Nobody was happier, on listening to his daughter Ivanka, than Donald Trump the night of his coronation at the Republican Convention. Listening to Ivanka, he couldn’t repress a smile of pride, as if a squirrel, by a strange fate of Nature, had given birth to a lion. And he was right to be proud. The portrait Ivanka painted of him was that of a man so kind and full of love for his fellow human beings that he could easily be nominated to replace Pope Francis, should that be possible.
Alas, reality, as in all of our lives, always interferes. And from some unlikely quarters. In the last issue of The New Yorker Jane Mayer, in an article entitle “Trump’s Boswell Speaks” describes an interview with Tony Schwartz. Together with Trump -and by his own opinion only himself- Schwartz wrote The Art of the Deal, a book that –as if it were necessary- catapulted Trump’s fame among the general public.
The article describes how, when facing a crowd gathered in the lobby of Trump Tower, Trump laid out his qualifications to become the U.S. next President he said, “We need a leader that wrote The Art f the Deal.” Since Schwartz thought that he, not Trump, was the book’s author and therefore he should be the one running for President he tweeted: “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote The Art of the Deal.
By his own account, starting in late 1985, Schwartz spent 18 months with Trump, following him almost everywhere, attending meetings and even listening to Trump’s business phone conversations. Because of this almost unlimited access to Trump, Schwartz felt that he knew him better than anybody else outside his family. And the painting he draws of him is not precisely flattering.
Schwartz had a tremendous sense of responsibility in having helped Trump’s popularity with his book and wanted to set the record straight, given the increasing chances that Trump could become President. In June, he decided to break his silence and give his first interview about the person whom he had known while writing The Art of the Deal. He told Jane Mayer that if he were writing that book now he would give it quite a different title. Now he would call it The Sociopath, Schwartz said.
“I put lipstick on a pig. I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is. I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization,” Schwartz added.
The Art of the Deal is not the first time Schwartz wrote about Trump. In 1985 he wrote a widely read piece entitled “A Different Kind of Donald Trump Story,” for New York Magazine. In that article, Schwartz describes the heavy handed tactics that Trump used to get rid of rent-controlled and rent-stabilized tenants from a building that he had bought on a prime location on Central Park South, with a magnificent look to the park.
Trump’s tactics included a plan to house homeless people in the building in order to scare the tenants. This conveys an image of Trump as a ruthless man, at odds with the portrait of a compassionate and kind man drawn by Trump’s sons and daughter at the Republican convention.
Why is it, then, that a man with his characteristics can have such a strong popular appeal in the electorate? One explanation is that Trump plays with people’s prejudices and fears: fear of immigrants, fear of Muslims or fear of anybody whom people feel threatens their lives. There is something frightening in Trump’s tactics, which one feels could lead to an extreme polarization in society.
In characterizing him, one may feel tempted to apply to Trump what Mailer’s wife said about Mailer. When Sam Donaldson interviewed Norris Church, Norman Mailer’s sixth wife, he asked her how it was to live with a person like Mailer. She responded, “Well, Sam, it is like living in a zoo. One day Norman is a lion; the next he’s a monkey. Occasionally he is a lamb, and a large part of the time he’s a jackass.”