Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"The Art of the Deal" Co-Author Offers Insight to the Scary World of Donald Trump

by Nomad

Tony Schwartz, as the credited co-author of Trump: The Art of the Deal, has had more than his share of regrets. Despite his own evolved sense of ethics- instilled in him at an early age- he made the fatally easy of being lured into the Trump web.
Schwartz acknowledges that the bait was a combination of curiosity and the right price at the right/wrong time in his career.
His mea culpa is concisely summed up like this:
My association with Trump has quietly haunted and dogged me for thirty years in many ways the rest of my life has been a reaction to having written "The Art of the Deal."
On the eve of the presidential election, Schwartz appeared before The Oxford Union is the world's most prestigious debating society. It was an interesting speech with a lot of insights into what Schwartz found to be a grotesque and disturbing man. 

At the time, the writer could never have dreamt that Trump would one day occupy the White House. Not even in his most terrifying nightmares. 

The Three Qualities of Trump

Schwartz's career is not the stuff of hacks. He began writing back in 1975 and has been a columnist for The New York Post, an associate Editor at Newsweek, a reporter for The New York Times, and a staff writer at New York Magazine and Esquire.

In 1985, publishers convinced Trump that if he really wanted to ramp up his public image what he needed was a bestseller under his belt. Trump broached the idea of doing all the hard literary work to Schwartz, offering quite a lucrative deal. According to one source, the offer included a joint byline on the cover, half of the book’s five-hundred-thousand-dollar advance, and half of the royalties. It was an offer Schwartz couldn't refuse this "deal with the devil" According to Schwartz, Trump wrote none of the book.

From the start of their working relationship, Schwartz was soon to realize that Trump was a less-than-ideal literary subject. Trump was unable or unwilling to cooperate in what was supposed to be unabashed panegyric for a business titan-turned-pithy philosopher. 

It should have been a breeze. Trump, you'd think, would love talking about his favorite subject, himself and all of the things he did.  Yet, Trump's personality kept getting in the way. In the Oxford speech, he explains:
I arranged to meet Trump on Saturday mornings at his penthouse apartment in Trump Tower. My plan was to interview him for two or three hours at a time until I gathered enough material to write the book. I imagined it would take several dozen such meetings over the subsequent six or eight months.It didn't take me long to realize I was kidding myself.
In our very first interview, Trump became impatient after answering my questions after just a few minutes. He was more than willing to provide sound bites to virtually any reporter who called him at his office any time but it was nearly impossible to keep him focused on any single topic for more than five or ten minutes.
Trump, up close and personal, seemed to lack all ability to reflect on his past decisions. Like an undisciplined student, anything too involved bored him.  
He had a stunningly short attention span. "This is so boring," he would tell me with irritation a few minutes into any interview we did. "I don't want to talk about what already happened. It's the past. It's over."
Trump abhorred the idea of a retrospective examination. That was particularly problematic for the author since that would be the key function of the book.
If I managed to keep Trump answering my questions for 20 minutes, I considered it a major victory. He was like a kindergartener who couldn't sit still in a classroom.
Schwartz quickly realized that the real story- Trump's bizarre personality- was not the story he was being paid to write. Still, it was hard to ignore Trump's shortcomings. 
As I look back, three qualities- beyond his inability to focus- strike me as alarming when I imagined him as president.
The first is his utter disregard for the truth and his lack of conscience about that fact.
The second is that he is guided entirely by what he perceives as his immediate self-interest and the third is his inability to ever admit that he's wrong about anything. None of those qualities seem highly desirable in a president.
That's an understatement as unmistakable as Mount Rushmore.

Face Value

Having becoming thoroughly frustrated by Trump, the writer tried a new tact. If Trump was unable to provide the information for the book, Schwartz reasons, he would interview bankers and brokers and people who had had past deals with Trump. This, however, presented a new problem.
It was in these conversations that Schwartz quickly understood that he I realized I "couldn't take anything that Trump told me at face value."

Those conversations often directly contradicted the things Trump was claiming. Remember, this book was not supposed to be an investigative expose of Trump. It was planned as a commissioned accolade to The Donald. This might have been dismissed if not for the fact that the people Schwartz interviewed could provide evidence for their claims. 
This presented an ethical dilemma for the writer. The truth was not what Trump was paying for.

Struggle to rationalize this conflicts, Schwartz concluded that Trump "would stick into it even in the face of the most undeniable evidence to the contrary."
More than any human being I have ever met Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he's saying at any given moment is true or sort of true or at least ought to be true. To this day lying is second nature to him. Just one more way to gain advantage. If he was challenged about his facts, he doubled down.. Still does it today.
As president, we have all seen that Schwartz's observations from decades earlier have become today's national disgrace. His first month in office, when it was clear that Trump and his staff were grossly unqualified to lead the nation, he claimed that his administration was running smoothly.

It goes well beyond hyperbole and self-promotion. It is dishonesty and deception. His staffers, tasked with reconciling Trump's distorted world with demonstrable reality. were forced to promote the same lies and boasts. In one way or another, every person who enters into Trump's circle must accept his definitions and his reality. That, since January, has included the news media and his supporters.

As Schwartz said
Trump does not admit to being wrong he just keeps huffing and puffing till he blows you down.
That's a lot easier to do as a private citizen with teams of lawyers. As president, there are- much to Trump's chagrin- a system of checks and balances. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop him from trying.
We saw it during the campaign when he was reluctantly forced to admit that his long obsession with Obama's birth certificate was either a delusion on his part or a promotional hoax. His solution? He blamed Hillary Clinton for starting the nonsense that he based his entire campaign on. 
His twitter allegation that Obama had wiretapped him was repeatedly declared to be untrue by intelligence officials. Yet, even now, Trump refuses to admit he had misspoken. 

