Donald Trump: Six Theses

Oxford University Press has decided to publish a second edition of The Reactionary Mind, which will come out some time around Labor Day. It’ll be completely reorganized: I’m going to overhaul the ordering structure of the chapters, I’m going to delete several chapters that I don’t think really worked, I’m going to add several new chapters. One of those new chapters will be on Trump, an assessment of his philosophy, the movement and party that produced him, and his first 100 days in office. It’ll be called The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump.

In preparation for this new edition, I’ve been reading Trump’s The Art of the Deal. It was ghost-written by Tony Schwartz, who has disavowed the book as a literary Frankenstein that propelled Trump to the position he is in today. Which is odd: Schwartz seems to think the book created a fake image of Trump as a charming, brash, rakish entrepreneur, an image that Trump parlayed into a path to the White House. The truth is just the opposite: the book reveals Trump to be a cosmic bore, an epic blowhard who imagines himself to be more interesting than he is. As autobiographies go, I’d say it’s one of the more revealing ones.

Here’s what I’ve managed to glean so far:

1. Donald Trump talks on the phone a lot. Fifty to 100 times a day.

2. On page 2, Donald Trump tells you that he doesn’t take lunch. On page 7, he says it again. On page 8, Donald Trump goes out to lunch. On page 34, he does it again.

3. Donald Trump likes earth tones. He doesn’t like primary colors.

4. At 12:45 on a Friday, Donald Trump’s then wife Ivana asks him to join her on a tour of a possible private school for their daughter Ivanka. Trump says he’s too busy. She says, “You haven’t got anything else to do.” He snorts, “Sometimes I think she really believes it.” Four hours later, David Letterman shows up at Trump Tower, wanting to film a sequence between him, Trump, and two out-of-towners from Kentucky. Trump agrees.When the sequence is over, Letterman says: “It’s Friday afternoon, you get a call from us out of the blue, you tell us we can come up. Now you’re standing here talking to us. You must not have much to do.” Trump replies: “Truthfully, David, you’re right. Absolutely nothing to do.”

5. Donald Trump says that the key to entrepreneurial success is “total focus.” Successful tycoons like himself have “a controlled neurosis.” They are “obsessive, they’re driven, they’re single-minded.” (Schumpeter, incidentally, agrees.) On page 1, Donald Trump says that when it comes to work, “I play it very loose…I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”

6. Donald Trump says, “What I’m doing is about as close as you’re going to get, in the twentieth century, to the quality of Versailles.”


  1. realthog January 21, 2017 at 11:07 pm | #

    Interesting. I’m mapping out a new edition of one of my own books thanks to the advent of the Trump administration, but I’m lucky enough that I have to do far less revision/rewriting in that, because of my specific subject matter, the discussion of the Trump administration’s attitudes and actions seems simply an extension of those of the GWB administration: science denial writ even larger, in other words.

  2. Jim January 21, 2017 at 11:55 pm | #

    Yep, he’s pretty much the random conman that he has been from the start. On the other hand, the continual disasters of governance starting Day 1 will cause him to just leave the job or be impeached 6 months to at most 1 year from now. he’s absurd and the Congress would much prefer the reliable foot shoulder Mike Dense.

  3. xenon2 January 22, 2017 at 12:03 am | #

    I’ve just listened to him speak before the CIA.He was very relaxed and personal, much as I imagine him to have been as a Reality TV host. He told them how important their job was and that it was so important that this was his first stop, on first full-working day.

    I found myself believing this, though I know the CIA can be quite nasty in their coups, like Ukraine and Honduras.I am thinking of the book I read last year, “The Brothers”, about the Dulles brothers and all the
    coups they accomplished. I thought about all those who have been ‘extraordinarily rendered’, about Snowden’s
    adventures in Switzerland—they all seemed far away.

    The audience was on his side, cheers were heard.

