In 2004 I picked up this book about Donald J. Trump. Published in 1987, it is a story about the, then just, 40 year old Trump’s insane real estate successes. And I was genuinely interested. From what I knew then, Trump was the poster child of decadent 80’s Manhattan mega fortune makers. But around the same time his TV show started, and my interest dwindled. I had better things to do than read about this loud-mouthed preposterous figure.
Well, fast forward to 2016. Trump is running for president and surprising friend and foe (but not himself) by being the GOP’s front runner. All while being even more foul-mouthed, obnoxious and racist than anyone would have probably been able to predict. For some time now I wondered how this works. Who is this guy, is it all an act, what is his angle?
So yes, now would be a good time to read this book. All 367 pages of it. Here we go. Here are some things I take away from it, mainly regarding his personality.
The book is small part bio, where the influence and success of his father become apparent. But more so the different chapters are each dedicated to a specific deal. Mostly spanning ‘only’ a period of 10 years. And those deals tell a great deal of how his mind works.
The book makes Donald Trump not come off as a dumb guy. Between his late twenties to around the time the book was written, he had constructed multiple multi-million dollar complex parallel deals. So it was not just luck. He was able to have success partly because had a good upbringing. I would call it a silver spoon (he would disagree). But he comes from a well off and educated family (his uncle was a very well respected MIT educated scientist) and his dad already built a development empire and taught him all the tricks (and got him started with a “small loan”). But he succeed mostly by being clever, hands-on, PATIENT and above all positive.
Yes, you read that right. This guy is incredibly positive towards all and any adversary that he faces. Actually he thrives on what others would call no-win situations. He gets his kicks from it. But he has a way, that no matter what happens he will see the upside for it (for himself). Opportunistic is another word for it. He simply doesn’t accept defeat and in his mind he will give it a spin so that what happened is actually good. Just think about that for a second, this is not a bad character trait.
This character trait also has the effect that he is not shy with compliments towards people he works with. They are: “the very very best”, “genius” or “incredibly smart” or anything in between. It also makes himself look good of course (working with the best), but I can’t help think this also has a positive effect on the people he works with. They want to work for him and prove him right. It is a great management technique. And a great sales technique, you better believe you’re buying that multi-million dollar apartment when a guy like Trump is describing it to you.
The book is filled with complex deals where negotiating sometimes went on for years and things (laws, people etc.) constantly changed but he always saw the upside for himself. He will explain it was actually better that this or that deal fell through or that it was better in the long run etc. He will spin it. But that’s all business. The most striking example of this ‘positive’ attitude was the part about his older brother, who at the time of writing had just died more of less related to a drinking problem…. Trump donates no more than a few sentences to the how and why of all this. But the exact first words after that are: “Fortunately for me, I….”. This took me back. His brother just passed away, and he is directly launching into what’s fortunate for him? But from there on it all made sense. This is the essence of Trump.
The flip side of this same trait is that he is incredibly negative/hostile towards people that stand in his way. The energy he will put them down with is as great as the praises he hands out. Funny thing is that in the book it is mainly politicians that come off bad, and the then mayor of NY Ed Koch specifically. When you’re done reading you really believe that the mayor of the biggest city in the world has the brain capacity of a toddler.
To me these traits are both sides of the same coin.
Beforehand I figured the book was probably mostly written by a ghost-writer. But within the first 5 five pages you are reading this story in the voice of Trump. It has this unmistakable Trump tone of alternating between praising and putting down people and projects (HUGE). It is how he is.
And what we’re seeing now is actually no different, it is just a lot more polarised. The praises and put downs are subsequently more and more contrasting and irrational. But he is older now, US politics are a TV show (he knows how that works), and so he is venting out this part of his character. It’s part of the deal.
Also, I think he is bored.
He was incredibly successful and resourceful in the late 70’s and 80’s. By writing letters, walking around, reading newspapers, pushing and phoning people up (so.much.phoning). However looking at his track record for the 90’s and further, it’s not that he himself has changed, but the world has. Computers came, internet came with it, people found new ways to do business. Trump still ran his casinos and investments, but the glamour was gone. Trump was some dinosaur from the 80’s. So when the TV show came calling he jumped on it. And when that passed he was looking for something new. So, why not be president of the free world?
Because it’s exactly the two things that make him tick, and what he is good at: facing uphill battles and rallying people.
I’m not going to make presidential predictions just yet. But it is safe to say I wouldn’t be voting for him, nor that I think anyone should.
Even though still I believe when he would be elected you would see a different Trump. Less polarised. He has that much sense (I hope). (edit: 2019 Boy, was I wrong).
Also published on Medium.