I must confess that I have just gotten around to reading Donald Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” I thought it was going to be a “how to” on negotiating, but it turned out to be autobiographical. The focus is on Trump’s early business success and should be read by anyone who wants to understand the way our president operates.
During last year’s campaign, Charles Krauthammer complained the Trump was not intellectually curious. It was evident from the candidate’s style that he was not well read. This was interpreted to mean that he did not have the depth—or breadth—of understanding to be our chief executive.
This turns out to be a serious mistake. Trump is a man of action, not an academic or intellectual. He concentrates on what he needs to know in order to get a particular job done. He did this when he was a real estate magnate. He does it in the oval office.
The first thing to realize about our president is that he is a people person. He transacts business by interacting with individuals who can move his projects forward. They are therefore the ones who need to comprehend the relevant details.
I, along with many others, was surprised by the quality of the cabinet Trump put together. I had assumed that he would be too intimidated by expertise and intelligence to surround himself with managers more accomplished than himself. This was completely wrong.
Trump prides himself on his ability to recognize talent and to allow those who possess it to exercise it. He also takes pleasure in judging character. This way he learns whom to trust. In the past, if he was going to make a multi-million dollar deal, he wanted to be sure his interlocutor was as good as his word.
Trump likewise believes in common sense. He sizes up a situation, often by personally investigating a project. While he acknowledges that this frequently involves following his gut instincts, he considers these superior to intellectualized rationalizations.
As a result, he dismisses study committees and professional consultants as a waste of time. These are described as mechanisms unsure executives use to put off making decisions. Guess what? I think he is right!
Having just returned from a conference on applied sociology, I heard a bevy of consultants explaining their trade. I was struck with how out of touch with reality many were. Although they had a good line of patter, many hid their lack of insights behind an academic façade.
Trump’s discussion of the reconstruction of the Wollman ice skating rink is a stunning illustration. As he recounted the many mistakes of New York City officials, I could not help but laugh. Their level of irresponsibility was almost beyond belief.
Trump, as you may know, accomplished in five months, for less than three million dollars, what the government could not do in six years for over thirteen million. The difference was that he cared, whereas those using other people’s money didn’t. They were more concerned with how they were depicted in the press.
Two more lessons I gleaned from Trump were that he is not afraid of taking risks or of engaging in intimidation. He has been willing to lose and, as a consequence, has often placed himself in a position to win. Instead of holding back because he is uncertain of every detail, he goes ahead when he considers the odds are in his favor.
Nor has he always played the nice guy. He has, on more than one occasion, been a bully. If this sounds crude, it also translates into not allowing others to bully him. Even as a young man, he was prepared to confront people who had more power and status than he did.
Much of this should sound familiar. It is of a piece with strategies Trump now employs in the White House. Being the commander-in-chief is not the same as being a real estate developer, but there can be no doubt that our president has adapted practices from one to the other.
I can’t predict the reader’s reaction, but I came away with a better opinion of Trump. Yes, his book is self-serving; nonetheless it provided me with a reassuring window into his methods.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University