In 1990, Donald Trump conducted a lengthy interview with Playboy Magazine. It provides an absolutely fascinating window into the man’s mind, which I suggest everyone read in full. Unexpectedly, I came away with a more informed and nuanced perspective on the man. While it didn’t change my opinion of him as President, I do have a much greater appreciation for Donald Trump as a person, specifically how his mind works and what drives him.
I originally came across this interview after seeing a tweet referencing a 25 year old interview during which Trump expressed admiration for how strongly Chinese authorities cracked down on dissent in Tiananmen Square in 1989. I immediately thought to myself that this would be the perfect fodder to further elucidate the kind of cold, brutal, authoritarian leader Trump undoubtably would be as President.
While that particular quote didn’t disappoint, I decided to read further and came away with many additional observations. I think these observations are worth sharing since I think there’s a very real chance Trump will be elected President within the next ten years. His chances ride on the fact that the current system is terminally corrupt, as well as socially and economically bankrupt. It will crash and burn, whether in slow motion like the past eight years, or very rapidly over the next several. Someone will likely step in to fill this void, and Trump has the personality type and understanding of human nature to possibly propel himself into the position when the timing is right. Is the time right in 2016? Probably not, but a President Trump is far more likely to occur in our lifetimes than many of us want to admit.
So with that out of the way, let me share some of the things I learned from the interview. First, I think Trump is far less materialistic than people presume, which sounds like a contradiction considering he is unquestionably one of the biggest showoffs on planet earth. While this is true, the motivation behind his ostentatious public persona is primarily to further his brand. As he says repeatedly in the interview, it’s all a show. In other words, he claims it’s pure marketing and I believe him.
What motivates Trump isn’t the collection of material things, rather, it’s a constant need to stroke his enormous ego and stoke his narcissism. Life is merely a giant game for Trump. A game in which the winners collect lots of fame and money, and the losers don’t. He doesn’t simply want to win this game, coming out on top is his entire life’s purpose. The idea of not winning isn’t even an option.
So with this in mind, is the Presidency just the ultimate prize for Trump? Does he want it simply because it is one of the few “wins” he has yet to collect? I think so. Deep down, I think Trump can’t truly envision himself as life’s ultimate winner without the Presidency. This is not to say I think Trump isn’t genuine when he says America is going down the toilet. Indeed, he was hitting on many of the exact same themes back in 1990. In fact, it gives you the impression that Trump has thought America was lacking his entire life, precisely because Trump had yet to be named the country’s CEO.
Trump believes in winning, and he thinks he and America are one in the same. In that sense, I genuinely believe that as President he would do what he thinks is best for America. In that sense, he’s not the typical detached, corrupt, greedy, globalist U.S. President we’ve become so accustomed to. This is precisely what his supporters are picking up on and why they love him.
From this angle alone, he might actually have the chops to be a very good President. This is because for a man with his disposition, being President might still not be enough of an accomplishment. His ego will require that history remember him not just as a billionaire and President, but as the man who “Made America Great Again,” the ultimate motivator for a man who never rests until he gets what he wants. So it’s true that he really wouldn’t be unduly influenced by billionaires and large corporations if he felt they were getting in the way of his making America great (and himself greater). Those are the positives.
As such, the establishment really is scared because Trump actually is an uncontrollable wildcard. This is certainly bad for them, but it isn’t necessarily good for “we the people.” The problem arises when it comes to Trump’s definition of greatness. From my chair, he doesn’t seem to think liberty, freedom and the Constitution play much of a role. Indeed, you can get a pretty good sense of his definition of “great” by looking at his buildings and the sorts of accomplishments he prides himself on. He loves the shock factor and big expensive toys. He likes them because they impress others and help his brand. There’s more swagger than substance to the things he prioritizes, at least publicly. Indeed, it’s not surprising that the casino business would have a particular appeal to him. It’s a world in which customers indulge themselves in a fantasy until they run out of money or get bored, and by the time they leave, Trump’s bank account is far bigger than it was before. He wins again.
