Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trump and Me by Mark Singer (Book Review #44 of 2016)

Trump and Me

The foreword to this book, by David Remnick, suggests that Trump really decided to run for President after being the butt of several jokes delivered by President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Trump's run for the Presidency is as much about proving people wrong about his ability to do it as it is about putting his name, his brand in the most highly-visible peace of real estate possible-- the White House.

First, Singer isn't some young opportunist-- he's in his 60s and has spent over 40 years writing for The New Yorker. Second, Singer published this Kindle Single basically just to make money. It is "meta" in that it is about an article he wrote for the magazine many years ago, it's a reminiscince and a look back at his notes. Singer wrote the profile in 1997, and recounted it in his 2005 book Character Studies. When a New York Times reviewer of Character Studies mentions the piece on Trump, Trump writes a disparaging letter to the Times which catapults Singer's book up the Amazon sales ranking from 45,638 to 385. Singer writes a thank you note to Trump and a $37.82 check for what he estimates to be a percentage of the royalties earned. Trump returns the letter with a scrawl: "“MARK, YOU ARE A TOTAL LOSER! AND YOUR BOOK (AND WRITINGS) SUCKS! BEST WISHES, DONALD. P.S. AND I HEAR IT IS SELLING BADLY," but Singer notices that Trump cashed the $37.82 check.

That, in a nutshell, is Donald Trump. In 1996, Singer determined that The Donald was hollow:
"All of (this) informs my conclusion that he does not have an interior life. The penultimate line: 'He had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul'" (p. 15).

Nothing much has really changed since then. No need to buy this book, just read the New Yorker piece. (Interestingly, in Trump's letter to the NY Times he claims to be somewhat widely read: "I’ve read John Updike, I’ve read Orhan Pamuk, I’ve read Philip Roth. When Mark Singer enters their league, maybe I’ll read one of his books" (p. 17)).

But if you must know what's in this book you'll see the many faces of Trump. He's sexist and shallow (p. 14):
TRUMP: “You really want to know what I consider ideal company?”
ME: “Yes.”
TRUMP: “A total piece of ass.”

He's a narcissist (as seen on 60 Minutes):
"Everywhere inside the Trump Organization headquarters, the walls were lined with framed magazine covers, each a shot of Trump or someone who looked an awful lot like him" (p. 21).

He's had major debt issues, seems to thrive on them emotionally, and used his financial crisis to get out of his pre-nuptual agreement with Ivana (p.22-28). 
"Within seven weeks, he failed to deliver a forty-three-million-dollar payment due to bondholders of the Trump Castle Casino, and he also missed a thirty-million-dollar interest payment to one of the estimated hundred and fifty banks that were concerned about his well-being. An army of bankruptcy lawyers began camping out in various boardrooms" (p. 28).

He likes complicated deals:
“Whatever complicates the world more I do,” he said. Come again? “It’s always good to do things nice and complicated so that nobody can figure it out” (p. 34).

He likes watching basic action films:
"(H)e got bored and switched to an old favorite, a Jean-Claude Van Damme slugfest called Bloodsport, which he pronounced 'an incredible, fantastic movie.' By assigning to his son the task of fast-forwarding through all the plot exposition—Trump’s goal being “to get this two-hour movie down to forty-five minutes”—he eliminated any lulls between the nose hammering, kidney tenderizing, and shin whacking (p. 40).

He's also the aspiring diplomat:
"The list of superpower leaders and geopolitical strategists with whom Trump has engaged in frank and fruitful exchanges of viewpoints includes Mikhail Gorbachev, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff" (p. 44).  (Carter hit Trump up for a donation to his library as retold by Trump in The Art of the Deal.)

Even back in 1987, Trump was pondering a greater stage:
"Trump contemplated how, in a larger sphere, he could advertise himself as a doer and dealmaker. One stunt involved orchestrating an 'invitation' from the federal government to examine the Williamsburg Bridge, which was falling apart. Trump had no real interest in the job, but by putting on a hard hat and taking a stroll on the bridge for the cameras he stoked the fantasy that he could rebuild the city’s entire infrastructure. From there it was only a short leap to saving the planet. What if, say, a troublemaker like Muammar Qaddafi got his hands on a nuclear arsenal? Well, Trump declared, he stood ready to work with the leaders of the then Soviet Union to coordinate a formula for coping with Armageddon-minded lunatics" (p. 45).

Trump is friends with Russians. Alexander Lebed visits Trump's office during Singer's interview where they talk boxing.

Trump loves his own creations:
“This is the greatest apartment ever built. There’s never been anything like it. There’s no apartment like this anywhere. It was harder to build this apartment than the rest of the building. A lot of it I did just to see if it could be done. All the very wealthy people who think they know great apartments come here and they say, ‘Donald, forget it. This is the greatest’” (p. 50).

Singer gives his own character assessment of The Donald based on more recent events. Here's Trump as the rabid defender of his image:
"In the early nineties, Trump stiffed his creditors for eight-hundred million dollars, give or take. Later, whenever this fact was mentioned, he reflexively insisted that it had never happened. Except that it had, and subsequently no one with a lick of sense was willing to lend him fresh money. Gail Collins, of The New York Times, once referred to him as a 'financially embattled thousandaire.' Trump sent her a copy of one of her columns with, across her photograph, the chivalrous scrawl 'The Face of a Dog!' In 2005, Timothy O’Brien, then a Times colleague of Collins, published a book, TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald, in which he estimated Trump’s net worth at $150 million to $250 million. Not unpredictably, Trump sued for $5 billion, alleging that this lowball calculation constituted libel and defamation."

Singer criticizes Trump for criticizing John McCain while comparing his own battle against STDs as "Vietnam":
"It was unmistakably the same fearless and valiant Trump, who once, while discussing with Howard Stern the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, had observed, 'It’s amazing. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world. It is a dangerous world out there. It’s scary. It’s like Vietnam. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.'"

It's safe to say Singer is on the #NeverTrump list. Perhaps the biggest criticism should go to the media that fuels the Trump machine (p. 76):
"Leslie Moonves, the president and CEO of CBS, let the truth out a while back: 'It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS….This is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.'”

I give it 2.5 stars. Not much there, not really worth reading. It won't teach you much if you're already #NeverTrump and won't change your mind if you're voting for him.

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