18 Lessons I learned from reading Trump’s “Art of the Deal”
In this exalted spirit [Adolf Hitler] finished dictating the torrent of words that would go into Volume One of Mein Kampf and went on immediately to Volume Two. The blueprint of what the Almighty had called upon him to do in this cataclysmic world and the philosophy, the Weltanschauung, that would sustain it were set down in cold print for all to ponder. That philosophy, however demented, had roots, as we have seen, deep in German life. The blueprint may have seemed preposterous to most twentieth-century minds, even in Germany. But it too possessed a certain logic. It held forth a vision. It offered, though few saw this at the time, a continuation of German history. It pointed the way toward a glorious German destiny.
It wasn’t long after I read that passage, pulled from William Shirer’s immense and powerful “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” that I knew what I must do. I must read Donald Trump’s famed, ghost-written manifesto, “The Art of the Deal.”
The idea of world domination and preservation of the pure, Aryan race didn’t just occur to Adolf Hitler one morning over coffee and strudel. His was a political ideology and a myopic philosophy that steeped for decades. He grew up with ambition, but with no outlets to exercise it. Broken home. Starving artist. Political prisoner. “Mein Kampf” — German for “My Struggle” — was Hitler’s roadmap to what he saw as the fulfillment of his destiny and, by proxy, Germany’s destiny. Published eight years before he rose to power, almost everything he wished to accomplish as the leader of the German people is purportedly laid bare in its pages. (I say “purportedly” because I have not read “Mein Kampf” first hand.)
Unfortunately, at the time his book was first published, no one cared a whit for this ambitious, yet awkward, Austrian. Had he been more well known, his book would have likely met a larger audience and his power may have been snuffed out before it was entrenched. Alas, it was not until he demanded German churches replace their alter Bibles with copies of his struggle did his subjects really have an excuse to crack it open and read about the future that awaited them in the Thousand Year Reich.
Now, before we move any further into this discussion, let me be clear: I do not believe that Donald Trump is a facist. Yes, he is an ardent nationalist, and nationalism is the coercive cattle-prod of facism. Yes, he appears to exercise and admire the authoritative ruling style, and authoritarianism is the prototypical ruling style of a fascist leader. But the economic system that drives fascism is socialism. And Donald Trump is more of an economic libertarian…which is, of course, the opposite end of the same spectrum. (If you must find a modern-day leader to which you can compare Mr. Trump’s style — look to his alleged friend in Moscow, Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Putin is a strict authoritarian with a nationalist bent, but he at least maintains the veneer of capitalism — while paying off himself and his cronies, of course.)
I will venture that Mr. Trump — with his laissez faire attitude toward facts, minutiae, running his “University” and former Atlantic City casinos — would be a perfect enabler for a subversive military aide or ambitious Cabinet member who wished to exercise their own fascistic fantasies, but that’s venturing into InfoWars territory, and we already have enough to worry over presently.
All that to say, the parallel between Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” is this: Just as Hitler’s ideology didn’t fall out of the sky one morning in 1933, I’m also betting that Donald Trump’s core beliefs pre-date 1987, the year his book was published. My intent was to determine: How much of his current campaign is reflected in this book, which of his beliefs have changed over time and, most important, what can be learned from this book about how he thinks and how he can be defeated?
Here’s what I found out.
1. Donald Trump is an arrogant narcissist
You didn’t have to read his book to be reasonably assured of this fact, but reading the book gives you perspective on just how much Donald Trump loves Donald Trump and living Donald Trump’s life. Everyone has a touch of the ego now and then, but Donald Trump is pure, unfiltered ego. He is ego distilled, the pure grain alcohol of ego. I’m not exaggerating…
“The contractor who’s building my pool at Mar-A-Lago is on the phone. I’m busy, but I take the call anyway.”
“I can afford the finest workmanship, and when it comes to my apartment, I figure, why spare any expense? I want the best, whatever it takes.”
