TRUMP The Art of the Deal By Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz Random House. 246 pp.
What we have here is a campaign biography, though what Donald Trump is running for is anything but clear. He's already been voted into an exalted position on Spy magazine's list of the 100 "Most Annoying, Alarming and Appalling People, Places and Things in New York and the Nation" -- he placed third, behind Ivan Boesky and Ronald Reagan -- so it's somewhat difficult to imagine what else he could be running for, yet of one thing we can be certain: Donald Trump is on the run, or the make.
One need look no further than "Trump: The Art of the Deal" for conclusive proof. This thin autobiography, which is sure to be a best seller -- the best-seller lists being weekly testimony to the capacity of the American book-buying public to suffer gladly the self-promotions of fools and mountebanks -- is a public relations sell from the first page to the last. Its self-evident purpose is not to give us an introspective analysis of Trump's inner life or even to examine his outer one with real care, but to present the boy wizard of real estate in the most favorable light possible.
On Trump's behalf it must be said -- Trump himself, to no one's surprise, says it over and again -- that he is very good at what he does. He builds buildings, and he has a well-earned reputation -- speak for yourself, Donald -- "as a builder who came in on time and on budget." If those buildings leave a bit to be desired on the esthetic side of things, they seem to give great pleasure to "the public" -- defined by Trump as "the wealthy Italian with the beautiful wife and the red Ferrari" -- that constitutes the master builder's principal market.
But precisely how all these edifices actually got built is far from satisfactorily explained in "Trump: The Art of the Deal." There's an ample amount of noisy mouthing-off about wheeling and dealing, at which Trump regards himself as an artist, but there is comparatively little about the nitty-gritty. On a couple of occasions Trump remarks in passing that construction is a rough business, but he has nothing -- repeat, nothing -- to tell us about how construction gets done in the snake pit of crime and labor that is Manhattan, nor does he have anything revealing to say about the realities of construction and daily dealing in the world of casinos, in which he is becoming an ever more visible and active participant.
Trump wants to have it both ways in "The Art of the Deal": to depict himself as the reincarnation of Robert Moses, yet also to be seen as somehow above the fray, a larger-than-life figure whose visions are loftier than those of ordinary mortals. But though he clearly would like to be seen as a man of substance -- hence the dabbling in politics that has become his latest game -- even in his self-portrait he emerges as nothing so much as that prototypical American figure, the hustler. He gladly accepts the accolade of "promoter," and freely admits to being an expert juggler who, especially in his early years, kept many balls in the air while praying that when they fell, it would be into place; the appropriate comparison is not with Robert Moses, but with P.T. Barnum.
Like most hugely successful people, Trump has little to say about his private life; he seems not to have much of one, his energies being reserved for the undiscriminating pursuit of wealth and power. Like the authors of all campaign books he makes frequent reference to his "friends," but it is obvious that they are merely people to be used, or discarded, as the occasion warrants; without embarrassment -- if anything, with what seems to be pride -- he tells of meeting that "man of great warmth," Cardinal John O'Connor, and the next day putting down the cardinal as a character reference for "my application for a Nevada gaming license."
The man's lack of taste is as vast as his lack of shame. His buildings, each and every one, are monuments both to himself and to parvenu ostentation. The pink marble atrium of Trump Tower, with its "elegant" polished brass fittings, looks like nothing so much as the lavatory in a pricey whorehouse; in architectural style, all his buildings seek not to please or enrich, but to dazzle and intimidate by the sheer force of their aggressive ugliness. Trump may be the master builder, but his style is echt Liberace -- who was, as it happens, a resident of Trump Tower.
It's as obvious from "The Art of the Deal" as it is from Trump's current round of flirtations with politicos and their handmaidens that the man wants to be taken seriously, but he presents absolutely no evidence that he deserves to be. It's one thing to be an effective builder of hideous skyscrapers, and quite another to have informed, intelligent views on questions of political and social concern. "I want the best, whatever it takes," Trump says, but in ideas as in architecture, he hasn't a clue as to what the best really is.