Trump supporters see this and think this is how he’s going to deal with foreign leaders and that this is a good thing. They think that he’ll simply outsmart them. Maybe he will and maybe he won’t, who knows. Personally, I’m far more concerned about how he would deal with domestic dissent.
To that end, I think one thing is clear. I think he’d take George W. Bush’s “you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists” and change it to something like “you are either with me, or you hate America.” In a collapsed economy, this sort of slogan could appeal to a lot of people, and with an outraged public behind him, President Trump has the capacity to be incredibly cruel and vicious to American citizens he think stand in the way of his “Making America Great.”
Without any obvious respect for the Constitution or Bill of Rights, a President Trump could very quickly transform himself into a very dangerous strongman, all the while believing that he is merely doing what is necessary to make America great. This attitude has become painfully clear to me during the campaign as I’ve watched him intentionally stir up anger and hate by demonizing minorities such as Muslims and Mexicans. Do I think it’s possible he doesn’t really stand behind his own hateful statements and is merely telling groups of frustrated people what they want to hear to get elected? Perhaps, but such a willingness tells you a lot about the lengths he would go to win, and shines a light on the things he’s capable of doing in order to solidify and expand his power once he’s won.
Which brings me to the final point. Many of Trump’s personality traits are more admirable, or at least appear less nefarious than I previously thought. Nevertheless, it is extremely crucial to understand that the traits that make someone an incredible showman and billionaire are not the same traits needed in a President to restore a Constitutional Republic. Not that I think that’s high on Trump’s list of priorities in any event.
Now here are some of the more interesting excerpts of the interview. Read the entire thing here.
Then what does all this-the yacht, the bronze tower, the casinos-really mean to you?
Props for the show.
And what is the show?
The show is “Trump” and it has sold out performances everywhere. I’ve had fun doing it and will continue to have fun, and I think most people enjoy it.
You don’t sound guilty at all.
I do have a feeling of guilt. I’m living well and like it, I know that many other people don’t live particularly well. I do have a social consciousness. I’m setting up a foundation; I give a lot of money away and I think people respect that. The fact that I built this large company by myself working people respect that; but the people who are at high levels don’t like it. They’d like it for themselves.
What do you do to stay in touch with your employees?
I inspect the Trump Tower atrium every morning. Walk into it … it’s perfect; everything shines. I go down and raise hell in a nice way all the time because I want everything to be absolutely immaculate. I’m, totally hands-on. I get along great with porters and maids at the Plaza and the Grand Hyatt. I’ve had bright people ask me why I talk to porters and maids. I can’t even believe that question. Those are the people who make it all work …. If they like me, they will work harder … and I pay well.
How far are you willing to push adversaries?
I will demand anything I can get. When you’re doing business, you take people to the brink of breaking them without having them break, to the maximum point their heads can handle-without breaking them. That’s the sign of a good businessman: Somebody else would take them fifteen steps beyond their breaking point.
I am very skeptical about people; that’s self-preservation at work. I believe that, unfortunately, people are out for themselves. At this point, it’s to many people’s advantage to like me. Would the phone stop ringing, would these people kissing ass disappear if things were not going well? I enjoy testing friendship …. Everything in life to me is a psychological game, a series of challenges you either meet or don’t. I am always testing people who work for me.
I will send people around to my buyers to test their honesty by offering them trips and other things. I’ve been surprised that some people least likely to accept a trip from a contractor did and some of the most likely did not. You can never tell until you test; the human species is interesting in that way. So to me, friendship can be really tested only in bad times. I instinctively mistrust many people. It is not a negative in my life but a positive. Playboy wouldn’t be talking to me today if I weren’t a cynic. So I learned that from Fred, and I owe him a lot. . . . He could have ultimately been a happy guy, but things just went the unhappy way.
And the Pope?
Absolutely. Nothing wrong with ego. People need ego, whole nations need ego. I think our country needs more ego, because it is being ripped off so badly by our so-called allies; i.e., Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, etc. They have literally outegotized this country, because they rule the greatest money machine ever assembled and it’s sitting on our backs. Their products are better because they have so much subsidy. We Americans are laughed at around the world for losing a hundred and fifty billion dollars year after year, for defending wealthy nations for nothing, nations that would be wiped off the face of the earth in about fifteen minutes if it weren’t for us. Our “allies” are making billions screwing us.