    • Avattoir January 25, 2017 at 1:58 pm | #

      This is delusion, or troll, or both. Read what he said there, and he brought a cheering section.

  4. mark January 22, 2017 at 4:44 am | #

    ‘“Philip,” says the historian, “showed a marvellous alacrity in taking doses of trouble.” We see from this that the most homely language is sometimes far more vivid than the most ornamental, being recognised at once as the language of common life, and gaining immediate currency by its familiarity…Such terms come home at once to the vulgar reader, but their own vulgarity is redeemed by their expressiveness.’

    Longinus, On the Sublime.

    Question: why did Thomas Carlyle feel it was so important to keep Captains of Industry out of government?

    • Avattoir January 25, 2017 at 2:00 pm | #

      Which “industry”? Grift?

  5. LFC January 22, 2017 at 10:27 am | #

    from The Reactionary Mind, ch. 8, p.182:

    “Ever since the end of the Cold War, some might even say Vietnam, there has been a growing disconnect between the culture and ideology of U.S. business elites and that of political warriors like [Paul] Wolfowitz and the other neocons. Where the Cold War saw the creation of a semicoherent class of Wise Men who brought together, however jaggedly, the worlds of business and politics — men like Dean Acheson and the Dulles brothers — the Reagan years and beyond have witnessed something altogether different.” The passage goes on to mention a young generation of corporate magnates who have disdain for politics, and “a new class of political elites” who do not emerge from the business world but from think tanks, journalism, and other parts of ‘the culture industry’.

    Interesting to consider whether/how this picture has changed w the advent of Trump. The worlds — or, rather, slices of the worlds (since they aren’t monolithic) — of business and politics are again brought together, but in a different way than the Wise Men did. While the Wise Men tended to adopt, at least in public, an olympian stance, purportedly above the ostensibly petty considerations of partisan politics, Trump, via Bannon, attacks the elite of which he is himself, by wealth and class position, a member, and sees himself as an outsider, in contrast to the Wise Men, who could be seen as the ultimate ‘insiders’. The Wise Men thought in terms of, inter alia, duty, responsibility, and ‘responsible power’, notions quite foreign to Trump’s rhetoric and worldview. Trump wants the U.S. to “win again,” not to be a ‘responsible’ hegemon, i.e. a guarantor of (some kind of) ‘world order’. He doesn’t think in those terms.

    • LFC January 22, 2017 at 10:32 am | #

      p.s. of course the economic and (to a lesser extent) geopolitical position of the U.S. in the world has changed from the era of Acheson and the Dulles brothers, which is probably relevant…

  6. Roquentin January 22, 2017 at 1:27 pm | #

    You should at least mention how practically everyone underestimated Trump and his campaign. I’ll go on the record saying Trump’s campaign was one of the most brilliant in US history. He spent a small fraction of the money Hillary did on campaign ads and other media, and instead said outrageous things to end up on the front page of every paper for free. Each outrageous statement, each vulgarity, no matter how offensive, only helped him, kept him in the public eye for another week. PT Barnum got it right, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and Trump in many ways proves it.

    The talk about Trump’s presidency being a disaster, about him getting impeached, sounds to me like the exact same narrative coming from the exact same people who said that about him during the GOP primary. Then they said the same thing about the presidential race. Clinton would win in a “landslide.” Now they’re saying it about his term in office. What’s it going to take for these people to realize they underestimate the man at their own peril? I can envision them saying the same thing in 2020, that his presidency was so bad he had to lose, before getting beat again, still shaking their heads and wondering why. I’m not saying I was above it, I spent a lot of 2016 laughing Trump off, but now I realize just how wrong I personally was.

    It makes me think of the beginning of that Rick Perlstein book on Goldwater. Pundits were almost unanimous in declaring conservatism dead, but they couldn’t have been more wrong.

    • Michael Fiorillo January 22, 2017 at 2:50 pm | #

      Quite likely… also, watch business and media elites fall in behind him.

