by Bob Wheeler


We are currently witnessing a presidential campaign unlike any that we have seen in a very long time.  Angry, frustrated voters have turned their backs on traditional politicians, the governors and senators that traditionally run for president, and have embraced instead outsider candidates, some with no prior government experience at all.  Even the two U.S. senators still in the race, Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, are both viewed as outsiders.  And at the center of it all is the brash and flamboyant Donald Trump.

But who exactly is “the Donald”?  What is he really like?  What kind of president would he make?  We get some picture of the man in his best-selling book, Trump: The Art of the Deal (Ballantine, 2015).  Here we catch a glimpse of how he became such a successful businessman.  He possesses a rare combination of traits and qualities that destined him for success.  He has plenty of drive and ambition, a shrewd understanding of human psychology, a firm grasp of economic reality, and the uncanny ability to recognize a good opportunity when he sees one.  He is also very good at managing the building projects he undertakes.  He chooses contractors carefully, and works with them closely to make sure that the projects stay on schedule and under budget.

But part of his success as a businessman also stems from the fact that he can be a manipulator.  As he himself explains it in The Art of the Deal, you need to use your leverage in order to make a deal, and “leverage often requires imagination,” as he delicately put it.  He cites as an example the attempt he made to get Holiday Inns to go into partnership with him on an Atlantic City casino.  “They were attracted to my site because they believed my construction was farther along than that of any other potential partner.  In reality, I wasn’t that far along, but I did everything I could, short of going to work at the site myself, to assure them that my casino was practically finished” (pp. 53,54).  As Trump summarized his method, “I’m the first to admit that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win” (Ibid., p. 108).

He is also supremely egotistical.  After all, most of The Art of the Deal is about himself and his successful career.  And in his book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again (Threshold Editions, 2015), in which he outlines his campaign themes, his main argument is that he is a smart, successful businessman who knows how to get things done, while conventional politicians, he would have us to believer, are all stupid and incompetent.

Trump can also be vindictive as well.  He puts it this way: “In most cases I’m easy to get along with.  I’m very good to people who are good to me.  But when people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard” (The Art of the Deal, pp. 58,59).  At one point he gave a woman a good job in his organization.  But later, when he needed her help and she refused, he never forgave her. “This woman was very disloyal, and now I go out of my way to make her life miserable” (quoted in George Beahm, Trump Talk, Adams Media, 2016, p.121).

So what would Donald Trump do if he were to become President?    In Crippled America he lays out a litany of complaints – uncontrolled immigration, ineffective foreign policy, a failed school system, a sick economy, and a crumbling infrastructure – but he is a little vague when it comes to solutions.  He wants to build a strong national defense and repair a crumbling infrastructure.  He does not want to touch Social Security or Medicare benefits.  He wants to reform the tax code by closing loopholes and lowering marginal rates.  He says this would be revenue neutral.  But how, then, would this close the huge budget deficit gap?  He claims that he can reduce the national debt by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, and by promoting economic growth.  But politicians have been promising this for generations – and the national debt keeps on ballooning.  Trump is basically asking the voters to trust him because he knows how to get things done.

And the social issues he has a mixed record.  He acknowledges his indebtedness to a former pastor, Norman Vincent Peale, the famous author of The Power of Positive Thinking.  But he has made his fortune in the casino industry, has been married three times and divorced twice, and always insists on having a prenuptial agreement before getting married.  He was once quoted as saying, “But there comes a time when you have to say, ‘Darling, I think you’re magnificent, and I care for you deeply, but if things don’t work out, this is what you’re going to get’” (Trump Talk, p. 148).

On abortion he says that he is pro-life, but he hasn’t always felt that way.  He says that one of the things that changed his mind was when the wife of one of his friends became pregnant.  At first the friend did not want her to go through with the pregnancy, but changed his mind after the baby was born.  It changed Trump’s mind on abortion as well.  “And you know here’s a baby that wasn’t going to be let into life.  And I heard this, and some other stories, and I’m pro-life . . .” (Trump Talk, p. 48).

Donald Trump has the potential to be a truly effective, perhaps even great, U.S. President.  If he surrounds himself with good advisors, if he uses his negotiating skills effectively, he could become a forceful leader who will leave his mark on history.  But he could just as easily turn out to be a disaster, or even worse, an outright dictator if things don’t turn out his way.  The way he is running his campaign is pure demagoguery, and it bodes ill for the future of the Republican Party and of American democracy.