All this has led to speculation that Trump is somehow in mental decline. According to Schwartz, that's just Trump being Trump. He has always lived in his own warped world and now he demands the rest of the nation join him. 

When a Heart is a Black Hole

There was one simple question that the ghostwriter wrestled with: Why? What makes Trump tick? Trump liked to claim that he wasn't motivated by the money. It was the pleasure of making the deal, he claimed.
Schwartz came to a different and more disturbing conclusion. 
I began to think of this man as a black hole. There was nothing to sustain him inside so he looked entirely to the external world for nourishment. No amount of money or success or praise or attention was ever enough. I never saw any evidence that Trump had deep convictions or guiding core values which helps explain why he can shift positions so effortlessly and unashamedly from one day to the next. Every belief of Trump's struck me as negotiable for the right price or the right advantage.
His most abiding commitment and obsession and passion was proving to others that he was a winner whatever that seemed to require.
The clinical terms and categorization should be left to medical professions but, given the things that Schwartz noted, Trump's behavior certainly bears many of the traits of the psychopath. Most notably, Trump seems to have no sustaining friendships. His relationships are "entirely functional."
He was friendly to people who helped make his deals happen and unfriendly to those who stood in his way friendships came and went just as he just as did his wives and his girlfriends.
Indeed, with the exception of anger, Trump didn't traffic much in emotions of any sort. ..He could fly into a brief rage if he was challenged about any of his pronouncements.
Even that wasn't a genuine emotion. His explosive anger was a tool for intimidation.
Often Trump used his anger as a means to an end, an act he put on when he thought it served him well and dropped as soon as he felt it got him what he wanted. The same was true about Trump's beliefs. His ideology amounted to this: whatever- so long as I win and people notice.
Winning is so important to Trump that he has to falsify the number of people who attended the inauguration. Winning is so crucial that it means lying about the popular vote. Winning means changing the perimeters and warping the evidence to making losing impossible. This is Trump's creed and it is now the very thing we seen playing out.

Things Trump Has Never Had to Do

How does a person get this way? was the next question Schwartz wanted to address at the speech. It is something that he has obviously pondered long and hard over.
Trump grew up with a brutal father and a mother with whom he seems to have had virtually no relationship. It's oversimplifying to say that who he is as a product of having lacked love and care as a child and that he and his entire life looking for it in spent the external world.
It is too easy to blame Trump's anti-social behavior on a lousy childhood and unrequited parental love. In that regard, Trump isn't special.
After all, this is part of the human condition. All of us hunger for unconditional love and acceptance. Its absence is nearly always a source of sufferingHow this need is expressed is the key to understanding an individual personality.
Trump wears his most primitive instincts, his greed and his grandiosity, his lust and his envy right there on his sleeve. Most of us do a better job than he does at keeping these sorts of feelings under wraps.
Thanks to his protective but isolating wealth, that is something Trump has never had to do. There are a lot of things that Trump has never had to do.

He has never had to compromise on anything. Never had to admit defeat or that he was wrong, even when it was all too obvious. Never had to even care about anybody but himself. He has never had to pay a price for his arrogance and conceit. Never had to have the courage to do painful things. He has never had to reflect on his past. He has never had to question what went wrong in his marriages, whether he has done the best for his children.

Instead, Trump has always been allowed to simply rationalize, invent, and re-imagine the world with a series of alternative facts. He was always able to live in the world according to Trump.
And now Trump brings all this (and much much more) to the executive office. And that's not a good thing.

Trump's Only Good Deed

That brings us back to Schwartz's search for forgiveness. He is clearly a man who has spent a lot of time with his private demons. His bestseller helped to normalize a man that needed to be exposed. Today, that man has taken his place in the highest office, perfectly capable of destroying the planet and all of its inhabitants.
Trump has the ability to rationalize and explain away decisions that were less than honorable or ethical or kind.  In fact, Trump is not at all unique or alien. He is only an extreme version of what can happen to flawed mortals when they put immediate self-interest ahead of others.

That includes the Schwartz himself. He says:
When I wrote the "Art of the Deal" at the time I told myself that doing it wasn't that big a deal and wouldn't have any enduring many ways the rest of my life has been a reaction to having written "The Art of the Deal."
Schwartz struggled to free himself from the bitter aftertaste of his encounter with Trump. He wanted to "get as far as possible from the values that Trump represented." 
So, he sought people whose goals went "beyond their own immediate self-interest." People like professors, philosophers, and other writers.

In the years that followed, Schwartz was driven by a deep feeling
"to feel better about who I was and to believe that it was possible to reach some form of enlightenment to get to the promised land to truly move towards selflessness. If Trump represented one extreme of human behavior I wanted the other extreme.
This might just be the challenge that the US must accept if it is to survive the post-Trump world. To make America great again, we must find a way to absolutely reject Trump's brand.

In a purely unintentional way, perhaps Trump has done his good deed, very likely the only one he has ever done in life. He has presented a mirror to America and forced all of us to stare into it. The ugliness of greed, absolute self-interest, and the deception/self-deception and the repulsive stupidity are all on full display. Every day.
We can only hope that Trump's excesses will force the majority of Americans to examine their priorities, their conscious choices and what they believe in. 

Whether this is enough to sicken and disgust the nation is the question. Or will the majority of Americans simply decide to participate in Trump's dangerous delusions and forgo all thought of soul searching?

Here's the full speech, including an interesting Q&A session.