“It’s funny what’s happened: bankers now come to me, to ask if I might be interested in borrowing their money.” — Says the man with four bankruptcies.
“While I can’t honestly say I need an eighty-foot living room, I do get a kick out of having one.”
2. Donald Trump thinks all press is positive, even negative press
“The other people I don’t take too seriously are the critics…they mostly write to impress each other.”
“If you are a little different or a little outrageous, or if you do things a little differently, the press is going to write about you.”
“From a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks.”
“…it probably says something perverse about the culture we live in…but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”
3. Donald Trump believed Ronald Reagan was all tip and no iceberg
The patron saint of Republicanism didn’t have a big fan in Mr. Trump, who intimated that he was in agreement with the president’s critics:
“Ronald Reagan…he is so smooth and so effective a performer that he completely won over the American people. Only now, nearly seven years later, are people beginning to question whether there’s anything beneath that smile.”
4. Donald Trump doesn’t believe in consultants (and once hated polls)
You can totally see Donald Trump poopooing an cadre of consultants. He’s a lone wolf, always the smartest guy in the room…what gives anyone the authority to question his strategy? But, did you know he once thought polling was a total fool’s errand? Yep.
“That’s why I don’t hire a lot of number crunchers and I don’t trust fancy marketing surveys. I do my own surveys and draw my own conclusions.”
“Among other things, [the USFL consultant] reported that a majority of fans who’d been surveyed in a poll wanted the USFL to stay in the spring. You can probably guess how much stock I put in polls.”
5. Donald Trump is ladykiller
Early in his real estate career, Donald Trump decided to join the exclusive “Le Club” in Manhattan, the playroom of the high-rolling, high-flying set. The club’s president allowed him to join, with one stipulation:
“[The club president] had only one misgiving. He said that because I was young and good-looking, and because some of the older members of the club were married to beautiful, young women, he was worried that I might be tempted to try to steal their wives. He asked me to promise that I wouldn’t go that.”
6. Donald Trump is playing us all for chumps
Look, I know you are all concerned about Donald Trump’s current campaign situation. Post-convention polls show a clear shift toward Hillary Clinton, he’s fighting with the families of fallen U.S. soldiers, he’s brandishing a Purple Heart he didn’t win, he thinks the Crimea still belongs to Ukraine, he’s itching to know why we don’t drop a nuke or two. Things look bad, yes. But Donald Trump is still the smartest guy in the room, remember? He’s a huge success. He knows how the game works and there’s always a method to his madness:
“Sometimes it pays to be a little wild.”
“Sometimes — not often, but sometimes — less is more.”
“I was never all that interested in schoolwork. I understood early on that the whole academic thing was only a preliminary to the main event — which was going to be whatever I did after I graduated from college.”
“I could talk big for only so long. Eventually, I had to prove — to the real estate community, to the press, to my father — that I could deliver the goods.”
“I now have in my will a clause describing the importance of that restrictive covenant [that prevents Hyatt from building a competing NYC hotel], just in case one of my heirs happens not to be that sharp.”
“The point is that despite what some people may think, I’m not looking to be a bad guy when it isn’t absolutely necessary.”
7. Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, according to Donald Trump
“I like the casino business…if you know what you’re doing, you can make a very nice profit.”
Considering that all of Trump’s three casinos in Atlantic City went bankrupt and are closed (the Taj will close for good by the end of September), I guess, by his own definition, he doesn’t know what he’s doing after all.
8. Donald Trump’s is damn liar
Hillary Clinton isn’t the only noteworthy truth-stretcher in this race.
“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 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 effective form of promotion.”
“I knew this was a tough sell, so I tried to find ways to make the deal sound more attractive. I suggested, for example, that I would build above his store and that he could keep it open during construction. That’s not really feasible, but the point was that I would have done almost anything to get that piece of property.”
