The miss­ing soul is a no Trump trick

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - The Times

“DEEP down he wants to be Madonna,” says one ac­quain­tance of Don­ald Trump. In this short but sweet book, Mark Singer ex­plores the re­la­tion­ship be­tween truth and fiction in the iden­tity of the man he de­scribes as a “per­for­mance artist”. His ob­jec­tive is to “ap­pre­hend the per­son within the per­sona” of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, whose “ap­pear­ance is never not, at some level, ar­ti­fice”. It’s an amus­ing but also ter­ri­fy­ing por­trayal of a nar­cis­sist with only a fleet­ing grasp of re­al­ity who could soon be the leader of the free world.

Trump and Me is an ex­tended ver­sion of an in­ter­view Singer did with Trump in 1997 for The New Yorker. Ap­pro­pri­ately for the post­mod­ern world of post-truth pol­i­tics, it re­counts the in­ter­viewer’s prepa­ra­tion for the en­counter and the sub­ject’s re­sponse to it.

Trump is fu­ri­ous about the ar­ti­cle writ­ten by the man he later de­scribed in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy as “not much of any­thing, non­de­script, with a faint wise-guy sneer and some kind of chip on his shoul­der”. Singer is thrilled by the re­sponse: “This af­firms, un­con­tro­vert­ibly, that my life has mean­ing.” Even more won­der­fully for him, Trump then sends him a note: “MARK, YOU ARE A TO­TAL LOSER! AND YOUR BOOK (AND WRIT­INGS) SUCKS!”

All this is amus­ing, if a lit­tle self-ob­sessed — but what is more in­ter­est­ing is the de­scrip­tion of Trump. He is, Singer con­cludes, a “crea­ture ev­ery­where and nowhere”, a man “with uni­ver­sal recog­ni­tion but with a sus­pi­cion that an in­te­rior life was an in­tol­er­a­ble in­con­ve­nience”. The book’s chill­ing con­clu­sion is that Trump has “achieved the ul­ti­mate lux­ury, an ex­is­tence un­mo­lested by the rum­bling of a soul”.

Of course, the Repub­li­can can­di­date, who ad­vo­cates a ban on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the US and has called for the build­ing of a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der, is a bete noire for the lib­eral Left. What is in­ter­est­ing about this book is its as­sess­ment of the char­ac­ter traits that de­fined Trump long be­fore he thought about going into pol­i­tics.

From the start, his modus operandi has been clear, ac­cord­ing to Singer: “Fly the flag, never budge from the premise that the uni­verse re­volves around you and, above all, stay in char­ac­ter.” In this ac­count ev­ery­thing is an act by the man who refers to him­self as “the Trump­ster”, from the sug­ges­tion that Trump Tower in New York be­longs to him, al­though most of it has been sold off as apart­ments, to his dec­la­ra­tion that things are “off the record — but you can use it”.

Hav­ing spent years analysing his sub­ject, Singer, a vet­eran New Yorker writer, por­trays a man more in­ter­ested in im­age than fact. “It is deeply un­fair to say that Trump lies all the time,” he says. “I would never sug­gest that he lies when he’s asleep. On the other hand, he fa­mously gets by on only four hours a night.”

Through­out his life there have been “deftly chore­ographed love spats”. Caught out trick­ing a news­pa­per into pub­lish­ing a fic­ti­tious story that he had won $US20 mil­lion bet­ting on a Mike Tyson boxing match, “Trump never blinked, just moved on to the next bright idea”. In busi­ness Trump de­lib­er­ately sets out to avoid trans­parency. “It’s al­ways good to do things nice and com­pli­cated so that no­body can fig­ure it out,” he ex­plains.

In­side the Trump Or­gan­i­sa­tion, the book claims, there is talk of “the Don­ald fac­tor”, the amount that Wall Street dis­counts the share prices of his com­pa­nies to al­low for his “brag­gado­cio and un­pre­dictabil­ity”. Singer quotes Alair Townsend, a for­mer deputy mayor of New York: “I wouldn’t be­lieve Don­ald Trump if his tongue were no­tarised”.

His alchemy, Singer writes, is to “turn other peo­ple’s money into his wealth”. For Trump ev­ery­thing is ei­ther “super-lux­ury” or “su­per­su­per-lux­ury”. Peo­ple ex­pect “glitz” from him, he ex­plains, al­though “in my res­i­den­tial build­ings I some­times use flash, which is a level be­low glitz”.

There is a won­der­ful de­scrip­tion of Trump’s pen­t­house apart­ment in New York, with its rooftop park, liv­ing room foun­tain and two­s­torey din­ing room with carved ivory frieze. His pri­vate jet has solid gold sinks, seat­belt clasps and door hinges. And in his 118-room Palm Beach cas­tle Mar-a-Lago, a pri­vate mem­bers’ club with a $US100,000 ($133,200) join­ing fee, there is a life-size por­trait of Trump hang­ing amid the tapestries, mu­rals, fres­coes and a vaulted Corinthian colon­nade.

When Singer asks where the res­i­dent physi­cian, Gin­ger Lea Southall, trained, Trump replies: “I’m not sure. Bay­watch Med­i­cal School? … I’ll tell you the truth. Once I saw Dr Gin­ger’s pho­to­graph I didn’t re­ally need to look at her resume or any­one else’s.”

Trump says his yacht and glitzy casi­nos are all “props for the show … the show is ‘ Trump’ and it is sold-out per­for­mances ev­ery­where”. The pres­i­den­tial cam­paign is only the lat­est act in this long-run­ning drama. Al­though his suc­cess de­pends on peo­ple’s per­cep­tion that he is au­then­tic, an anti-es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure who speaks truth to power, in fact, as Singer writes, through­out his cam­paign “all was ar­ti­fice”.

As the can­di­date works the crowds of the dis­af­fected and the dis­ad­van­taged, Trump is act­ing just as he has al­ways been. “Win or lose,’’ Singer con­cludes, “I won­der how long it will take Trump’s bedrock par­ti­sans to grasp that they’ve been played.”

Puttin’ on the glitz: US pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.