      Warren Buffett, a reliable bell-weather of Overclass duplicity, has praised his cabinet, and most of them will happily submit when realize there’s money to be made form stripping the carcass even more ferociously.

      • Roquentin January 22, 2017 at 4:26 pm | #

        Anyone who expects billionaires like Buffet (or Bloomberg or even Soros) to swoop in and save us will be in for a very rude awakening. Many of them would have preferred Clinton, but it seems to me that they would probably take a right wing populist buffoon like Trump over socialism or even social democracy.

        I’m fond of making the case that a society as unequal as ours, with wealth and power concentrated in the hands of so few, will increasingly only be able to justify itself through brute force moving forwards, but realize that this is too simple. Taking Gyorgy Lukacs advice to view “a system from the perspective of totality,” the mechanism is actually to combine periods of hardline neoliberal “shock therapy” from the GOP, followed by a few years of reprieve in the form of Democratic neoliberalism with a multicultural, human face. While vacillating from side to side the whole arc of this system bends ever further in line with the needs of lassiez-faire capitalism over the long term. It’s worth adding that constant, forceful implementation of this sort of privatization and economic policy simply wouldn’t fly. There’d be too much outrage. Long story short, the reprieve the Democrats offer isn’t a departure from this system but a basic component of it’s functioning, sort of like cooling down a motor so it doesn’t overheat.

        • chunga'srevenge (@tweetohs) January 23, 2017 at 9:32 pm | #

          Entirely correct. Liberals in Europe bleat that Trump will not protect them from an antiquated version of the USSR circa 1970. Meanwhile, multi-millionaire dowagers pose as revolutionaries to build brand and recover some sense of relevance. The cavalry is not coming. Nor are any of the modern hero/anti-heroes stepping from CGI landscapes to cuddle the young. Brian Eno discovers which group has been/is living in bubble-land:

          “Actually, in retrospect, I’ve started to think I’m pleased about Trump and I’m pleased about Brexit because it gives us a kick up the arse and we needed it because we weren’t going to change anything. Just imagine if Hillary Clinton had won and we’d been business as usual, the whole structure she’d inherited, the whole Clinton family myth. I don’t know that’s a future I would particularly want. It just seems that was grinding slowly to a halt, whereas now, with Trump, there’s a chance of a proper crash, and a chance to really rethink.”

          Earliest of early days yet. The only question is how long before Trump marries his GOP opponents to sanctuary-city Democrats.

    • stevenjohnson January 24, 2017 at 3:52 pm | #

      “…Trump’s campaign was one of the most brilliant in US history. He spent a small fraction of the money Hillary did on campaign ads and other media, and instead said outrageous things to end up on the front page of every paper for free…”

      Sanders said outrageous things, like the word “socialism” and was frozen out of the media (something vastly more important to his defeat…and it was a genuine defeat..than the DNC in the Democratic Party nomination race.) The mass media are property of various members of the ownership class, Wall Street for short. I don’t believe they gave him that much free publicity because the reporters, or even the producers, were putty in Trump’s hands. And simultaneously absurdities like Benghazi or the subversion of the State Department by Clinton Cash from foreigners were kept pumped up as if they were legitimate. Treating Comey’s press releases like they were legit really is a dead giveaway. And that’s no accident either. Large sections of Wall Street supported Trump. If they hadn’t, they would have threatened to cut ad purchases, something I believe would have happened if Sanders had somehow managed to Trump the Democratic Party nomination. Trump has rivals in the billionaire class, not opponents. And there are other ways the owners helped Trump. Aetna I think timed its announcement about how it was raiding pocketbooks in Michigan to have the best effect possible on the election.

