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Politics & Policy

The New Yorker Talks to Trump’s Ghostwriter

Jane Mayer has a profile of Donald Trump in The New Yorker. For conservatives who have been consuming news for any period of time, that combination should set off alarm bells that this is an unfair hit job on Trump, but everything remotely new in the entire article consists of relaying the thoughts and recollections of a single, named source: Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter who penned The Art of the Deal. Schwartz is a liberal tortured now by thoughts that he helped launch Trump from New York tabloid fodder to national icon, so draw your own conclusions about his credibility. The story he tells is consistent with my own impression of why Trump has been unable to muster the seriousness he needs to overcome the doubters, and will probably be believable enough if you already share that view, and not otherwise. A taste:

. . . the discussion was soon hobbled by what Schwartz regards as one of Trump’s most essential characteristics: “He has no attention span.” . . . Trump had been forthcoming with him during the New York interview, but it hadn’t required much time or deep reflection. For the book, though, Trump needed to provide him with sustained, thoughtful recollections. He asked Trump to describe his childhood in detail. After sitting for only a few minutes in his suit and tie, Trump became impatient and irritable. He looked fidgety, Schwartz recalls, “like a kindergartner who can’t sit still in a classroom.” Even when Schwartz pressed him, Trump seemed to remember almost nothing of his youth, and made it clear that he was bored. Far more quickly than Schwartz had expected, Trump ended the meeting.

. . . “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit . . . it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said.

. . . Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source — information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment.

Certainly, this impression of Trump is wholly consistent with his public behavior — the rambling speeches and interviews where he goes off on tangents from tangents before he can ever finish a sentence, the inability to describe in depth any of his own proposals, the unfamiliarity a year into the campaign with the basics of American civics.

A couple of additional things I took away from this article. One was a classic example of a phenomenon Republicans know well, the revisionism about how much better yesterday’s Republicans were: Writing this article required Jane Mayer to tell readers of The New Yorker that George W. Bush reads a lot of books (although, typically enough, she presents President Obama’s book-reading habits as fact but qualifies Bush’s with “reportedly”). Another, from my perspective as a lawyer, is that Trump was awfully cavalier about letting his biographer listen in on his conversations. The third is that Schwartz admits that some of the book’s “admissions” about Trump’s willingness to “play to people’s fantasies” are just Schwartz’s own take on Trump, which he now places in a much more nefarious cast. We learned this much: The Art of the Deal was written by a man who does not like its subject.


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