What “The Art of the Deal” Tells Us 30 Years Later

Since I found it so enlightening to read Hillary Clinton’s first book, It Takes a Village (1996, revised 2006), I decided to look at Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal (1987), with a fresh eye.

Jacket illustrations of both books have been updated, but inside The Art of the Deal, things don’t look so good.

Blurred type in 'The Art of the Deal'

Blurred type, uneven lines in “The Art of the Deal”

Remember in the days of Xerox when you’d lose the original and have to copy from a copy? And the next one would copy the last copy, and on and on until the words blurred together and illustrations faded out?

Apparently something like that has happened to the most recent (2015) edition of The Art of the Deal: It’s as if the plates weren’t replaced for so long that the type wore down, the photos faded and the lines wobbled.

In the book trade we used to call this a “begrudged reprint,” meaning the publisher (Ballantine) feels obligated to keep a former bestseller in print but doesn’t want to spend the money. So out comes something shoddy, like a pulp novel from the 1930s.

Blurred photo from The Art of the Deal -- for some reason the bottom photo is signed "Nancy and Reagan Reagan"

Faded photo from “The Art of the Deal” — for some reason the bottom picture is signed, “Nancy and Reagan Reagan”

In this case, I wondered if that great Mr. Sweetie Pie of paperback publishing, Ian Ballantine himself, rolled over in his grave and said, “Keep that idiot Donald Trump in print? Over my already dead body.” And so it was.

What He Didn’t Say

But back to what Donald Trump was saying 30 years before running for office. Of course The Art of the Deal was written with a professional author, Schwartz, so it’s a polished version of the same old braggadocio stuff Trump blows out today:

           Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.

So: all he does every day is telephone powerful people and make deals. That’s how he’d be President of the United States today. Like a Mafia don, “sometimes I have to be the bad guy,” but usually the world presents him with prospects, and he doesn’t have to do any research; he just goes by his gut:

           … A pair of beautiful gleaming white towers caught my eye. I made a couple of calls. It turned out they’d been built for about $120 million and a major New York bank had just foreclosed on the developers. The next thing I knew I was making a deal to buy the project for $40 million.

This kind of King of the Hill talk appealed to millions 30 years ago. People thought the book would give them tips about How to Win from a true real estate tycoon. Of course, Trump gave away nothing.

But today we  recognize The Art of the Deal  as the first indicator of the way Trump sold out to corporate media. Instead of conquering the world, he began performing for the world. Instead of reaping profits, he became a clown for money.

With each new book, he was more showman than author. On his reality television show, The Apprentice, he turned into caricature. He glowered for the camera; he growled “You’re fired!” He wanted to sound authentic, as long as it was scripted.

But the giant Trump, the powerful Trump who once made New York sit up and beg (or so it seemed) was gone. He never recovered from his bankruptcies. His real estate failures were colossal, and his books, gradually unreadable, stopped selling in the high numbers.

Suddenly Donald Trump was talking dirty in a desperate way on Howard Stern. The “brand” that at one time could sell anything — steaks, casinos, that stupid university — began to sound mean and sniveling.

Marcia Cross, best known for her role in Desperate Housewives

Marcia Cross, best known for her role in “Desperate Housewives”

“Would you go out with Marcia Cross or would you turn gay, Howard?”

This week Rachel Maddow said there’s a rumor going around that Trump is writing a sequel called The Art of the Deal 2.0. This would explain why he’s still hawking the 1987 book, as she showed in a half-dozen video clips:

“President Obama, Secretary Kerry,” he says from the podium, “I highly think you should read this book quickly.”

“Oh, he’s got The Art of the Deal,” says Trump, spotting a man in the audience. Hold that book up, please. One of the great books …”

“Who has read The Art of the Deal in this room?” he asks a baffled audience. “Everybody. I always say, [my book is] a deep, deep second to the bible.”

Trump pleading for a place in history would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, but as Maddow showed, it’s all part of a grand scheme to exploit the presidential election and make money.

As we saw this week when he had to reveal his campaign expenses, Trump has funneled donations of about $6 million to pay himself for use of the Trump jet, Trump hotels, Trump restaurants, his own homes, his son’s wineries and every possible item down to ice in drinks and merchandise like Make America Great Again baseball caps.

What an idiot (to quote my fantasy of Ian Ballantine): Does Donald Trump really think he can get away with this?  “It’s a racket,” says Maddow, pointing to perennial candidates like Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain and Mike Huckaby. She asks: What do these people do for a job?

Well, they don’t hold office;  they campaign for office. And they live off the donations that support each campaign. “What we’ve created is a weird system of incentives where people appear to run for office, but actually they run as a job where they can….get deals [as consultants] on Fox News.”

Trump would never do that — it’s too cheap, too weak, too pathetic. Plus they’re all losers. It’s just that he can’t help selling himself because that’s all he knows how to do. As a result his campaign looks like one big book tour.

And yes, if there’s an Art of the Deal 2.0, Trump may make a couple of million dollars from it, and add that amount to the other millions skimmed off donations to pay himself. Why not? Listing $1.3 million on record to finance his campaign (as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s $42 million), he’ll be given billions of dollars’ worth of free publicity by craven American media. So why should he care?

Well, the one thing The Art of the Deal tells us is that Trump cares only about being the conquering hero. He’s wants the glory of the conquest, and once that deal is made, he’s bored.

I think Trump is already tired at how much the campaign asks of him;  he’s sensing the Oval Office will make him work 100 times harder. No wonder this Saturday he’s going to fly off to Scotland to open another golf course.

Of course, Scottish residents and elected officials hate him there for real estate developments he’s already promised and botched. But then, they’re not the American people.

3 thoughts on “What “The Art of the Deal” Tells Us 30 Years Later

  1. Claire Johnson

    Initially, I was surprised that he didn’t demand a new and pristine copy of Trump, the Art of the Steal, 2.0, but then after your insightful analysis, since it’s obvious that he doesn’t read, he couldn’t possibly understand how this reflects on him as a candidate. But maybe he’s savvy enough to know that his supporters aren’t likely to read it anyway. His supporters have proven they are content with sound bites and tweets. I would imagine that some of his campaign contributions are going to be spent snapping up copies of his book in an attempt to make it a best seller. If you want a free hat, you have to take a free book. That sort of marketing strategy.

    After I read your post, I realized how often I say, “It takes a village,” when referring to a group effort. What do I think of a universal catch phrase that could be a reflection of Trump’s philosophy? There are so many, it’s an embarrassment of riches. “It will be beautiful.” “They are so stupid.” “He’s a loser.” “He’s a total failure.” Etc.

    Reply
  2. Lee Kirk

    I do wish the media would replay that film of Trump building his golf course in Scotland…the one where he destroys peoples homes, rips up the environment, cuts people off of their water and electrical supply, calls poor folks “pigs” that don’t matter, etc. and just does what he bloody wants no matter whom he stomps on to get it. Wouldn’t that be an eye opener for some of his worshipers?

    Reply

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