Donald Trump lists this as his second-favorite book, saying only the Bible is better. He also would include writing it as one of his major accomplishments in some of the early debates. He has written other books, but this is seemingly the only one he considers memorable. So, I decided to check it out.
It starts off with a chapter giving us a play-by-play account of a week in the life of Donald Trump, circa 1987. It seemed like an excuse to do a lot of name dropping. Trump likes to do that.
Fortunately, the book gets much better after that. Trump gives background on his early life, and resells some anecdotes from his real estate career. The real highlights of the book are the chapters about his purchases of Manhattan real estate. Trump clearly worked very hard to become knowledgeable about relevant zoning laws, and he deserves credit for the tenacity and thoroughness with which he put together many of his deals.
If the book ended after Chapter 7, I would have said I was pretty impressed. But it doesn’t–there are seven more chapters to go, and Trump’s flaws start to appear in these pages.
First comes Trump’s Atlantic City Casino adventure. Trump clearly knows less about casino gambling than about real estate. He seemingly views casinos as special lucky buildings that magically earn more money than regular ones. This is clear when he asserts “The New York Stock Exchange happens to be the biggest casino in the world.”
Wrong, Trump. Casinos are deliberately rigged against the players. The stock exchange isn’t. Trump apparently fails to appreciate this difference.
It gets worse. Trump goes on to describe an incident where the Holiday Inn Board of Directors was coming to inspect the site of a casino Trump was building. They were thinking of partnering with him, but wanted to see how construction was going.
Trump got worried that the construction crew didn’t look busy, and thought that might ruin the deal. So he told his crew to act like they were busy–didn’t matter what they did or whether it needed done. Just look busy.
This is bad enough. But then, one of the board members asked him why bulldozers were digging and refilling holes. Trump doesn’t say what BS line he used to get out of this. Can’t reveal all his secrets, I guess.
This wasn’t just dishonest; it was reckless and stupid. Trump didn’t offer any evidence for why he thought they might be mad if the crew wasn’t busy, just some nebulous feeling. And then he risked them definitely getting mad if they figured out he was deceiving them. He was lucky they were stupid.
Actually, the story of Trump’s life might be “he was lucky they were stupid”. He seems to reap huge benefits from the fact that the other guys make stupid mistakes.
As bad as the casino episode was, the worst part of the book was definitely the chapter on the United States Football League. Trump owned the New Jersey Generals. By his own description, he sounds like the owner from hell. He describes threatening to fire the coach if he didn’t give the ball to Herschel Walker more often. That is exactly the kind of meddling that wrecks a football team.
When the league failed because of his decision to move the season to the Fall to compete against the NFL, he proceeded to blame everybody but himself for it. It is in this chapter that you really see the Trump we are all familiar with today, always hurling insults around with no substantive point.
Eventually, it becomes clear that Trump has two major skills: knowing a good real estate deal (especially in Manhattan), and knowing how to play the press to get attention. He is a master at using the latter to enhance the former. He frequently would make controversial statements that would draw media coverage to his buildings.
In the section “Get the Word Out” in the chapter “Trump Cards”, he writes “[E]ven a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business.” And he goes on to say “The final key to the way I promote is bravado, I play to people’s fantasies. […] That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts.”
This is also the playbook for the Trump 2016 campaign:
1. Say outrageous stuff.
2. Benefit from all the media attention.
3. Rinse and repeat.
So far, the only press person I have seen call Trump out on this is Megyn Kelly. Maybe that is why Trump doesn’t like her. It’s not because she’s a woman, it’s because she actually read his book and is, as he would say, “totally wise to him”.
The proposed wall on the southern border is just the latest instance of Trump promising to build something big and gaudy to get the press’s attention. The only difference is that this time the only way he can get zoning permission from the government is to take over the government.
Throughout The Art of the Deal, there are all sorts of fascinating tidbits that would probably sink any other Republican candidate. For instance, Trump says then-President Ronald Reagan was “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.”
Overall, the Trump we see in Art of the Deal is far more appealing than the one we see on the campaign trail. But even the more serious, younger Trump seems too arrogant to be President. People can change a lot in 30 years, and Trump may be a very different person now. So you can’t evaluate him as a candidate based just on his book.
However, I think everybody in the press covering his campaign should absolutely read the book, and then perhaps it will become clear to them just how plainly he is manipulating them to boost his political campaign.