NEVER ENOUGH: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success
St. Martin’s Press, 2015, 389 pages
Review by Phil Shannon
What will America and the world be getting from ‘President Donald Trump’ if such a frightful prospect comes to pass in 2016? Michael D’Antonio’s biography of the Republican Party’s front-running Presidential candidate gives us some clues - denial of global warming, vaccination, marriage equality and abortion; insults and worse for religious and ethnic minorities, and for women and the disabled; and a turbo-charged American imperial power.
The winner, on the other hand, would be big business, Trump’s true religion. The business mogul’s early training was one of honing a Social Darwinist survival of the most aggressive (Trump thrived during his disciplinarian schooling at a military academy) combined with the pampering that only true family riches can provide (the rain-marred trials of young Donald’s paper round would be relieved by completing it in his father’s chauffeured limousine).
Trump likes to dismiss those born into wealth as members of ‘the lucky sperm club’ but he glosses over his own origins in one of America’s wealthiest dynasties, which made its fortune, not through honest, hard work, but through buying real estate cheap and selling it dear, from the 19th century Gold Rush to New York in early century boom-time and 1930s Depression.
A family fortune of around $100 million assisted Trump’s emergence as a high-end property developer in Manhattan in the late 1970s, as did another family inheritance - the financial cultivation of politicians and government bureaucrats to secure favourable contracts, construction permits, zoning approvals and tax concessions.
The Trump brand expanded to every enterprise he owned (skyscrapers, hotels, casinos, airlines, beauty pageants, golf resorts, football teams, ‘universities’) and those he licensed to use the Trump brand (board games, credit cards, mattresses, deodorants, chocolate bars, neckties, steaks, cologne). Trump’s gold-glittering name adorned the ostentatious symbols of his personal wealth - his 300 metre yacht, his $10 million helicopter, his $100 million private jet.
Not every business venture was a success, but because Trump’s loans were in the billions rather than thousands, he had power over the banks and other lenders who could not afford to see Trump fail. Unlike ordinary American borrowers who were ruined by the banks if they defaulted, Trump’s creditors advanced him new loans and let his assets alone.
Trump made his pile through hard-headed, Trump-friendly deals. These were driven by Trump’s insatiable greed, massive self-belief and a firm faith in the bankability of notoriety. Trump begins each day with a sheaf of papers covering all his press mentions, positive or negative, judging their value to his brand not by their content but by their total weight.
With Trump, publicity is all. Three previous Presidential electoral feints were all designed to promote his self-help/get-rich books or his reality television show, ‘The Apprentice’, a brutal ode to competitive capitalism. Trump’s current tilt at President is motivated by the lure of becoming CEO of America, the missing political Godhead so far in Trump’s deities of “wealth, fame and power”.
The political currency of Trump’s campaign, says D’Antonio, is that of a populist ‘anti-politician’, stoking public outrage against minorities whilst lambasting ‘elites’ such as the White House ‘Establishment’ and big money political donors who pay too little tax. This resonates loudly enough with Trump’s power base – aggrieved, economically-struggling, white, southern males - to drown out their concerns about Trump’s serial lying, refusal to apologise and evasiveness on policy detail.
The ascent to economic and political stardom of Trump, the self-styled “people’s billionaire”, began four decades ago, says D’Antonio, at exactly the moment when working class and corporate income differentials began to diverge exponentially and when collective trade union responses to this escalating inequality receded. Only if individuals aspired to be like Donald Trump, and if the ‘undeserving’ were delegitimised, could you find success.
D’Antonio’s penchant (apart from being besotted with the mechanics of business deals) is for psychological analysis, diagnosing Trump’s obsession with himself as ‘narcissistic personality disorder’. The real pathology, however, is the environment which fosters the Trumps of the world - the economic system of winner-take-all capitalism which rewards the privileged, greedy and ruthlessly competitive. Donald Trump is truly the poster-child for the 1%, for whom too much is, indeed, never enough.