Donald Trump: His Mother’s Son


I pride myself on being that guy on the left who can make meaning out of even the most mindless right-wing text. With The Art of the Deal, I fear I may have met my match. About halfway through the book—chapter upon stultifying chapter about the time he flipped a housing complex in Cincinnati, the time he bought the Commodore Hotel, the time he negotiated with Bonwit Teller, the convention center he wanted to build in the West 30s—it hits me: the book reads like the memoir J. Peterman intended to write, based entirely on stories he bought from Kramer.


Thomas Friedman and Trump ought to get on like a house on fire:

I do my own surveys and draw my own conclusions. I’m a great believer in asking everyone for an opinion before I make a decision….When I’m in another city and I take a cab, I’ll always make it a point to ask the cabdriver questions.


On page 52, Trump makes a big point of touting how little he cares about what architecture critics have to say about his buildings. On page 53, he writes about the response of the critics to Trump Tower, “I’m not going to kid you: it’s also nice to get good reviews.”


If you’re wondering why Trump’s outfit seemed so furious about how much attention the Women’s March got and that the media reported such low numbers for the Inauguration, Trump explains it all to you:

The point is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.


More than a quarter-century before he was elected, Trump set out the roadmap to victory:

The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.

Or, as Kellyanne Conway put it today on Meet the Press, “alternative facts.”

But don’t think Trump thinks you can fake your way through life. “You can’t con people,” he advises, “at least not for long.”


And you thought my Jimmy Carter parallels were crazy:

Until then [the moment Carter asked Trump for a donation of $5 million for the Carter Library], I’d never understood how Jimmy Carter became president. The answer is that as poorly qualified as he was for the job, Jimmy Carter had the nerve, the guts, the balls, to ask for something extraordinary. That ability above all helped him get elected president. But then, of course, the American people caught on pretty quickly that Carter couldn’t do the job…


Unlike his father, Donald Trump is willing to spend any amount of money to achieve greatness. He goes on and on—and on—about his refusal to cut corners, to do anything on the cheap. On page 61, Trump suddenly shifts gears: “That’s when I learned to be cost-conscious.” And when was that? When he began building low-income housing.


In one paragraph, Trump says that while Harvard Business School may produce a lot of conventionally successful CEOs, it’s Wharton, where he attended, that produces the truly visionary entrepreneurs. “Wharton,” he says, “was the place to go.” In the next paragraph, he says that “there was nothing particular awesome or exceptional about my classmates” and a Wharton degree doesn’t mean much.


On page 84, Trump tells you he has a “personal thing about cleanliness.” That’s the second time he’s said that.


Speaking of repetition, you’ll recall that Trump likes to tell you, again and again, that he doesn’t go out to lunch. Yet we find him, again and again, going out to lunch. On page 91, he goes out to lunch yet again. For three hours.


Like a lot of people who think they’re good judges of character, Trump likes “characters”—those outsized personalities who cut a distinctive path through life, the ones you never forget. The truth is, those people aren’t characters; they’re cartoons. But Trump loves them. “Irving was a classic.” “Pat was one of those great Irish personalities.” And so on.


There’s one interesting moment of self-reflection in the book. Throughout The Art of the Deal, Trump styles himself as his father’s son. He’s tough, determined, gets the job done. The unmastered subtext of the book, of course, is the tension between father and son: the father builds low-income housing, the son shoots for the glamour of the sky; the son bridles at the father’s style, the father seems to dismiss the son’s. Like the time the father scoffed at the son’s faux-fancy tastes, expressed in the ornamentalism and indulgence of Trump Tower: “Why don’t you forget about the damn glass? Give them four or five stories of it and then use common brick for the rest. Nobody is going to look up anyway.” Trump just skates right by it.

But then Trump stops for one moment and offers this gem of self-knowledge:

Looking back, I realize now that I got some of my sense of showmanship from my mother. She always had a flair for the dramatic and the grand. She was a very traditional housewife, but she also had a sense of the world beyond her. I still remember my mother, who is Scottish by birth, sitting in front of the television set to watch Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and not budging for an entire day. She was just enthralled by the pomp and circumstance, the whole idea of royalty and glamour. I also remember my father that day, pacing around impatiently. “For Christ’s sake, Mary,” he’d say. “Enough is enough, turn it off. They’re all a bunch of con artists.” My mother didn’t even look up. They were total opposites in that sense. My mother loves splendor and magnificence, while my father, who is very down-to-earth, gets excited only by competence and efficiency.

