He is one of the world’s most famous businessmen, the founder of the Trump organization’s global empire of glittering towers, hotels, and golf courses—and on the side, he is the host of one of America’s hottest television shows. Relaxing recently in his New York City office with stunning views of Fifth Avenue and Central Park, Donald Trump spoke to me about his take on a range of issues. A lightly edited transcript follows:
Jeffrey Lord: China is now about to overtake the U.S. as the world’s number one economy. What’s the problem with American leadership?
Donald Trump: They don’t understand the challenge. And the challenge is only going to get worse, and China is two years ahead of schedule. Our leaders are impotent. They have no idea what’s going on with respect to China—I can also say with respect to Russia, and virtually every other place on the planet. But China, what they have done economically is incredible. They have taken our jobs, they make our products, they have done so brilliantly for themselves and it’s hard to believe we allow it to happen.
We have all the cards. We built China. Because the money they’ve sucked out of this country has gone to build bridges and schools and roadways and everything, things that we don’t have, that we can’t build. And on top of it they then loan us money. So China is a huge problem and it’s only gotten worse. It’s inconceivable that our leaders don’t see the China problem in this country.
JL: What should be the approach to helping business thrive again? Has President Obama poisoned the atmosphere?
DT: The president has absolutely poisoned people’s minds, and he’s using a very populist approach—where, you know, everybody can live very nicely and nobody has to work. But this was always a country that was based on work. And the sad fact is that this is not the first time this has happened to a country. Those countries have all failed eventually. It’s only upon the failure that something can come out of it. Because it’s very hard to beat the rhetoric of “gee whiz, we’re going to have an income redistribution in this country.” Problem is nobody’s going to be working. That’s when it gets corrected, historically. And that’s something that shouldn’t happen to us.
Hopefully we don’t have to go down that path. But when it gets fixed is when it blows up. It will blow up, if that’s going to be the case. But the minds of so many have been poisoned by President Obama that it’s really an incredible thing. An incredible thing has taken place.
JL: The French economist Thomas Piketty has written a book called Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in which he opposes almost any accumulation of wealth. How would you answer him?
DT: You’re not going to have very many people working in this world if that were the case. People need the incentive and it’s a tremendous incentive. A thing like that would destroy jobs, it would destroy health care, it would destroy education, it would destroy the world as we know it in free-market societies. And many of them are doing extremely well. You need the incentive to create wealth, and that incentive brings about jobs and all the other things that jobs mean.
JL: How should Republicans structure a message to counter class warfare rhetoric that paints them as anti-poor and anti-middle-class?
DT: Well, I see firsthand the dishonesty of the press, because probably nobody gets more press than I do. As an example, last week I was on a Fox program, and I very much lambasted Donald Sterling. And then at the very end I said: “On top of which, he has the girlfriend from hell.” And the haters and the very dishonest reporters who have their own agenda, they didn’t cover what I said about Donald Sterling. They only took the girlfriend from hell and they said, “Oh he’s not blaming Donald Sterling. He’s defending Donald Sterling. He’s blaming the girlfriend.”
The press is extremely dishonest. Much of it. Some of it I have great respect for, and they’re great people and honorable people. But there’s a large segment of the press that’s more dishonest than anybody I’ve seen in business or anywhere else. And the one thing you have to do is you have to inform the public. The public has to know about the dishonesty of the press because these are really bad people and they don’t tell the truth and have no intention of telling the truth. And I know who they are and I would expose them 100 percent. And I will be doing that. I mean, as I go down the line, I enjoy exposing people for being frauds and, you know, I would be definitely doing that. I think it’s important to know. Because a lot of the public, they think, oh, they read it in the newspaper, and therefore it must be true. Well many of the things you read in the newspaper are absolutely false and really disgustingly false.
JL: You recently spoke at a GOP “freedom summit,” sharing the stage with Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee. What does it say that people respond to someone like you who is not a Washington insider?
DT: I went to New Hampshire recently and I made a speech. And I was told by everybody it was the best speech, it had the biggest applause. It was by far the biggest applause. By the way, I was the only one on the front page [of the Manchester Union-Leader]. And a couple of the articles said, “Mr. Trump had a smattering of applause.” And I said to myself, what is it—I had a five-minute standing ovation when I finished. And nobody else got that. You know, again, they have to reflect what’s going on. And even people that were up there said “Wow! That was amazing!” ’cause they actually said he had a smattering. The fact is, you know, I do draw big crowds.
JL: How many jobs have you created over the years?
DT: Oh, tens of thousands. Even now, I mean, in four weeks I start work on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., right between the Capitol and the White House. Right smack in the best location, the old Post Office. And we’re creating tremendous numbers of jobs. We’re basically rebuilding it as one of the great hotels of the world. See, there’s a thing you couldn’t do without tremendous incentives. You know it’s a very expensive project. A lot of people are going to be employed, a lot of jobs created. And as you know, I’m in the process of—pretty close to—finishing up at Trump National Doral, eight-hundred acres right in the middle of Miami. So you know, I mean, we have tremendous jobs, we have jobs going up all over the world.
JL: What’s your take on Al Sharpton and his career?
DT: I know Al Sharpton very well. In fact he was up to my office not so long ago to apologize ’cause he made a statement that was false, and he came up and apologized to me actually. Which people don’t know, but that’s okay. Al is doing his thing. He’s just doing his thing. He’s been a survivor for a long time, a lot of bad things have happened to him—Tawana Brawley was a disaster—and yet he survived it. Very few people could have survived that, because, you know, what happened was wrong.