“When a reporter asks me a tough question, I try to frame a positive answer, even if that means shifting the ground. For example, if someone asks me what negative effects the world’s tallest building might have on the West Side, I turn the tables and talk about how New Yorkers deserve the world’s tallest building.”
9. Donald Trump fights unwinable battles
Do you wonder why Donald Trump won’t apologize after insulting…everyone? Or why he attacks Gold Star families and doubles-down on ridiculous claims like the phony Iran ransom video, his former campaign manager’s physical assault on a reporter, the Star of David tweet? Well, here’s the rationale:
“When people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”
“I fight when I feel I’m getting screwed, even if it’s costly and difficult and highly risky.”
“It has been said that I believe in the power of positive thinking. In fact, I believe in the power of negative thinking.”
10. Donald Trump doesn’t understand the American judicial system
One particularly terrifying quote from this presidential candidate involves the sanctity and effectiveness of our jury system…
“The jury system is designed to ensure the fairest possible trial. The problem is that a pool of randomly selected jurors isn’t necessarily qualified to make judgments on complicated issues.”
11. Donald Trump is almost completely void of empathy
If there is a recurring theme in the book — besides the outrageous awesomeness of Donald Trump — it’s that one person’s tragedy is the foundation for Trump’s success. And that’s often the way it is in business, granted. A building someone built but couldn’t sell becomes the launch pad for a successful turnaround artist. A company purchased while in decline is transformed into a moneymaker. We get it. But the least — least — you could do is acknowledge that you feel for the people who blazed that trail for you and lament the fact that they lost everything in the process. We don’t get that from Mr. Trump. But, we do get this:
“I worried about the future of New York City, too, but I can’t say it kept me up nights…I saw the city’s trouble as a great opportunity for me.”
“Developers are suicidal because banks are foreclosing on them. It’s a great time for a smart buyer because you can get unbelievable deals.”
“Swifton Village was a 1,200-unit apartment development in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it was a very troubled place. There were 800 vacant apartments, the developers had gone under, the government had foreclosed and the whole deal was a disaster. But from our perspective, that was great, because it gave us a terrific opportunity.”
“When I was building low-income housing, the most important thing was to get it built quickly, inexpensively and adequately, so you could rent it out and make a few bucks. That’s when I learned to be cost-conscious.”
“This is a story about a group of tenants who fought very hard to keep me from tearing down a building they lived in and constructing a new one in its place.”
12. Donald Trump does not own a mirror
By “does not own a mirror,” I don’t mean that in the literal sense. Rather, I envision him being constantly surrounded by mirrors at all times. I’m speaking in a metaphorical sense, of course…that he often describes people who irritate or even repulse him as being rich, spoiled, out of touch, trust fund kids and bullies. Which, of course…is like looking in a mirror, now isn’t it? Examples:
“Barron [Hilton] is a member of what I call the Lucky Sperm Club. He was born wealthy and bred to be an aristocrat.”
“Conrad [Hilton] believed very strongly that inherited wealth destroys moral character and motivation. I happen to agree that it often does.”
“Bullies may act tough, but they’re really closet cowards.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the rich, it’s that they have a very low threshold for even the mildest discomfort.”
13. Donald Trump is a bigot
That’s a strong statement, but I stand by it simply because it is true:
“I went to meet Victor, and we got on very well right from the start. He was a very smooth, attractive guy, an Italian who looked like a WASP.”
“The tenants who were living in the project when I took over had ripped the place apart. Many of them had come down from the hills of Kentucky. They were poor and had seven or eight children, almost no possessions and no experience living in an apartment complex. They crammed into one room and two room apartments and their children went wild. They would just destroy the apartments.”
“I have great respect for what the Japanese have done with their economy, but for my money they are often very difficult to do business with…they rarely smile and they are so serious that they don’t make doing business fun.”
14. Donald Trump beat up a music teacher in elementary school
“Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade, I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled.”
Now, it should be noted that he actually expresses remorse for this episode in the book. It’s a profound moment, since none of us can remember the last time we heard Donald Trump express remorse for…anything.