It’s clear that Donald Trump is very much his mother’s son. Which perhaps explains the Versailles fetish.



  1. xenon2 January 22, 2017 at 10:21 pm | #

    With the pollsters so off, I don’t blame Trump for taking his own surveys.
    I had to look it up, I didn’t know whether it was Friedman or Trump who said that.

    Speaking of polls, there is one that I like, it just asks one question after the election
    and one question after the inauguration. Which do trust more to make decisions for
    you, your state or the federal government?

    That one was super-easy, b/c I come from a rather notorious state.

  2. Jeff Albanese January 22, 2017 at 10:34 pm | #

    The past few days I’ve been revisiting Sartre’s “Anti-Semite and Jew.” I’ve been especially thinking about his argument on anti-semite “bad faith”: “Never believe that anti-semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly… The anti-semites have a right to play… They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument, but to intimidate and disconcert… They fear only to appear ridiculous.”

    The combination of logical fallacies, appreciation of the passions (esp. manipulability of passions of others mixed with narcissistic concerns for one’s own passions), reflexive appreciation of appearances before an audience, and obsessive concern with self-purity and proximity of the self to anything undesired (“a thing about cleanliness”) really ring true here…

  3. Bill Michtom January 22, 2017 at 10:50 pm | #

    David Cay Johnston

    Again, Trump never attended the famous Wharton Biz school. His degree in Econ from Wharton undergrad – NOT same

  4. mark January 23, 2017 at 4:48 am | #

    Trump, the man who released details of his health but not his wealth in the election process, has as his first priority in office the removal of health insurance from millions including his own voters.

    Thatcher had put about that she slept only four hours a night, which we know to be a lie, not least from Charles Moore’s biography.

    The suckers miss their lunch, the suckers sleep four hours a night, and still the Thatcher-Trump outpaces their tired and emaciated frame.

  5. Z January 23, 2017 at 8:26 am | #

    What do you expect to find in the vapid rantings of a narcissist except a confirmation (if needed) that human vanity is boundless? I find the question of why so many Americans voted for Trump and what it means about the United States interesting, but Trump himself seems pretty transparent to me; not surprising considering how shallow he is. Or do you somehow see something in him beyond pure, insecure, constant self-aggrandizement?

  6. lazycat1984 January 23, 2017 at 11:41 am | #

    Trump is strictly a practical person who is capable of really effective personal politics by all accounts. But he keeps wanting to convince people he’s also got class and taste. Which has made him a staple of satirists from Spy Magazine back in the early 90s to Alex Baldwin today. The people who did the Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Generator should make a Donald Trump speech writer. ;^)

    What irks me most is that Trump likely doesn’t believe a tenth part of the stuff he says. He was always more comfortable with the Democratic machine of NYC than with the Elmer Gantry Republicans. Maybe, like Christopher Hitchens and Benito Mussolini, he decided that if he can’t run the show, he’ll go hard with the opposition.

  7. gigiistheone January 23, 2017 at 1:02 pm | #

    Bravo! Such a great snap shot of the book!

  8. Rich Puchalsky January 23, 2017 at 6:14 pm | #

    I fundamentally don’t get the whole project of close reading this book. It was ghosted. Doesn’t that account for a lot of the incoherence? The guy who wrote it probably disliked Trump and just took some anecdotes as the basis for a kind of potboiler that makes no sense because neither of them cared. Is there anything really to be discovered from this text?

  9. jonnybutter January 23, 2017 at 7:23 pm | #

    “this book… was ghosted. Doesn’t that account for a lot of the incoherence?”

    I would expect its ghostedness to actually enforce some coherence (isn’t that one thing what ghost writers are for?). What’s surprising is that it is so absurd and disjointed even *after* having been worked over by the apparently not un-skilled Schwartz.

    I think Schwartz just interviewed Trump and then made it ‘a book’ (which I gather is how these things are often done). If you’ve heard Trump speak, just imagine what this interview was like unpasteurized.

