THE MORAL LIFE: THE ART OF THE CON, Part Four

{continued from the preceding post on Abyssum.org}

Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All

“The Art of the Deal” made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it.

THE NEWYORKER

 

According to Barrett, among the most misleading aspects of “The Art of the Deal” was the idea that Trump made it largely on his own, with only minimal help from his father, Fred. Barrett, in his book, notes that Trump once declared, “The working man likes me because he knows I didn’t inherit what I’ve built,” and that in “The Art of the Deal” he derides wealthy heirs as members of “the Lucky Sperm Club.”

Trump’s self-portrayal as a Horatio Alger figure has buttressed his populist appeal in 2016. But his origins were hardly humble. Fred’s fortune, based on his ownership of middle-income properties, wasn’t glamorous, but it was sizable: in 2003, a few years after Fred died, Trump and his siblings reportedly sold some of their father’s real-estate holdings for half a billion dollars. In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump cites his father as “the most important influence on me,” but in his telling his father’s main legacy was teaching him the importance of “toughness.” Beyond that, Schwartz says, Trump “barely talked about his father—he didn’t want his success to be seen as having anything to do with him.” But when Barrett investigated he found that Trump’s father was instrumental in his son’s rise, financially and politically. In the book, Trump says that “my energy and my enthusiasm” explain how, as a twenty-nine-year-old with few accomplishments, he acquired the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Barrett reports, however, that Trump’s father had to co-sign the many contracts that the deal required. He also lent Trump seven and a half million dollars to get started as a casino owner in Atlantic City; at one point, when Trump couldn’t meet payments on other loans, his father tried to tide him over by sending a lawyer to buy some three million dollars’ worth of gambling chips. Barrett told me, “Donald did make some smart moves himself, particularly in assembling the site for the Trump Tower. That was a stroke of genius.” Nonetheless, he said, “The notion that he’s a self-made man is a joke. But I guess they couldn’t call the book ‘The Art of My Father’s Deals.’ ”

The other key myth perpetuated by “The Art of the Deal” was that Trump’s intuitions about business were almost flawless. “The book helped fuel the notion that he couldn’t fail,” Barrett said. But, unbeknown to Schwartz and the public, by late 1987, when the book came out, Trump was heading toward what Barrett calls “simultaneous personal and professional self-destruction.” O’Brien agrees that during the next several years Trump’s life unravelled. The divorce from Ivana reportedly cost him twenty-five million dollars. Meanwhile, he was in the midst of what O’Brien calls “a crazy shopping spree that resulted in unmanageable debt.” He was buying the Plaza Hotel and also planning to erect “the tallest building in the world,” on the former rail yards that he had bought on the West Side. In 1987, the city denied him permission to construct such a tall skyscraper, but in “The Art of the Deal” he brushed off this failure with a one-liner: “I can afford to wait.” O’Brien says, “The reality is that he couldn’t afford to wait. He was telling the media that the carrying costs were three million dollars, when in fact they were more like twenty million.” Trump was also building a third casino in Atlantic City, the Taj, which he promised would be “the biggest casino in history.” He bought the Eastern Air Lines shuttle that operated out of New York, Boston, and Washington, rechristening it the Trump Shuttle, and acquired a giant yacht, the Trump Princess. “He was on a total run of complete and utter self-absorption,” Barrett says, adding, “It’s kind of like now.”

Schwartz said that when he was writing the book “the greatest percentage of Trump’s assets was in casinos, and he made it sound like each casino was more successful than the last. But every one of them was failing.” He went on, “I think he was just spinning. I don’t think he could have believed it at the time. He was losing millions of dollars a day. He had to have been terrified.”

In 1992, the journalist David Cay Johnston published a book about casinos, “Temples of Chance,” and cited a net-worth statement from 1990 that assessed Trump’s personal wealth. It showed that Trump owed nearly three hundred million dollars more to his creditors than his assets were worth. The next year, his company was forced into bankruptcy—the first of six such instances. The Trump meteor had crashed.

