‘Never Enough – Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success’
I didn’t really know all that much about Donald Trump before he secured the Republican presidential nomination.
I really enjoyed reading his books and thought he was really likable, especially as we seem to have a fair amount in common: We share the same birthday, neither of us drinks alcohol or smokes, we both built our fortunes on real estate (although he, of course, has made more money from it than I have), we have both written a number of books on success and wealth creation, have both owned modelling agencies, share a taste for beautiful women and both have a keen sense for self-marketing and PR.
I hope though that this is everything we have in common. Over the last few months, my perception of Trump has become much more critical, and this biography only served to confirm my shift in opinion.
Let me make one thing clear to begin with: this is a critical biography and I do not share the author’s (left-wing) political views, which is why I am unable to agree with a number of his judgements and tendencies. Nevertheless, the book by Michael D’Antonio is rich in detail and well worth reading. It is the product of intensive research and countless interviews. The author spent more than ten hours in direct conversation with Donald Trump (who clearly didn’t realise that the book would ultimately be so critical of him). He also interviewed Trump’s three children and his first two wives, and had lengthy discussions with a number of Trump’s closest friends and staunchest opponents.
Trump comes from a rich family, the son of a man whose fortune has been estimated at around $200 million. The author never tires of bringing this fact up, and it is clear that he is trying to put different perspective on a number of Trump’s achievements.
Whichever way you cut it, it is still remarkable that this son of a rich businessman managed to build a fortune of between $4 and 9 billion, especially given the fact that so many children from wealthy backgrounds struggle to even hold on to their money, let alone grow it to anywhere near this extent. But this is where the questions begin, and the author doesn’t shy away from repeatedly asking: just how rich is Donald Trump?
Trump’s wealth didn’t suddenly emerge as a point of contention when he declared that he would be running for president, it has always been a topic surrounded in controversy. To answer this question you first have to determine the value of the Trump brand name.
In 2010, Trump claimed that independent assessors valued the Trump name at $3 billion (p. 9). At other times, he has claimed that the brand is worth as much as $6 billion (p. 275). You can argue about which of these figures is closest to the truth until you are blue in the face, especially as Trump is well-known for massively over-exaggerating the extent of his wealth, as the author repeatedly demonstrates.
Whether the Trump brand name is worth as much today is another point of contention. I think that his presidential campaign has actually damaged the value of his brand. After all, there are as many, if not more, people who reject his politics, as there are those who support him. The author uses a range of examples to demonstrate that simply applying the Trump name to an asset does not automatically increase its value, as Donald Trump has previously claimed (p. 198).
No reader can avoid questioning Trump’s credibility, especially as it is clear that Trump’s tendency to exaggerate has been a recurring theme throughout his entire life.
Trump’s habit of boundless exaggeration is one of the qualities I like least about him, in particular as it demonstrates that he has a more than flexible approach to the truth.
For example, he once claimed that his company owned 22,000 apartments when the figure was really 12,000 (p. 145). He also claimed that his stake in a real estate development project was 50% even though it was really 30%. Why? Because, according to Trump, “if the seventy percent owner puts up all of the money, I really own more than thirty percent. And I have always felt I own fifty percent, from that standpoint.” (p. 275).
When asked why he exaggerates, Trump replied: “I think everybody does. Who wouldn’t?” (p. 275). In his book, “The Art of the Deal”, Trump admitted: “A little hyperbole never hurts. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration and a very effective promotion” (p. 186).
His “little exaggerations” include claims that Queen Elisabeth II (who last visited the US in 1983) asked if she could borrow his helicopter the next time she, “is over in this country” (p. 191).
D’Antonio demonstrates that Trump’s exaggerations are often more than just “little” and that they are far less than ‘truthful’: “In his effort to sell his memoir, Trump’s hype included so many exaggerated claims that tracking them was almost impossible.” (p. 186).
The author shows that Trump has always differed from other wealthy individuals in that he constantly seeks to market his wealth and success.
While many rich people are uncomfortable when they appear in the Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people (fearing envy, blackmail or kidnapping), Trump is one of the few who regularly complains that his wealth is massively underestimated. In 1997, for instance, when Forbes reported that Trump had a fortune of $1.4 billion, Trump responded by claiming the magazine’s figures were wrong and that he was really worth $3.7 billion. At the end of the 1990s, as Forbes estimated his fortune at $1.6 billion, Trump insisted that the correct figure was $4.5 billion. (p. 241)
PR and public recognition have always important to Trump than wealth.
“The one consistent element in all of these interests was the value he placed on publicity, which he sought with the skill of someone who understood that celebrity is power, reporters are often lazy about facts, and image can trump reality... Trump begins each day with a sheaf of papers