You’re opposed to Japanese buying real estate in the U.S.?
I have great respect for the Japanese people and list many of them as great friends. But, hey, if you want to open up a business in Japan, good luck. It’s virtually impossible. But the Japanese can buy our buildings, our Wall Street firms, and there’s virtually no.thing to stop them. In fact, bidding on a building in New York is an act of futility, because the Japanese will pay more than it’s worth just to screw us. They want to own Manhattan. Of course, I shouldn’t even be complaining about it, because I’m one of the big beneficiaries of it. If I ever wanted to sell any of my properties, I’d have a field day. But it’s an embarrassment! I give great credit to the Japanese and their leaders, because they have made our leaders look totally second rate.
You have taken out full-page ads in several major newspapers that not only concern U.S. foreign trade but call for the death penalty, too. Why?
Because I hate seeing this country go to hell. We’re laughed at by the rest of the world. In order to bring law and order back into our cities, we need the death penalty and authority given back to the police. I got fifteen thousand positive letters on the death-penalty ad. I got ten negative or slightly negative ones.
You believe in an eye for an eye?
When a man or woman cold-bloodedly murders, he or she should pay. It sets an example. Nobody can make the argument that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent. Either it will be brought back swiftly or our society will rot away. It is rotting away.
For a man so concerned about our crumbling cities, some would say you’ve done little for crumbling Atlantic City besides pull fifty million dollars a week out of tourists’ pockets.
Elected officials have that responsibility. I would hate to think that people blame me for the problems of the world. Yet people come to me and say, “Why do you allow homelessness in the cities?” as if I control the situation. I am not somebody seeking office.
Wait. Doesn’t it seem that with all your influence in Atlantic City you could do more to combat crime and corruption and put something back into the community?
Well, crime and prostitution go up, and Atlantic City administrations are into very deep trouble with the law, and there are lots of problems there, no question about it. But there is a tremendous amount of money going to housing from the profits of the casinos. As somebody who runs hotels, all I can do, when you get right down to it, is run the best places, bring in as much money as possible, which in turn goes out for taxes. I contribute millions a year to various charities. Finally, by law, I’m not allowed to have Governmental influence; but if they passed legislation that allowed me to get more involved, I’d be very happy to do it. In the meantime, I have the most incredible hotels in the world in Atlantic City. The Taj Mahal will be beyond belief. And if I can awaken the government of Atlantic City, I have performed a great service.
What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?
I was very unimpressed….Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.
You mean firm hand as in China?
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world—
Besides The real-estate deal, you’ve met with top-level Soviet officials to negotiate potential business deals with them; how did they strike you?
Generally, these guys are much tougher and smarter than our representatives. We have people in this country just as smart, but unfortunately, they’re not elected officials. We’re still suffering from a loss of respect that goes back to the Carter Administration, when helicopters were crashing into one another in Iran. That was Carter’s emblem. There he was, being carried off from a race, needing oxygen. I don’t want my President to be carried off a race course. I don’t want my President landing on Austrian soil and falling down the stairs of his airplane. Some of our Presidents have been incredible jerk-offs. We need to be tough.
A favorite word of yours, tough. How do you define it?
Tough is being mentally capable of winning battles against an opponent and doing it with a smile. Tough is winning systematically.
Sometimes you sound like a Presidential candidate stirring up the voters.
I don’t want the Presidency. I’m going to help a lot of people with my foundation-and for me, the grass isn’t always greener.
But if the grass ever did look greener, which political party do you think you’d be more comfortable with?
Well, if I ever ran for office, I’d do better as a Democrat than as a Republican-and that’s not because I’d be more Republican-and that’s not because I’d be more liberal, because I’m conservative. But the working guy would elect me. He likes me. When I walk down the street, those cabbies start yelling out their windows.