But in “The Art of the Deal,” O’Brien told me, “Trump shrewdly and unabashedly promoted an image of himself as a dealmaker nonpareil who could always get the best out of every situation—and who can now deliver America from its malaise.” This idealized version was presented to an exponentially larger audience, O’Brien noted, when Mark Burnett, the reality-television producer, read “The Art of the Deal” and decided to base a new show on it, “The Apprentice,” with Trump as the star. The first season of the show, which premièred in 2004, opens with Trump in the back of a limousine, boasting, “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 is now seeking an apprentice. O’Brien said, “ ‘The Apprentice’ is mythmaking on steroids. There’s a straight line from the book to the show to the 2016 campaign.”

It took Schwartz a little more than a year to write “The Art of the Deal.” In the spring of 1987, he sent the manuscript to Trump, who returned it to him shortly afterward. There were a few red marks made with a fat-tipped Magic Marker, most of which deleted criticisms that Trump had made of powerful individuals he no longer wanted to offend, such as Lee Iacocca. Otherwise, Schwartz says, Trump changed almost nothing.

In my phone interview with Trump, he initially said of Schwartz, “Tony was very good. He was the co-author.” But he dismissed Schwartz’s account of the writing process. “He didn’t write the book,” Trump told me. “I wrote the book. I wrote the book. It was my book. And it was a No. 1 best-seller, and one of the best-selling business books of all time. Some say it was the best-selling business book ever.” (It is not.) Howard Kaminsky, the former Random House head, laughed and said, “Trump didn’t write a postcard for us!”

Trump was far more involved in the book’s promotion. He wooed booksellers and made one television appearance after another. He publicly promised to donate his cut of the book’s royalties to charity. He even made a surprise trip to New Hampshire, where he stirred additional publicity by floating the possibility that he might run for President.

In December of 1987, a month after the book was published, Trump hosted an extravagant book party in the pink marble atrium of Trump Tower. Klieg lights lit a red carpet outside the building. Inside, nearly a thousand guests, in black tie, were served champagne and fed slices of a giant cake replica of Trump Tower, which was wheeled in by a parade of women waving red sparklers. The boxing promoter Don King greeted the crowd in a floor-length mink coat, and the comedian Jackie Mason introduced Donald and Ivana with the words “Here comes the king and queen!” Trump toasted Schwartz, saying teasingly that he had at least tried to teach him how to make money.

Schwartz got more of an education the next day, when he and Trump spoke on the phone. After chatting briefly about the party, Trump informed Schwartz that, as his ghostwriter, he owed him for half the event’s cost, which was in the six figures. Schwartz was dumbfounded. “He wanted me to split the cost of entertaining his list of nine hundred second-rate celebrities?” Schwartz had, in fact, learned a few things from watching Trump. He drastically negotiated down the amount that he agreed to pay, to a few thousand dollars, and then wrote Trump a letter promising to write a check not to Trump but to a charity of Schwartz’s choosing. It was a page out of Trump’s playbook. In the past seven years, Trump has promised to give millions of dollars to charity, but reporters for the Washington Post found that they could document only ten thousand dollars in donations—and they uncovered no direct evidence that Trump made charitable contributions from money earned by “The Art of the Deal.”

{CONTINUED ON THE NEXT POST ON ABYSSUM.ORG}

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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One Response to THE MORAL LIFE: THE ART OF THE CON, Part Four

  1. HOW AMAZING O VISITED ATLANTIC CITY WITH BILLY MY LATE WIFE AND I AWAY BACK IN THE 1960/70 YEARS …WHAT IS ALMIGHTY JESUS TELLING ME TODAY …COULD ONLY BE MANKIND IS NOW LIVING END TIMES AND TRUMP AND CLINTON FAMILY ARE PLAYING LEADING PARTS …AMEN

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