I’ve always had a very good relationship with Al Sharpton. We are from different worlds in a sense. I thought it was very nice when he came up to apologize. I know more about Al Sharpton than Al Sharpton knows about himself. But I think this: We have a very disunited country. More disunited I think than it’s ever been—not including the Civil War. But I think other than bullets flying, we’re probably even worse. I would know how to unite the country. I get along with many of the people that you would say—as an example, Al Sharpton. I mean Al Sharpton, whether he is admits it or not, really likes Donald Trump, OK? And you know, he did actually come up to apologize ’cause he said something that was a little bit too far out, and he came up and apologized, and I thought that was nice. But Al Sharpton, whatever he does, really does like Donald Trump. I don’t know if it’s good for his people, the people he’s catering to, to hear that, but that happens to be the fact. I mean I’ve gone to fights with Al Sharpton—Don King is Al Sharpton’s friend—and I’ve been with them at, you know, many fights. But you know what? The bottom line with Al Sharpton? He’s doing his thing. He’s doing his thing.
JL: What does American Exceptionalism mean to you?
DT: Well, I think it’s a very dangerous term in one way, because I heard Putin saying, “Who do they think they are, saying they’re exceptional?” You can feel you’re exceptional, but when you start throwing it in other countries’ faces or other people’s faces, I actually think it’s a very dangerous term to use. Well, I heard that Putin was saying to somebody—you know I had the Miss Universe contest over in Moscow recently, six months ago, and Putin, by the way, treated us unbelievably well. And it was at that time that Putin said, “Who do they think they are saying they’re exceptional?” And I understand that. You know, he said, “Why are they exceptional? They have killings in the streets. Look at what’s going on in Chicago and different places. They have all of this turmoil, all of the things that are happening in there.”
And I can tell you that there are many countries throughout the world that are extremely angry with that term American Exceptionalism. Countries that are doing better than we are—far better than we are. You’re looking to get along with the world, and you say you’re exceptional? So I never particularly like the term. I think you can think it, but I’m not sure it’s something that you should necessarily be talking so much about. By the way, when Reagan used it we were a more exceptional country, OK? We were a more exceptional country. When Reagan used it you had no idea that China would be beating us economically and taking over in two months the mantle of being the great economic power.
JL: How do you see the role of government versus the individual?
DT: Well, I think you want to keep government as small as you can. We need government. We need military protection. We need certain things from government that are vital. I mean, you have some people who would like to see us have no government at all, and that’s obviously called anarchy. But you certainly want to keep government as small as possible.
One of the things that I feel strongly about is making America great again, making America rich again. You can’t be great if you’re not rich. And when I see the Republicans wanting to cut Social Security, wanting to cut Medicare, wanting to cut all of it—by the way, the Democrats never mention this, they want to do a big number on Medicaid—I feel differently. I feel that I want to make this country—if I were president—I’d want to make this country so rich, we have such potential, that you wouldn’t have to take away and start cutting people’s Social Security and Medicare. Now, you do want to take all the fraud and abuse out, which is a huge number. It has to run properly.
And you know Obamacare is a disaster. You can have a much better plan for far less money. And what we have now is a total catastrophe. But what I would do is make the country strong and make the country rich, and once you make the country rich, you don’t have to worry so much about cutting people’s medical care and cutting Social Security and the kind of things Paul Ryan and others are talking about—because I don’t think, frankly, that they’re doing the right thing. I think that people have worked all their lives—you have many great people in this country—and I don’t think they should be talking about cutting their different elements of life after a certain period of time. That’s something you’re not hearing from Republicans. Unless our country is going to be rich again, you’re going to have no choice but to cut everything and cut it down to the bone. And I don’t want to see that happen.
JL: Well before September 11, 2001, you suggested that the U.S.—New York in particular—could be hit by a serious terrorist attack. What should be done about terrorism?
DT: Well, I actually said a long time ago—and some people say I was the first to really say it—that terrorism would be a huge problem. I wrote it in my book. But I predicted terrorism. To me it was inevitable. Terrorism also comes through weakness. You know, when you’re weak terrorism comes. Terrorism is a terrible thing. You don’t see them; it’s not an army fighting an army and everybody has a different uniform. You don’t know who they are, what they are. But one thing we need is strength. The other thing, I mean, this court system is so messed up that these terrorists, they go on trial, they’re on trial for twenty-five years. And people who you know are guilty—this isn’t a question of “I wonder whether or not they did it?”—you have trials that are going on for twenty and twenty-five years. And these guys die of natural causes before the trial is over. You have to do speedy justice and it has to be very severe. Very severe.
JL: Your children are all involved in the Trump organization in a major way. Not all children of famous or successful parents turn out so well. Do you have a message for parents in this area?
DT: One thing that was always important to me with my children is no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes. And I used to, from the time they were two years old and started understanding words, I would always say no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes. I would say it to them loud and clear, and I would say it strongly. To a point where I remember Ivanka once saying, “Dad, don’t say it anymore.” But I would say it, because I have so many friends that have very smart kids, but they got involved with drugs and alcohol and other things, and their kids are a basket case right now.
Life is tough anyway, and when you start drinking or when you have, you know, things like drugs available, start taking drugs, you don’t have a chance. You don’t give yourself a chance. A lot of people ask me about my children—and so far my children have done very well. You always have to say “so far,” ’cause you don’t know what’s around the corner. And you could get some really unpleasant surprises that you never knew about. But I would always lecture my children, no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes.