Donald Trump, billionaire and unlikely presidential frontrunner, thinks you should read his first book. Right now would be a good time if you’re not busy. Or even if you are busy. Drop everything. Crack it open, lightweight!
“It's not good if we have dummies,” he declared at a recent Iowa press conference. “It's not good if our leaders are incompetent. It's not good if they've never read ‘The Art of the Deal,' one of the greatest books of all time, second to the Bible.”
Well, he cautioned, “way, way, way, deep second.” But still, you know, second.
Can this guy possibly be serious? Your guess is as good as ours. But a look at 1987’s “The Art of the Deal” reveals his legendary braggadocio isn’t just an egotist’s ego-tic. Trump purposefully uses his legendary self-regard – the best, classiest, most luxurious self-regard you can find – to build his brand and his empire.
Take it from the man himself, who acknowledges his use of “bravado” as a promotional tool. “I play to people’s fantasies,” Trump writes. “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”
There’s more. “I call it truthful hyperbole,” he adds. “It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.”
To recap, Trump likes a “little” bit of “innocent” exaggeration that’s still “truthful.” If we pursue this any further, we’ll vanish into a wormhole with Alice in Wonderland, a dictionary and the ghost of George Orwell. Instead, let’s look at some other Trumpian strategies from the mid-1980s – when he was in his early 40s – that he still observes today:
• Be nice but let ’er rip when you’re attacked.
The pundits of 2015 have noticed that Trump doesn’t tend to go after his presidential race foes until they criticize him first. Just ask Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, George Pataki, etc. When a Scott Walker ally called him “DumbDumb,” Trump declared that “finally, I can attack!”
This isn’t new. Trump has long resisted pre-emptive strikes, at least in theory. “I’m very good to people who are good to me,” he writes. “But when peopletreat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”He does so with blunt language, not fists. As USA Today notes, he has mocked a variety of celebrities with slurs like “loser,” “lightweight,” “moron,” “dummy” and “zero.”
“Art of the Deal,” in contrast, is more about advice and self-aggrandizement than score-settling. Trump doesn’t refer to anyone by those words in the book. In fact, he praises several people in “Art of the Deal,” often describing them as “nice” or “very nice.”
In 2015, Trump still likes to throw around the word “nice,” but you’d better duck if you hear him use it to describe you. He eviscerated both Jeb Bush and Ben Carson while describing them each as a “nice man.”
• It’s OK to go "wild"
Commentators are still marveling at Trump’s ability to survive vicious comments that would have doomed any other politician. But if “Art of the Deal” is to be believed, “sometimes it pays to be a little wild.”
Trump makes that comment after telling a story about how he successfully threatening a banker into not foreclosing on a Georgia widow he’d heard about on the news. He supposedly told the banker: “You listen to me. If you do foreclose, I’ll personally bring a lawsuit for murder against you and your bank, on the grounds that you harassed Mrs. Hill’s husband to his death.” The intimidated banker, the story goes, called back shortly and told “Mr. Tramp” that he’d work things out.
Remember, of course, that the author believes it’s fine to fine-tune the truth with a “little hyperbole.” But BuzzFeed reports that Trump truly did help save Mrs. Hill’s farm, and her family remains deeply grateful.
• You’ve gotta deliver
"You can’t con people, at least not for long,” Trump writes. “You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
Two wives and almost three decades later, Trump remains on top of the world. His foes hope voters will eventually “catch on” to his supposed inability to deliver. For now, however, the Summer of Trump continues, and the other GOP candidates are, to borrow a phrase, “way, way, way, deep second.”
Randy Dotinga, a Monitor contributor, is president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.