(This review is taken from The American Spectator’s February 2000 issue.)
The America We Deserve
Donald J. Trump with Dave Shiflett
Renaissance Books / 286 pages / $24.95
Reviewed by Dave Shiflett
Editors’ note: No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: This review is indeed written by the writer who co-wrote the book under review. The age of New Politics demands new approaches. So enjoy this New Review.
President Trump—now there’s a bold concept for this new millennium.
It’s not for everyone. Donald J. Trump, the nation’s most flamboyant billionaire, has deeply alarmed the political class by threatening to wade into its most sacred process and buy its most exalted office-without its permission! Politics Inc. is outraged. Murdoch’s Beltway Standard goes so far as to call Trump a chump—on its front page! Other Toadtown analysts, including the Washington Post’s fashion writer, insist the man has no substance.
But Trump has a great deal of substance—about $5 billion worth—and says he may be willing to spend $100 million to convince America that what it really needs is a real estate guy in its top political job. His budding relationship with politics also reflects the workings of a very canny political mind. A plurality of voters are now independent of party loyalty. Trump is independent—both of party and of financial worry. Or, as he puts it, Trump has one financial backer: Trump. And so this most independent of men is courting a nation increasingly populated by political individualists. It could be a potent equation.
So what’s the deal with Trump? In The American Spectator’stime-honored tradition of investigative journalism, we have looked beyond the glitter and gab to get the true picture of the man. In fact, it can be rightly said that we have written the book on Trump—and in this reviewer’s opinion it’s a pretty good read. Indeed, if America begins choosing its presidents according to the quality of the books they produce, Donald Trump will coast into that somewhat smallish white rambler on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The competition shall be trashed in due time. But first, in the service of history, it is important to chronicle how Trump’s latest book, The America We Deserve, came into being. Apparently by late 1998, Trump—from this point on, let me call him Mr. Trump—had become convinced that the time might be right for a run at the presidency. His name had been bandied about before; fellow New Yorkers had asked him to consider running for that city’s mayorship, or for governor. But why go for peanuts when the presidency, brought to a low state by Bill Clinton, is on the block?
Reviewing his assets, Mr. Trump found he held commanding leads in vital areas: money, name recognition (or, as it is more properly called, celebrity), youth, a mailing list of 6.5 million people, and chicks so beautiful they could raise the sap in a piano leg. He had some hopes and fears about America, and the suspicion that he was at least as competent to head the government as Clinton. All he needed was someone to help him put his bid to prose.
“Who is the most eminent hack writer in America?” Mr. Trump is said to have asked his pin-striped aide, Roger Stone. “I’ll make a few calls,” the latter is reported to have replied.
Soon enough, one of the great collaborative literary efforts of the modern era was born—the perfect union between a man of high achievement and a hack writer who, according to close friends, would write his own mother’s death warrant for a quarter a word. (Like Mr. Trump, this hack sometimes refers to himself in the third person.)
The first meeting between the two took place last spring in Mr. Trump’s 26th Floor Manhattan office, a Krugerrand’s toss from Central Park. Mr. Trump laid out his vision as his hack took furious notes. Occasionally the phone would ring and Mr. Trump would discuss the ups and downs of his fabled life. At one point, the name Bianca floated through the office like a gossamer-winged succubus. “This guy makes Warren Beatty look like a monk,” the hack marveled to himself.
But the most riveting moment came when Mr. Trump suddenly took on a far-away look while recalling a warning his uncle had given him while Mr. Trump was still a boy. His uncle, an MIT professor, foresaw the day of miniaturized weapons. “One day,” Mr. Trump quoted him, “somebody will be able to detonate a suitcase-sized bomb in Manhattan that will flatten the entire city.” Thus was born what is perhaps the most mesmerizing chapter in TAWD—one in which, among other things, Mr. Trump warns that under his presidency, North Korea could experience some live-ammo discipline.
But there are many other great chapters.
In fact, as any reader will be forced to admit, the book shows Mr. Trump to be a sensible and erudite fellow. What’s more, it provides the clearest exploration of America’s New Politics, which can be understood as the attempt by a highly diverse voter coalition to achieve a thoroughly American purpose: Throw the bums out. And in this case, put a rich guy in.
It is here that Mr. Trump’s political instincts come into play. He is not overly concerned that some dismiss him as a mere real estate guy with a few casinos on the side (and a few wives out to pasture). As he often points out, the so-called experts are wrong all the time, whether the subject is the economy, Communism, or the nature of the electorate. The major parties, he explained to his hack with a concision worthy of Richard Nixon, are headed toward foreclosure. Their most notable achievement has been to convert most voters into non-voters. As it stands, a plurality of voters consider themselves Independents. Trump posed a sensible question: Why not give this plurality a focus for its energies?
