WASHINGTON – Tony Schwartz, credited co-author of Donald Trump’s 1987 book Trump: The Art of the Deal, said he is “ashamed” by the way he “reshaped” Trump in the best-seller and it makes him “a little sick” today.
“What I did so effectively in The Art of the Deal, I’m ashamed to say, was reshape Donald Trump’s bullying, cynicism and one-dimensionality into a voice that seemed boyish, ingenuous and brashly charming. You know, it’s actually making me a little sick even to revisit that – me and him. In the end, I re-created a character far more winning than Trump actually is. Even as I was writing the book, I began to think of him as a black hole with nothing to sustain him inside. He looked entirely to the external world for nourishment,” Schwartz, who has said he ghostwrote the book, said a week ago at the Professional Speechwriters Association World Conference.
“No amount of money, success, praise or attention was ever enough. No matter how much he got, the solace it gave him very quickly leached away,” he added. “What I didn’t fully recognize at the time was how much of Trump’s neediness and hunger for affirmation I shared. By seeing these distasteful qualities in such an exaggerated version of him, I could feel more righteous about disowning them in myself.”
Schwartz said Trump determined early in his life that to “survive he had to go to war with the world.”
“He either dominated or he submitted. He either created fear or he succumbed to fear as his older alcoholic brother had done. As a consequence, Trump treated every encounter as a contest that he had to win because the only other option was to lose, which was the equivalent to him of obliteration,” he said. “From early in his life he deduced that the best way to stay safe is to take no prisoners, so Trump stood up to his father and he dominated his siblings.”
According to Schwartz, “Trump’s worldview never got wider, deeper or longer” as he aged.
“By his own declaration, he is essentially the same man at 70 that he was at 7. Along the way, he failed to develop the qualities of character that most of us do in the natural course of growing up to a greater or lesser extent – honesty, empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification and appreciate or subtlety and nuance, and above all a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong,” the writer said.
“Even at 70 when his own self feels at risk, he will slap down Carmen Cruz, the struggling mayor of San Juan, in order lift himself up, or disparage the service of a war hero like John McCain or humiliate members of his own administration,” he added. “If that’s what it takes, well then, he’ll do it and without a moment’s guilt.”
Schwartz argued that Trump sees the world as coming after Trump.
“Because Trump has never spent time expanding his emotional, intellectual and moral universe, his worldview has congealed through the narrow lens he looks at the world. What he sees is a jungle full of predators out to get him, win or lose, dominate or submit, this perspective lies at the heart of Trump’s internal narrative – the story he tells himself about who he is,” he said.
“It informs every choice he makes much as our own narratives do in our own lives even when we are not aware of it,” the writer added. “Trump’s drug of choice, Trump’s anesthesia is attention – as it is for so many public figures.”
Schwartz provided a glimpse into his negotiation with Trump over his compensation for writing the book.
“Trump and I haggled back and forth. Ultimately, he agreed to share 50 percent of his $500,000 advance. My $250,000 share represented five times as much money as I had ever earned in a full year of work as a journalist, and those were 1986 dollars,” the former New York Post columnist said. “He also agreed to share 50 percent of any future royalties the book earned and I now call it, in my own humblebrag, the art of the deal.”
Schwartz described some of the challenges he encountered during the course of writing the New York Times best seller. He said it was “nearly impossible” to keep Trump focused on any single topic for more than a few minutes. Schwartz recalled considering it a “major victory” when he was able to conduct a 20-minute interview with Trump for the book.
“In our very first interview Trump got impatient answering my questions after approximately seven minutes,” he said. “He had a stunningly short attention span.”
Schwartz said the bankers and lawyers Trump dealt with for various deals eventually became “primary source material” for the book to “fill in the details” that Trump would not provide.
“It was during these conversations that I realized I couldn’t take anything that he told me at face value. What others told me about these deals almost always directly contradicted what Trump had told me. That made me uneasy,” he said. “More than any human being I have ever met, Donald Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true or at least ought to be true.”
Schwartz remembered wrestling with whether or not to tell stories in the book that he knew contained inaccuracies.
“Facts, to Trump, are whatever he deems to be on any given day. And when he is challenged, as you’ve seen over and over again, he doubles down even if what he’s just said in incontrovertibly false. I believe that Trump believes even his most preposterous lies and the more he repeats them, sometimes for decades, the more true they become to him,” he said.
After the Trump administration decided to rescind President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last month, Schwartz announced that he would donate royalties from The Art of the Deal to “endangered immigrants.”