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Trump: The Art of the Deal.

Trump: The Art of the Deal.

While reading the 41-year-old's autobiography, I kept hearing Trump issue that wheedling proposal between the smooth, co-written lines on the page. The book stands as a monument to Trump's enormous shrewdness and self-regard. Like his other monuments, it bears his name and is decorated in marble and gilt--marble-printed endpapers, a gold-faced jacket that takes longer than the book to manufacture. This is a book you can tell by its cover. Trump is showing off what he's worth and thereby advertising the saddest effect of pure capitalism on personality: the person as product. And now Trump is selling to a larger market. He wants a national image, but not the one he's got in New York as a ruthless arriviste.

Among other things, trump wants to be considered an artist. Money's status is plainly sinking, and Trump is scrambling for a lifeboat. It irritates him that architecture critics are accorded cultural esteem while casino operators and real estate developers have litte. He protests that he doesn't do it for the moolah, but for creative fulfillment. "Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals," he writes at the start.

The stories that follow don't exactly bolster Trump's case. "The relevant issue ... [is] what I get to keep," he says. Or, "skyscrappers are machines for making money." Ditto, casinos. chapters end with eight-digit sums of what he netted. The serrated contous of the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, Trump informs us, is not some avant-garde architectural conceit, but a means of maximizing windowed walls so he can charge even more for apartments.

Even when Trump's giving it away he's tryping to make it. In one episode, he rescues an "adorable little lady" in Georgia from farm foreclosure after her husband commits suicide. Trump leads a collection for $100,000, then presents the check. But consider: that farmwoman was Tom Brokaw's story; NBC put Trump in touch with her; and while Trump was raising the $100,000, he was urging NBC to relocate its headquarters to his Television City site in New York. The whole foreclosure charade was a way of impressing NBC. No dice; NBC stayed in condo-less Rockefeller Plaza.

Trump's no artist, he's artful. His gift is lining up the many sides of a deal by "jiggling provisional commitments." He avoids risk, seldom tells the whole truth, and likes to put no money down. He can employ strongarm pressure or back off laughing. By casual feints, he gets people to sign letters of intent they will regret.

It's a craft for the media age--using the press ot panic politicians and rivals. We see Trump "hyping my plans to the press but in reality getting nowhere," or showcasing an ugly "as-of-right" model of a building in order to say, "This is all I could build the way things stand." By such manipulations, Trump has frequently won big tax breaks from New York's politicians.

These antics are further marred by Trump's concealments. Manhattan, inc. has pointed out tat his version of what he did to tenants who blocked his plans for a glass tower on Central Park South is mild compared to the ugly reality. Then there's his apology for destroying the Bonwit building's prized friezes, which he had promised to the Metropolitan useum of Art. Trump says preserving the Friezes would have cost him hundreds of thousands in weeks of delays on the Trump Tower--a ridiculous assertion from the man who, in the blink of an eye (and, yes, amazingly) built an iceskating rink that the city government had bungled for more than five years. (Besides, a spokesman said at the time that saving the friezes would have cost $32,000.) Trump's "regret" over the Bonwit incident ("I was too young...") is further undercut by his three-word mention of "certain iron grillwork" he aso promised the Met. In fact, this was a 15-by-25 foot nickel Art Deco piece that Trump ordered cut up (and presumably sold). So much for the art of the deal.

And the consequences of these deals? Some are truly beneficial (jobs, revitalization) but in large part they result in the creation of luxury apartments on public subsidy and gaming halls that appeal to people's most pathetic motives. Trump shows little interest in such questions of social responsibility. There's no real concern with other people in this book. Reflective bits make him squeamish. "Growing Up" takes 11 pages, including a glimpse of the wreckage of an older brother, dead at 43, who didn't meet his developer dad's (or developer brother's) expectations and turned to drink" "...the pressures of our particular family were not for him," Trump says, hurring on to the deals.

And the future? Reined in, Trump might make an effective public servant: the next Democratic administration could call him on his promise to give something back and appoint him to head a Works Project Administration of build a bullet train. But then, it's hard to see Richard Gephardt reining in the megalomaniacal Trump, a guy who once gave his second-grade music teacher a black eye after deciding he knew more than the teacher about music. As for elective office, it would be crazy to give it to Trump for the very reason (admirably again) that he won't take his companies public--he wants to make his own decisions. thus my recommendation: no deal.
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Author:Weiss, Philip
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1988
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