At the start of the Republican National Convention—the ceremony in which Republican leadership will officially declare Donald Trump, the contents of a dumpster behind a Roll N Roaster, as their nominee—men are beginning to feeling introspective about their complicity in Trump’s rise.
For his entire career, Trump has been an entertainer, seemingly content to be on the outskirts of the business world, cultivating instead his reputation for playing a business man on television. Two articles released in the past few days point to the men who have been responsible for, or who feel they bear the burden of, jostling Trump out of his comfortable wealth cocoon and thrusting him onto the political stage.
The first man to admit culpability for the businessman’s rise is Tony Schwartz, who ghostwrote Trump’s oft-cited 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal. In a New Yorker profile, Jane Mayer wrote about Schwartz’s formative role in the creation of the Trump myth—so integral, that former editor and publisher of New York magazine Edward Kosner said, “Tony created Trump. He’s Dr. Frankenstein.”
Schwartz, who spent 18 months with the now-candidate, had never spoken publicly about him until in a speech, Trump declared, “We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.” Schwartz reportedly tweeted in response, “Many thanks Donald Trump for suggesting I run for President, based on the fact that I wrote The Art of the Deal.”
“I put lipstick on a pig,” Schwartz told Mayer of his role in legitimizing Trump. “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... I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”
Schwartz, once a well-regarded magazine writer, considers his decision to ghostwrite the book literally selling out—he decided he’d only take the job if he received half of the advance check and half of the royalties, an extremely generous deal that Trump reportedly agreed to on the spot.
Among the numerous undesirable qualities Schwartz soon observed in Trump (his temper, his short attention span, his extreme vanity), there’s one that he actually explained away in the book, which he now regrets:
When Schwartz began writing The Art of the Deal, he realized that he needed to put an acceptable face on Trump’s loose relationship with the truth. So he concocted an artful euphemism. Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader, “I play to people’s fantasies... People want to believe that something is thebiggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.” Schwartz now disavows the passage. “Deceit,” he told me, is never “innocent.” He added, “‘Truthful hyperbole’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s a way of saying, ‘It’s a lie, but who cares?’” Trump, he said, loved the phrase.
According to Mayer’s piece, Schwartz did a lot of glossing over. So much so, that he credits himself with creating a character “far more winning than Trump actually is.” Mayer also notes that Roy Cohn, Trump’s one-time lawyer and a man who spent most of his career witch-hunting Americans for alleged communism, once said of his former client’s callousness, “Donald pisses ice water.”
The second article, entitled “How the Haters and Losers Lost,” by BuzzFeed News’ McKay Coppins, chronicled the darker side of Trump’s creation myth, the side that lurks in blank spaces of his various ghostwritten books, in the shadows of his large, gaudy Mar-a-Lago.
In the piece, Coppins traced Trump’s political ambitions back to a profile he wrote in 2014, in which he describes them as basically ridiculous, and Trump as a buffoonish tragic figure. Later, Coppins wrote that he even bet one year of his own salary that Trump would never run for president.
Trump’s performative character assassination led to plenty of teasing from friends and colleagues about how I had inadvertently goaded Trump into running. But as his campaign gained traction, the tone started to curdle into something more… hostile. Once, after discussing Trump’s latest outrage on cable news, the host grumbled to me, “Won’t it be great when Donald Trump becomes president because you wrote a fucking BuzzFeed article daring him to run? I mean, won’t that be fucking fantastic?” I mentioned to former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett that Trump’s candidacy had me yearning for a new beat. “So, wait a second, you get all of us into this, and now you decide it’s beneath you?” he demanded. “No, you stay ‘til it’s fucking over. The whole thing. You stay here with the rest of us until it’s done.”
Similar bets and slights and underestimations, Coppins argued, are the rocket fuel that propelled an easily wounded, all-too proud Trump to the campaign we’re all currently suffering through. He traced Trump’s ambitions from back when he lived in Queens and Brooklyn and dreamed of working in Manhattan real estate; from when he became a member of the nouveau riche and began planting stories in tabloids and courting Forbes 400 writers, to when he commissioned a poll measuring his presidential potential and pretended on MSNBC to know nothing about it, betraying himself when he said, “The results were very positive for Trump!”
Trump’s is a story of a jilted outsider, the article argued, tirelessly working to break his way into the respected class. Because of his series of high-profile political humiliations, his pride requires him to purchase the government. And Coppins was complicit, along with all the men and women who didn’t respect him when they had the chance.
To pump himself up to board the escalator to announce his presidential campaign, Trump supposedly repeated to whoever would listen and to himself, “They’re never gonna say I didn’t run. They’re never gonna say I didn’t run.”
Both articles are well-worth reading and are available here and here.
Image via Getty.