      Given Obama’s poor economic record for the larger part of the population and the distaste for losing wars against mortal enemies (which is the way imperial wars aimed at terrorizing opposition, which can’t be won because the point is not to go home, which rules out the victory parade,) Trump was guaranteed an increase in votes over Romney. Since so much of the presidential election is in effect either an affirmation of the status quo or a protest against it, the termination of the Obama presidency, another four years of his success in helping Wall Street but not the rest of the country took its toll. Not having an African-American to vote for lowered the African-American turnout. And the rest is the Electoral College, a pseudo-intelligent gimmick that led to a major crisis for the eighteenth century was over. Trump was not a clever campaigner who led the people to the right. Trump was a manifestation of the rulers going even further to the right.

      • Roquentin January 25, 2017 at 11:16 am | #

        I realize now that saying “outrageous things” wasn’t specific enough. I suppose you can call what Sanders said “outrageous” but it was of a totally different kind. He dared to speak against free market, neoliberal orthodoxy. The media really doesn’t care about that. When I say “outrageous things” for Trump, I mean crass, vulgar, boorish stupidities which excellent fodder for late night TV, stand up comedians, tabloid newspapers, etc. That’s the kind of “outrageous” I meant.

        To get even more specific, he gave everyone their little dose of obscenity, an excuse to laugh at crude things which were otherwise verboten to talk about in supposedly respectable circles. We can’t neglect enjoyment as a major factor in politics and everyone, and I mean everyone, loves making fun of Trump. He played the liberal crowd, for whom the sort of politics of John Steward, Stephen Colbert, and John Oliver are their bread and butter, like a dime store fiddle. What shocks me is that, as near as I can tell, most of them don’t realize they were played even now.

        • stevenjohnson January 25, 2017 at 5:15 pm | #

          It could be the widespread anti-Trumpism of Hollywood performers is just another shtick, something they do to entertain the rubes. But I’m inclined to think the Streeps et al. really do dislike Trump with the special disdain reserved for one of your own who’s putting on airs. He’s one of them, a performer, they know it, they’re not impressed.

          I think. Not good at mindreading even single individuals much less categories of people.

          • Roquentin January 25, 2017 at 8:18 pm | #

            Their outrage at Trump is likely genuine. I don’t claim otherwise. This really isn’t important. In fact, Trump’s strategy works a lot better if they mean it. The thing is, most of Trump’s supporters hate these people. Some of them may like their movies, but they certainly resent being told how to live by wealthy and famous people in Hollywood. Seeing them froth at the mouth, watching them squirm is red meat for Trump’s base. It’s as simple as that. If the anger and hurt is genuine, all the better. Spite always was the key ingredient behind Trump. It surprises me how many people seem to miss this.

            I think some of his supporters really believe his lines about bringing jobs back, but to me the key appeal always was that as much as what Trump does hurts them it’ll hurt their enemies more. Let’s not mince words, Hillary had nothing to offer them either (or at least the certainly don’t think she did), so when the deal on the table is you get nothing or you get nothing and the smug assholes you don’t like get hurt you don’t have to be sociologist to guess which one people will pick. A lot of Trump supporters are sincere and thorough racists, but others just figured it was collateral damage.

            I don’t know how else to put it. Liberals have fundamentally misunderstood the terrain they are fighting on.

  7. John Merryman January 22, 2017 at 3:54 pm | #

    Maybe he is the crest of the wave.
    Contrary to what Dick Cheney says, debt does matter, or we wouldn’t be running it up quite so vigorously.
    That he is a bit of a bankruptcy expert is interesting. Bomb, meet trigger.
    After he made the comment about renegotiating the debt, I was waiting for one of his air mobility devices to have an unfortunate accident.
    That America should find itself coalescing around a rich media darling shouldn’t be a surprise. What really ties the US together, other than money and media?

  8. Robert Daniels January 22, 2017 at 11:21 pm | #

    al FRANKEN jill STEIN 2020

  9. chunga'srevenge (@tweetohs) January 23, 2017 at 6:49 am | #

    Worth a read!
    Irony-rich commentary from unhappy Wisconsin ‘liberals.’

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