8 years old, he was already a millionaire, and that was only the beginning of his father's life-long payouts to his son that saved Donald from financial ruin.

And if we're judging Trump's success in "thinking big," we need to examine the history of his biggest construction project, which he expected would be his greatest achievement.  In The Art of the Deal, Trump devotes one long chapter to what originated as his first major deal in Manhattan in 1974 (pp. 325-354).  He secured the option to purchase the railroad yards of the Penn Central Railroad on the West Side of Manhattan--78 acres on the Hudson River between 59th Street and 72nd Street.  He was forced to give up his option in the summer of 1979.  But then he bought it back in January 1985.

At the end of 1985, Trump (then only 39 years old) held a news conference to unveil his plans--with drawings and models.  He said this was "the greatest piece of land in urban America."  He would build 8,000 apartments and condominiums for up to 20,000 people, some 3.6 million square feet of television and movie studio space, and some 2 million square feet of space for luxury stores.  There would be six 76-story towers.  And rising above all of this would be the world's tallest skyscraper, with Trump living at the top--"above the clouds," he told someone.  At first, he named it Television City.  Later, he named it Trump City.  The New York Times described it as his "bid for immortality."

Trump promised that because of his unique skill for making deals, the construction for this project would start as early as 1987.  This would have been his biggest deal of all, because he had to persuade hundreds if not thousands of people to allow this--politicians in charge of zoning regulations and tax rebates, citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods, architecture critics, and bankers.

He failed.  By 1991 and 1992, he had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times; and he was headed to personal bankruptcy.  In 1994, he had to sell 70% of the ownership of the rail yards land to a consortium of Hong Kong businessmen.  In 1990, he had already agreed to capitulate to the opponents of his project, and he accepted the plans for development of the land proposed by an Upper West Side community group.  Their plans called for smaller, shorter buildings, and certainly not the world's tallest building.  It would be called not Trump City but Riverside South.

Pushed into a corner, Trump was forced to reverse his big plans and accept something small, because that was the only way he could survive.  And in so far as he did survive, he had turned defeat into a kind of victory, although it was a victory that depended on his father's help in bailing him out.

Michael Kruse, writing an article on Trump's failure to build Trump City, draws an insightful conclusion from this as showing Trump to be "the most successful failer of all time":
"On the Upper West Side, Trump was overbearing, tactless, and tone-deaf.  His proposals were extreme, offensive and ill-conceived.  Many of the people who fought him thought they beat him.  The prevented him from doing what he actually wanted to do.  But those buildings were built.  That money was money he made.  It's the Trump Paradox: He's the most successful failer of all time.  Because what really happened with what become Trump Place was that he created such a disturbance for so long that his opponents literally did his work, designing his development for him, which saved him, which enabled him to maintain a veneer of credibility, which allowed the 'Apprentice' to present him as it did, which let him run for president.  The election was an apt capstone.  He lost (the popular vote), but he won (the Electoral College).  And so, his transactional, bluff-and-bluster, react-to-me life became a candidacy, and now a presidency, that is driving change on a far larger canvas than just the New York skyline."
If this is true, there are lessons here both for Trump's opponents and his supporters.  For the opponents, the lesson is that defeating him requires backing him into a corner where he cannot survive without capitulating in a way that he can present as a success.  For the supporters, the lesson is that while Trump is likely to fail to deliver on his biggest promises, his grandiose bluster might shake things up in such a way as to bring some small but momentous changes to American politics.

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