When Donald Trump married Melania in 2005, he was asked if he would stay with his wife if she emerged from a car accident disfigured… ‘How do the breasts look?’ Trump asked. ‘That’s very important.’ In his bestselling books, Trump cast himself as the irresistible lust object, never the groper, always the grope. As much power as women might wield … Trump rarely let the opportunity pass to proclaim his own virility.”
As America battles the storm raging over Trump’s latest misogynistic remarks on women, the above excerpt is eerily prescient. America knew it; book after book and media reports after media reports had revealed it. His success was the symbol of the American dream, yet his story epitomises the ostentation, brashness and vulgarity of New York in the 1980s. Trump Revealed beautifully captures Trump’s complete ownership of his journey of ambition, ego, money and power, where men, as well as women, are just means to achieve an end—where deals, power and fame combined to create a monster of a myth.
Trump Revealed is easily the most researched and surprisingly even-handed argument against the US presidential candidate from The Washington Post team presided over by Marty Baron, a Pulitzer-winning newspaper editor (remember the Oscar-winning Spotlight?). It is a work of journalism meticulous in pursuit of its unstated goal—unravelling the clear and present danger to the survival of American democracy.
Weeks before the book was released, The Post’s editorial board unveiled that goal: “Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew… Any one of these characteristics would be disqualifying; together, they make Mr Trump a peril.”
Based mainly on 20 hours of interviews conducted over three months with Trump, and impressive research, veteran Post journalists Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher have written this book with the assistance of more than 20 reporters, three editors, two fact-checkers and a remarkable amount of restraint. The newspaper is still on Trump’s banned list, and he has since tried to disown much of the book—which is why The Post has made publicly accessible, searchable and downloadable its reporting archives of nearly 400 documents, which, while scrubbed for legalities, include “thousands of pages of interview transcripts, court filings, financial reports, immigration records and other material”. The book brings to light little-known yet jaw-dropping details of Trump’s life:
-Trump often invested in businesses he knew nothing about, and his failures are as big as his successes—the three glitzy gambling businesses in Atlantic City that had to be shut down; his messy, public divorces; his corporate bankruptcies; his beauty pageant businesses, and his reality TV and Playboy forays that may have bolstered his image, but might also have played down his credibility as a serious business magnate.
-A super-busy man, Trump never had much time for anything, even his women; they were all of a certain type—leggy, blonde and ample-chested—their purpose only to adorn his side to impress the viewer. He regretted giving Ivana, his first wife, responsibility within his business. He once asked an executive to send him a vital report on China and trade in three pages: “I’m a very efficient guy. I want it short.”
-As his empire grew, he began drinking his diet sodas through a straw, and only when they came from Norma—his executive assistant who died in 2013—because he was too afraid of others’ germs. He also stopped shaking hands with people.
-Trump had never really had close friends. He didn’t care about close relationships and ran through people—men as well as women—and only once looked shaken when three of his casino executives died in a helicopter crash and he had to deliver the news to their families.
-Legal threats were as much a part of Trump’s business tactics as brash talk, publicity stunts and the renegotiation of deals. USA Today recently reported that there are “about 3,500 legal actions involving Trump, including 1,900 where he or his companies were a plaintiff and about 1,300 in which he was the defendant.” Many of those were focused on those who questioned his wealth or his taste—most were media persons or groups.
-Trump’s net worth has been valued variously between $250 million and
$10 billion—the larger claims being Trump’s own valuation that included branding and perception. As Trump so brilliantly described it, “the value of the brand is very valuable”. Yet there have not been independently audited records, nor tax returns disclosed for 18 years.
-He was a bully in childhood, with a psyche that must have been satisfied with military schooling where he excelled. Trump punched his second-grade music teacher, who said, even as he lay dying, as Trump began his run for presidency, “even as a 10-year-old, that kid was a little shit”. Trump also made light of his Penn U degree in real estate—although he claimed he was educated and intelligent, he said he could never finish any biography of an American president for lack of time.
The book makes it clear that more than money, Trump had pursued cultivating his own brand his whole life. He always read celebrity articles about himself; “…he diligently tried to review everything written or said about him”. He once said, “When people get tired of you is when you do more publicity, because that’s when you become an icon.” Marketing blitzes for his book Trump: The Art of the Deal “was all about being high visibility”, as per Peter Osnos, who edited the book for Random House.
Trump learned the art of the “counterattack with overwhelming force” from Roy Cohn, senator Joseph McCarthy’s former right-hand man, whom he hired to counter-sue the federal government after the justice department took action against the Trump family firm in 1973 for violating the Fair Housing Act and found them guilty. Cohn, who represented the builder for 13 years and also taught him “All press is good press”, was disbarred just before his death from Aids in 1986, but succeeded in introducing Trump to New York’s influential social and political circles.
Challenged with evidence that he had changed party affiliation seven times between 1999 and 2012, Trump defended his political flip-flopping as necessary. “I think it had to do more with practicality because if you’re going to run for office, you would have had to make friends,” he said. Funnily, he had hosted a packed penthouse fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and made campaign contributions six times over a decade, but never admitted to voting for her.
The book also reveals Trump’s shady business deals—from a mortgage venture described as a ‘boiler room’ to a pyramid-type vitamin sales scheme for which he just lent his name—that brought him easy millions and made him qualified, by his own admission, to run for President. He wanted “the love and respect of middle America” and he was rich. What else was really needed?
As the book describes, “Trump believed that his fame and success would catapult him to a level of power that he deserved because he had made so much money… He could, for example, make America great again”, a slogan he was proud of coining. And like many other products of uniquely American machine of celebrity, he almost brought that to pass. From betting odds of 1:150 in March 2015, Trump became, in a very short while, a real contender, a hatemonger, an expert manipulator of the crowd.
The media may yet prove to be his nemesis, his ultimate unraveller. After his worst ever week in the run-up to the elections, the man who had always basked in a parasitic yet counter-intuitive relationship with the press, is now faced with all of his skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard, fuelled by some ferocious print media work such as in The Post and The New York Times. Thanks to their heroic efforts, if Trump were to lose, he will have only those groups to blame he has brandished all his hate against—immigrants, minorities and women! What a delicious irony that would be.
Paromita Shastri is a former financial journalist