Decorated in eye-catching gold lettering, President Trump’s 1987 memoir — a self-described “common sense guide to personal finance” — is touted as “a firsthand account of the rise of America’s foremost deal-maker.”
But following news this week that Trump reported more than $1 billion in financial losses to the IRS during a perceived high point in his business career, the ghostwriter of “The Art of the Deal,” once called an “unguarded look at the mind of a brilliant entrepreneur,” has another description for the book: fiction.
“I’d be fine if Random House simply took the book out of print,” Tony Schwartz, a vocal critic of the president, tweeted on Wednesday. “Or recategorized it as fiction.”
Schwartz’s tweet comes after the New York Times found that Trump reported staggering losses between 1985 and 1994 — a period of time in which the president, largely due to the success of his book, had achieved widespread fame for appearing to be a self-made billionaire gifted with seemingly unrivaled business acumen. The Times report, however, painted a starkly different picture.
“In fact, year after year, Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer,” the Times wrote, pointing out that by the time the best-selling memoir was released, Trump was already in “deep financial distress.”
On Wednesday, the book’s portrayal of Trump’s business prowess once again came under fierce scrutiny from Schwartz, who has openly expressed remorse for ghostwriting it. Late-night hosts and commentators also piled on the president over the revelations.
“Based on how bad he is at deals, I’m surprised the cost of that book wasn’t ‘I pay you 20 dollars if you take one,'" Seth Meyers joked on NBC.
This isn’t the first time Schwartz has publicly disparaged “The Art of the Deal.”
“I put lipstick on a pig,” he told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer in 2016. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, Schwartz reiterated that if he were to rename the book he would call it “The Sociopath.”
“He has no guilt,” Schwartz said of Trump. “All he wants to do is make the case that he would like to be true. While I do think he’s probably aware that more walls are closing around him than ever before, he does not experience the world in a way that an ordinary human being would.”
The pair first met in the 1980s when Schwartz wrote what was widely perceived to be an unflattering profile of Trump for New York magazine. But Trump was surprisingly a fan of the piece, and when Schwartz sat down with him again in 1985 for another interview, Trump revealed he had signed a book deal for an autobiography.
As Schwartz recalled to the New Yorker, he suggested Trump title the book “The Art of the Deal” because “that’s something people would be interested in.”
“You’re right,” Trump responded, according to the New Yorker. “Do you want to write it?”
For Schwartz, the answer wasn’t an immediate yes. He spent weeks weighing the offer before ultimately signing on after Trump agreed to give him half the book’s advance and royalties — a move he told the New Yorker he knew made him a sellout. (Since 2016, Schwartz has donated his earnings from the memoir to various charities, calling the royalties “blood money,” The Washington Post reported.)
Over the course of 18 months beginning in late 1985, Schwartz crafted his numerous observations and conversations with Trump into “The Art of the Deal,” which upon its release became a national sensation and earned scores of glowing reviews. It spent 48 weeks on the New York Times’s bestseller list with 13 weeks in the top spot, according to the New Yorker.
“Mr. Trump makes one believe for a moment in the American dream again,” the Times wrote at the time. “It’s like a fairy tale.”
But even back then, there were signs that Trump wasn’t as successful as he claimed. By the time the book was published, Wayne Barrett, a former investigative reporter with the Village Voice, was already writing pieces that dug into Trump’s business dealings. It was clear to him that Trump had started down a path of “simultaneous personal and professional self-destruction,” he told the New Yorker in 2016.
During Wednesday’s interview, Schwartz maintained that he had been unaware of the full scope of Trump’s financial situation when they were working together. Schwartz added that he didn’t think anyone else around Trump knew aside from the “one or two, maybe three, people who actually were able to look at his tax returns and his finances.”
“He kept those immensely secret,” Schwartz said.
The Times story did not sit well with Trump, who lashed out on Twitter and called the report “a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job.” But the president’s tweets did little to silence detractors, who mocked his reportedly enormous losses while he was campaigning in Florida on Wednesday night.
“The guy who lost the most money is the same guy who claims to be the best businessman,” Trevor Noah said on “The Daily Show.” “It’s like finding out that Hugh Hefner died a virgin. I did not see that coming.”
For many, including Stephen Colbert, the news shattered an image Trump has spent decades cultivating.
“Remember his cameo as the fancy rich guy in ‘Home Alone 2?'" Colbert asked, drawing attention to the 1992 film. “Now, we know when he recorded that, he was so broke he had to borrow money from the pigeon lady.”
By Wednesday night, Schwartz wasn’t the only person calling for the autobiography to be re-branded as fiction.
“After consuming the news of the past 24 hours, I’m more convinced than ever that we should reshelf The Art of the Deal in Fiction and The Handmaid’s Tale in Current Events,” one Twitter user wrote, referencing the Margaret Atwood novel, now a Hulu show, set in a dystopian America.