Another game: What’s the first thing President Trump would do upon entering the Oval Office?
Many things. A toughness of attitude would prevail. I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.
And how would President Trump handle it?
He would believe very strongly in extreme military strength. He wouldn’t trust anyone. He wouldn’t trust the Russians; he wouldn’t trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we’re defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing. . . . We’re being laughed at around the world, defending Japan–
You categorically don’t want to be President?
I don’t want to be President. I’m one hundred percent sure. I’d change my mind only if I saw this country continue to go down the tubes.
More locally, one of your least favorite political figures was Mayor Ed Koch of New York. You two had a great time going after each other: He called you “piggy, piggy, piggy” and you called him “a moron.” Why do you suppose he lost the election?
He lost his touch for the people. He became arrogant. He not only discarded his friends but was a fool for brutally criticizing them. The corruption was merely a symptom of what had happened to him: He had become extremely nasty, mean spirited and very vicious, an extremely disloyal human being. When his friends like Bess Myerson and others were in trouble, he seemed to automatically abandon them, almost before finding out what they’d done wrong. He could think only about his own ass-not the city’s. That was dumb: The only one who didn’t know his administration was crumbling around him was him. Power corrupts.
You probably have more power than Koch did as mayor. And you’re getting more of it all the time. How about power’s corrupting you?
I think power sometimes corrupts-“sometimes” has to be added.
You’re involved in so many activities, deals, promotions-in the deep of the night, after the reporters all leave your conferences, are you ever satisfied with what you’ve accomplished?
I’m too superstitious to be satisfied. I don’t dwell on the past. People who do that go right down the tubes. I’m never self-satisfied. Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die. You know, it is all a rather sad situation.
Life? Or death?
Both. We’re here and we live our sixty, seventy or eighty years and we’re gone. You win, you win, and in the end, it doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. But it is something to do-to keep you interested.
So building that second huge yacht isn’t an act of gaudy excess but another act in the show?
Well, it draws people. It will be the eighth wonder of the world and will create an aura that seems to work. It will cost me two hundred million dollars. But I don’t need it! I could be very happy living in a one-bedroom apartment. I used to live that life. In the early Seventies, I lived in a studio apartment overlooking a water tank.
If you were starting over again, in what business would you choose to make your fortune?
Good question …. There’s something about mother earth that’s awfully good, and mother earth is still real estate. With the right financing, you’ve essentially invested no money. Publishing, movies, broadcasting are tougher, and there aren’t too many Rupert Murdochs, Si Newhouses, Robert Maxwells and Punch Sulzbergers. I’ll stick to real estate.
You seem very pleasant and charming during interviews, yet you talk constantly about toughness. Do you put on an act for us?
I think everybody has to have some kind of filtering system. I’m very fair and I have had the same people working for me for years. Rarely does anybody leave me. But when somebody tries to sucker-punch me, when they’re after my ass, I push back a hell of a lot harder than I was pushed in the first place. If somebody tries to push me around, he’s going to pay a price. Those people don’t come back for seconds. I don’t like being pushed around or taken advantage of. And that’s one of the problems with our country today. This country is being pushed around by everyone.
About your own toughness…
Well, as I said, I study people and in every negotiation, I weigh how tough I should appear. I can be a killer and a nice guy. You have to be everything. You have to be strong. You have to be sweet. You have to be ruthless. And I don’t think any of it can be learned. Either you have it or you don’t. And that is why most kids can get straight As in school but fail in life.
As you continue to make more deals, as you accumulate more and more, there’s a central question that arises about Donald Trump: How much is enough?
As long as I enjoy what I’m doing without getting bored or tired … the sky’s the limit.
The big concern as relates to Trump as President would be his strongman type of personality coupled with a cult of personality worship amongst his followers. This worship is something that Trump himself is well aware of, and it makes him all the more dangerous. For example, he recently said the following in Iowa:
Donald Trump boasted Saturday that support for his presidential campaign would not decline even if he shot someone in the middle of a crowded street.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said at a campaign rally here.
The scary part is, I think he’s right.