    • Tom January 23, 2017 at 11:18 pm | #

      According to Schwartz, Trump could not sit still long enough for any actual interview. So Schwartz followed Trump around for quite a long while.

  10. jonnybutter January 23, 2017 at 7:28 pm | #

    BTW, I understand that a reason Mr Schwartz feels guilty about having done this gig is not that the book is such a great and effective piece of propaganda, but because he (Schwartz) made so much money on it. Unbelievably, Trump offered, and he accepted, 50% of the profits.

  11. Roquentin January 23, 2017 at 10:28 pm | #

    You know, I’m sure the book is probably trash. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever read an autobiography of a president, living or dead, which got me thinking that maybe most of them could be bad and I wouldn’t know. I hear Ulysses S. Grant wrote a pretty mean set of memoirs about the Civil War, in part because he was dying and wanted to leave something for his kids. That might be the only one I’ve ever had a desire to read.

    Also, while the persistent contradictions within the book are probably worth a mention, I don’t think that’s interesting enough for the main focus of the work. Even now, it kind of met with a shoulder shrug from me. It’s kind of stating the obvious.

  12. Dean C. Rowan January 24, 2017 at 1:06 am | #

    You know, sometimes pop culture is just pop culture: shallow, evanescent, random, distracting, ill-executed, irrelevant. It’s okay to maintain standards.

  13. Rich Puchalsky January 24, 2017 at 7:33 am | #

    I read the New Yorker article linked to upthread and it confirmed what I’d guessed without having read it. Namely that the ghostwriter didn’t like Trump, didn’t get much from him, and that the book is incoherent because neither one of them cared. It does have a central characterization that had to be put in to make Trump seem likable, but that’s purely the invention of the ghostwriter (according to the New Yorker article).

    So again: close analysis of the text won’t reveal anything. It’s quite possible to read it and create a coherent reading, but that’s an artifact of the reader / critic being interested in coherence.

  14. Matt_L January 24, 2017 at 4:44 pm | #

    Thanks for sharing this with us Corey, its really enjoyable to read your analysis interspersed with excerpts from the source material. Reading the original would not be half as pleasurable.

  15. Tom January 24, 2017 at 11:50 pm | #

    Popular culture may be, from certain points of view, irrelevant– until it isn’t. And with Trump, it’s hard to know where to draw the line, as it turns out. Build a brand and they will come.

    Back in 2006 I visited with old friends on an Indian reservation in Montana, a remote area. Talking politics, they asked me what I thought of Trump, a question I found surprising. Well, they had TV, after all, and paid better attention to the personalities found on it than I do. Just an anecdote.

    Historians and theorists need texts to work from, even if the “author” wasn’t in fact the author. Trump signed his name to it and was understood for many years to have been if not the author, then at least the source. (Indeed certain genres of Autobiography offer few books actually written by the subject.) The book built on the brand and opened the door to his TV show, which established Trump as the yuuge personality we see today. And tomorrow? Infantile and drunk on power as he is, the effects on him of murdering people under the auspices of the Presidential Drone Kill program will not be pretty.

    In other words, your project Is worthwhile. Judging from your post with the quotes you have found, it’s not entirely thankless. Really makes you wonder how many people actually read that book.

    Thanks, Corey, for your efforts.

  16. Dean C. Rowan January 25, 2017 at 6:37 pm | #

    I was being deliberately condescending toward pop culture, knowing full well that I myself credit it when (so I think) circumstances call for doing so. So I agree, it can be relevant. But I don’t think it is here, or at least I don’t think the relevance rises to a level worthy of too much mental strain to make meaning. Consider Keith Ellison’s now legendary remarks in 2015, when he warned of not taking seriously the threat posed then by Trump. He, too, drew an illustration from pop culture–the case of Jesse Ventura–that was clearly relevant both in the realms of pop culture and politics. That intersection of realms was indeed part of his point. Trump’s old book? Nobody could have extrapolated seriously from then to now. We might now find obscure allegorical hints, I suppose, but that should prompt us to read more closely similar books–of which there are gazillions–to identify before it’s too late and ward off future bad actors like our current POTUS.

Leave a Reply to Rich Puchalsky Cancel reply