The most likely candidate for that focus is the Reform Party, the invention of another billionaire, Ross Perot, whose eccentricities bar him from carrying the organization forward (Trump did not put it this way, but no doubt believes it). Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, the most prominent Reform politician, is currently not interested in a presidential bid, and besides is a bit club-footed in the public relations department.
Mr. Trump’s only hurdle to the party’s nomination is P.J. Buchanan, who has infiltrated the Reform camp after suffering a string of ignominious batterings at the hands of Republican primary voters. Though not an announced candidate, Mr. Trump has unleashed op-ed pieces (also of high literary merit) in the Wall Street Journal and the LosAngeles Times in which he lunged directly for Buchanan’s quaking wattles. The Times piece was especially brilliant, in this reviewer’s estimation:
Buchanan has enjoyed a long psychic friendship with Hitler, whom he has called “an individual of great courage, a soldier’s soldier and a leader steeped in the history of Europe.” He argues that the gas chambers at Hitler’s Treblinka could not have actually killed Jews. He has gone to great lengths attempting to technically clear war criminals. And he has complained that Jews are obsessed with the Holocaust. Yes, the man who praises Hitler for being “steeped in the history of Europe” accuses Jews who are steeped in their history of engaging in “group fantasies of martyrdom.” Public discourse in this country doesn’t get any uglier than that.
So, what is the Trump vision? First and foremost, he desires to re-establish a high literary benchmark for national politicians. This puts him at considerable odds with the more “serious” candidates, whose rhetorical support for education is not reflected in the workings of their own minds.
Reading a book by Albert Gore, for instance, has much the same effect as sniffing glue. Gore’s embarrassing reliance on high-paid political adviser Naomi Wolf also illustrates another difference with Mr. Trump, who is universally recognized as America’s premier Alpha Male. Mr. Trump knows that one never pays a woman for her conversation, but only for her silence.
Bill Bradley’s output is little better. Though promoted, by himself and his retinue of toads, as the thinking person’s candidate, his 1996 memoir reveals instead a commonplace mind with a literary style to match:
Although my step-grandfather had emigrated for Germany at age twelve, and cooked spareribs and sauerkraut every Wednesday, and drank his beer each afternoon at four o’clock, I didn’t recognize these things as ethnicity. They seemed to be only individual habits. Even his stories about being lifted off the ground by disciplinarian schoolteachers pulling his ears were offered, and received, as stories of the perils of childhood in general rather than of a childhood spent in Germany. The German Americans of my youth were the women in South St. Louis who scrubbed the front steps of their homes every Saturday morning, occasioning my father to comment, “You can eat a meal off those Germans’ steps, they’re so clean.” Germans were the people who ate the big hot dogs and brewed Busch Bavarian Beer. What did I have in common with them—or with my Kroh ancestors, for that matter? I didn’t embrace or explore the German side of my family.
Bradley eventually rectified this shortcoming by marrying a woman whose father held a paid position in the Luftwaffe. Mr. Trump, though also of Northern European descent, is nonetheless quite clean in this regard.
More crucially, he is free of the highly offensive preening found in Bradley’s Life on the Run:
More probably, I wanted to keep my experience of basketball pure, as innocent and unpolluted by commercialism as possible. For many years basketball was my only passion in life. I was immune to the normal profusion of interests that accompany adolescence. I pressed my physical and emotional life into basketball alone, and it made for a very intense feeling. I felt about the court, the ball, and playing, the way people feel about friends. Playing for money compromised me enough. Taking money for hawking products demeaned my experience of the game. I cared about basketball. I didn’t give a damn about perfumes, shaving lotions, clothes, or special foods.
This is a rich piece of sanctimony from the man once known as “Dollar Bill” because of his enormous contract. More to the point, the passage exposes Bradley as yet another intellectual who developed a disdain for materialism after becoming quite comfortable.
Mr. Trump has completely avoided this phenomenon. Unlike Bradley, Mr. Trump does not disdain the finest fruits of the American dream. Quite the contrary. He celebrates the fact that he has shaken the Manna Tree, and as a result his storehouses are full. He is a firm friend of opulence. He has a framed Renoir in his private jetliner. His penthouse apartment would make Liberace blush. He is, as he said in an early draft of The America We Deserve,“the American dream, supersized version.” As the embodiment of earthly success, he is highly admired by lower-middle class Americans, many of them Hispanic and African American, who continue to admire the guys who have done well in the world.
TAWD will appeal to the established Trump constituency, but also hopes to show the author as worthy of wider support. To no surprise, the book starts out in New York City, with the author perched high in his eponymous skyscraper, scanning the horizon. He spies dark clouds approaching, including an economic downturn, perhaps of a severe nature. As a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, Mr. Trump is all too familiar with the doctrine of business cycles. What distinguishes him from major party candidates, however, is his willingness to suggest that the good times may soon come to an end—not only economically, but in matters of war and peace. “They’re scared to talk straight because they’re afraid it will cost them votes,” says Mr. Trump, who has promised that, if elected, he will serve only one term.
