AN AMERICAN VIEW

The art of playing the Trump card

‘I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form’

FRED BRUNING January 30 1989
AN AMERICAN VIEW

The art of playing the Trump card

‘I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form’

FRED BRUNING January 30 1989

The art of playing the Trump card

‘I don’t do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form’

AN AMERICAN VIEW

FRED BRUNING

To a young person studying business administration, the success of Donald Trump is more than inspiration. It is hallucinogen, aphrodisiac—plastique moulded to an inner corner of the soul and set to detonate before the age of majority has been achieved. “He’s great,” said one such aspiring billionaire recently, clutching a copy of Trump’s ghostwritten volume, Trump: The Art of the Deal. “Just great.”

And, yes, Trump is great. He is great in the way of Las Vegas and Ringling Brothers and the Super Bowl and Miss America and Miami Beach and the Academy Awards and the gleaming hyperdeltoids of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Proprietor of what seems like half of Manhattan, developer of Trump Tower and Trump Plaza and Trump Parc, owner of three Atlantic City casinos and a 282-foot yacht and French Puma helicopter and 118-room retreat in Palm Beach and 47-room outpost in Connecticut and, oh Lord, purchaser of the Eastern Air Shuttle—make that the Trump Shuttle— and of the venerable Plaza Hotel, Donald Trump is the very essence of late-century accomplishment, a dreamer of brash, outragequs, impossible dreams, a smart operator who gets the job done whatever it takes, a fellow who is worth so much money, such spectacular, incalculable cords of currency, that he says he does not know how much he is worth. One billion, two, three—“Who knows?” says Trump. And, remember, he’s only 42.

In some ways, though, and here we come to a difficult lesson for eager recruits in the Junior Moguls League, Donald Trump may be just ever so slightly lacking. Leaving aside his harsh treatment of the occasional tenant who refuses to quit an apartment so that the Great Dealmeister can demolish the property and use the site for other highly profitable purposes, and ignoring, if we might, 1973 charges of racial discrimination and a 1983 squabble with tenants who said that he wanted them to pay

Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York

garage fees whether or not they owned automobiles, Trump demonstrates a certain failure to comprehend the extraordinary opportunities his wealth allows, and, similarly, the attendant responsibilities of privilege.

Let’s get it straight. Lots of people like Donald Trump. He’s said to be earthy and accessible and real in a charming, regular-guy, New Money sort of way. As Trump says in his book, he doesn’t carry a briefcase but does leave his door open—regular guy, see—and he shows up for work every day, usually by 9. He makes as many as 100 phone calls, lunches at the office and disdains power meetings and other ancient rituals associated with the accumulation of staggering wealth. He seems unabashed, at ease and generous. As Trump is apt to mention, he gives plenty to charity, perhaps as much as $4 million a year.

The fellow’s primary shortcoming, though, is that he has fallen hostage to his own expertise. He believes unfailingly in his own ideas, exclusively in his own notion of achievement, and it is a limp notion, at that, a notion out of sync with Trump’s grandiose vision. “I like thinking big,” Trump says in his book. “I always have. To me it’s very simple: if you’re going to be thinking anyway, you might as well

think big. Most people think small because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning. And that gives people like me a great advantage.”

In other words, there is nothing Trump likes better than to exploit weakness and take home the spoils. The art of the deal more accurately is the art of running over the next guy, the art of tweaking all those poor saps who, in Trump’s opinion, are afraid of success. Such statements may make Trump seem haughty and imperious but, evidently, he doesn’t mean to sound overbearing, at all. “More than anything else, I think deal-making is an ability you’re bom with,” he says in the book. “It’s in the genes. I don’t say that egotistically.” He’s not brilliant, Trump says, just biologically fitted with brilliant . .. instincts.

But try as Trump might to find an acceptable way of phrasing his message, the intent remains clear and it is no prettier for the polishing. “I don’t do it for the money,” Trump protests. “I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it.” All the worse! Trump’s considerable energy is dedicated not so much to the harvesting of capital but to the mere choreography associated with the task, and, in the process, he has reduced the entire philosophical construct known as “labor” to the status of a leisure-time activity—a hobby! He vanquishes all those pathetic small thinkers and continues to burrow away billions not because he is determined to bump up his massive bank account, but because it gives him something to do, because, as he says, it’s fun! “And,” says Trump, “if it can’t be fun, what’s the point?”

Well here’s an idea. Now that Trump has so much money that, really, he doesn’t know how much he has, how about giving those impressionable business majors something to really think about? How about saying, well, low-cost housing is about as vexing a problem as any facing America and I’m going to help, pronto. How about investing, big time, in the sort of housing developments that yield modest profits compared with the condos in Trump Tower, but improve lives immensely? How about devoting that dazzling Trump industriousness, that legendary Trump savvy, those precious Trump entrepreneurial genes to something a little more substantive than acquisition of a 10-seat helicopter or a hacienda in Palm Beach ample enough for the entire Social Register of South Florida?

A fellow named Millard Fuller might provide Trump inspiration. Fuller was a tycoon himself until the mid-1970s when he reassessed his priorities and embarked upon a project that was to become known as Habitat for Humanity. Based in Americus, Ga., Fuller’s operation builds homes around the nation and abroad for individuals who could not afford decent housing otherwise. It is a relatively small-scale operation—4,000 homes since 1976—but growing. “Man,” Fuller told a reporter, “we’re just whittling away.” With more than seven million Americans living in substandard housing, there is plenty of whittling to do. If Donald Trump really means to think big, maybe his next call should be to Millard Fuller.