15. Donald Trump’s father cheated the government
And his son is quite proud of this fact:
“The term ‘windfall profits’ was actually coined to describe what my father and some others managed to earn through hard work and competence. Eventually such profits were disallowed.”
“Windfall profits” in this circumstance, refer to situations in which contractors who receive government funding, base their funding ask on inflated estimates, then cheapskate their way through the buildout and pocket the cost difference.
16. Donald Trump can’t stand to be called “Donny”
Attention Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine speechwriters and debate-preppers: Donald Trump hates — HATES — to be called “Donny.”
“He [a business partner] calls me Donny, a name that I hate.”
Of course, this is an awkward statement, as it comes 16 pages after this:
“My nine-year-old son Donny calls to ask when I’ll be home.”
If you’re debating a name for your child, might I suggest not picking a name that you “hate”? Just a thought.
17. Donald Trump once explored teaming with the Soviet government for a hotel project
His pal Vladimir Putin was still in the KGB and stationed in East Germany when Trump made his way to Moscow to explore a hotel deal:
“One thing led to another, and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin, in partnership with the Soviet government. They have asked me to go to Moscow in July.”
18. Donald Trump’s hubris knows no limitation
Remember the USFL? If you don’t, watch this amazing ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and learn up on it. Fascinating story. Anyway, Donald Trump committed one of the great unforced errors of all-time by insisting on moving the USFL’s spring schedule to the fall in order to compete head-to-head with the National Football League. Long story short…shockingly, the USFL lost that battle.
Trump owned the New Jersey Generals at the time and he paid top dollar to woo former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie to the USFL, instead of the NFL. After a particularly strong performance from Flutie, Trump floated this idea:
“The day after [QB Doug] Flutie’s great game, I wrote a letter to Harry Usher, our new commissioner, suggesting that the cost of Flutie’s contract be shared among all USFL owners — on the grounds that Flutie’s promotional value was league-wide.”
In essence, this is like the Cleveland Cavaliers asking every other NBA team to contribute to Lebron James’ salary, because he’s such a hot NBA commodity and his rising tide lifts all boats, right? As you might imagine, this proposal fell on deaf ears.
So, did we manage to uncover elements of Donald Trump’s present-day political philosophy from his 1987 opus? Yes. We know his philosophy on the co-existence government and business. (He believes that government is no friend of business, unless the former is offering free money to the latter.) He was and still is a true believer in American exceptionalism. He still decries Asian trade deals. He is still clearly uncomfortable dealing with non-American clients.
What has changed? Not a whole lot. Nowadays, he doesn’t openly question whether or not Reagan was a substantive president. Other than that, the Trump of today is much like the Trump of the mid-1980s. He has always been a me-first guy, brimming with bravado and hubris. He’s a hypocrite, grabbing at government subsidies, poking fun at trust-fund babies and the ridiculing the habits of the rich. He is openly, unapologetically bigoted toward women, the poor and various ethnicities. He has questionable business instincts, as evidenced by his casino dealings in Atlantic City and his botching of a deal to build the world’s largest building on the banks of the Hudson River in midtown Manhattan.
Is there anything here that could be used as part of strategy to defeat him? Yes. He is, admittedly, prone to fight back relentlessly and recklessly when he feels he’s being attacked, no matter how weak or indefensible his position. That drags him off message, as we’ve seen many times to-date. He hates being called “Donny”…so dropping that reference into some tweets, stump speeches and campaign videos might not be a bad idea. He has a long history of talking big and not delivering. Many of the business deals he describes at length in his book fell apart before they came to fruition, or later ended in bankruptcy. Because he insists on name-dropping — even the names of people he admits he screwed in business deals — there’s a documented list of well-heeled enemies who can provide illumination into what it’s like to do business with The Donald.
So, there you have it…everything you’ve wanted to know about “The Art of the Deal,” but were afraid to read. You are welcome.