Mr. Trump is also convinced that a deadly biological or chemical attack could put America to its ultimate test: a choice between maintaining its status as a free society and superpower, or giving up some freedoms and betraying allies—especially Israel—in order to avoid further destruction. He rightly points out that most members of the “leadership class” refuse to discuss the bio threat. In an irony that Mr. Trump no doubt cherishes, a mere real estate guy has become the champion of the most serious, and largely unspoken, issues this nation faces.
To his credit, Mr. Trump also dismisses the niceties of our stale political discourse, preferring instead to practice the politics of personal destruction—at least if your name happens to be Castro, Kim, Bradley, Buchanan, or Lenora Fulani. Among other things, President Trump would:
• Extradite Fidel Castro to the United States and put him in the dock on charges of terrorism and murder. This proposal, which Trump introduced in a brilliant op-ed in the Miami Heraldand restated before cheering survivors of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, has put him in good stead with Cuban Americans. He dismisses State Department-types who cringe at this bold policy as “Beta Males from Beta Bottom.”
• Present North Korea—“a nation run by a family of certified maniacs”—with an option of either ending its nuclear weapons program or suffering an Israeli-like strike against its weapons facilities.
• Allow the parents of poor children to choose where their children go to school, even if vouchers are spent at religiously affiliated schools. Though friendly with trade unions, Mr. Trump is too wise and principled to seek NEA support.
• Support the constitutional right to free association, including the right to associate one’s money with whomever one desires. In direct contradiction to the strutting John McCain and Bradley, he insists that Americans be allowed to donate as much as they wish to political candidates, so long as all donations are made public the same day. Giving money to like-minded politicians, he argues, is guaranteed by the First Amendment. “We give pornographers a free reign, so why don’t we do the same for ordinary citizens?” he sensibly asks.
Mr. Trump points out that Bradley left the Senate not for the purpose of thinking deep thoughts away from Washington diversions, but only because he knew defeat was certain. AsMr. Trump memorably puts it, Bradley fled to Jersey “with his well-worn tail between his legs.”
Mr. Trump does have some political heroes, especially New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. That may have little appeal to a national audience, yet his defense of the mayor’s policies allows him to take a strong law-and-order position which plays well except among “photo-op moralists” and “moral streakers.” He has also staked out a sensible position on gun control: “If the bad guys have them, so should the good guys.” He is rumored to pack a piece himself, which should go over well in the South and Rocky Mountain West.
When not concerned with matters of state, Mr. Trump is a sharp critic of the culture, as one would expect from a guy who knows anybody who’s anybody, including Puffy Combs and Oprah. (He would like Oprah to be his running mate; Puffy, at this writing, is in the jug on a weapons charge.) It is reported that at least 20rap songs mention Mr. Trump, who appears to believe that celebrity may count every bit as much as government service as a vote-getter. If so, he might do well in urban areas.
TAWD is disappointing in a few areas. It does not, for instance, include a centerfold of Mr. Trump’s stunning girlfriend, Melania Knauss, who makes Jackie Kennedy look like Aunt Bea. Mr. Trump has also raised alarms in some constituencies with his repeated insistence that he has never drunk a glass of alcohol, smoked a cigarette, or even had a cup of coffee. While it was feared that Mr. Trump might be a stealth Mormon, a subsequent investigation found that he is a Mammon guy, but not a Mormon guy.
Historians of the presidency may be interested to know that Mr. Trump’s hack was earlier interviewed by former Vice President (U.S.) Dan Quayle about the possibility of writing Quayle’s campaign book. Quayle chose another writer, and the rest is well known: He soon ran out of money and his candidacy disintegrated. Mr. Trump, by contrast, chose wisely and currently enjoys assets of some $5 billion.
We are left with a single question: Will Mr. Trump run? He poses the question himself at the end of his book, and promises an answer in February or March, insisting he will run only if he becomes convinced he can win.
If this reviewer might offer a personal opinion, merely by running, Mr. Trump wins. The two major parties are steadily losing public support. The growing number of Independents and refugees from the two major parties indeed need a political focus. The Reform Party is the only available candidate.
Yet the Reform Party is at a crucial juncture. If Mr. Trump turns his back, Buchanan and his sister (how’d you like to end up in her dungeon?) take over and the party is totally marginalized. If he stays and fights, however, Mr. Trump not only wins the Reform Party nomination, but goes directly into the history books as a serious political figure.
The final chapter in the Trump saga has yet to be written. As a public service, I will offer a modest rate reduction after the first 500,000 words.