What Trump means when he calls him­self a ‘ge­nius’

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Marc Fisher

WASH­ING­TON – The ge­nius in the White House has al­ways be­lieved that what makes him spe­cial is his abil­ity to get things done with­out go­ing through the steps oth­ers must take.

In school, he bragged that he’d do well with­out crack­ing a book. As a young real es­tate de­vel­oper, his ju­nior ex­ec­u­tives re­called, he skipped the study­ing and winged his way through meet­ings with politi­cians, bankers and union bosses. And as a novice politi­cian, he scoffed at the no­tion that he might suf­fer from any lack of ex­pe­ri­ence or knowl­edge.

So when Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted last week­end that he “would qual­ify as not smart, but ge­nius . . . and a very sta­ble ge­nius at that!” it was con­sis­tent with a pat­tern of as­sert­ing that he will do this his way, with­out bend­ing to ex­pec­ta­tions about what con­sti­tutes proper pres­i­den­tial be­hav­ior.

The tweet, is­sued in re­sponse to a new book that sug­gests his clos­est ad­vis­ers doubt his mental sta­bil­ity, not only dou­bled down on his be­lief that smash­ing con­ven­tions is the path to suc­cess but un­der­scored his life­long con­vic­tion that he wins when he’s the cen­ter of at­ten­tion. In the cease­less bat­tle of life, Trump made clear by claim­ing the ti­tle of ge­nius that he won’t give way to those who be­lieve he doesn’t be­long at the top.

“There is a cer­tain kind of ge­nius to win­ning the pres­i­dency like it was an en­try-level job,” said Dave Shi­flett, the co-writer of Trump’s first book about his po­lit­i­cal views, “The Amer­ica We De­serve,” which was pub­lished in 2000. “To go into those cam­paign ral­lies with just a few notes and con­nect with peo­ple he wasn’t at all like, that takes a cer­tain ge­nius. His ge­nius is he’ll say any­thing to con­nect with peo­ple. He won by telling the rally crowds that the peo­ple who didn’t like them also didn’t like him.”

To many peo­ple who worked with Trump through­out his ca­reer, last week’s tweets – and Tues­day’s vir­tu­ally un­prece­dented Cab­i­net Room re­al­ity show, in which the pres­i­dent con­ducted an on-cam­era ne­go­ti­a­tion about im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy with stunned con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans and Democrats – were fa­mil­iar tac­tics: a bold, even brazen, drive to put on a show and make him­self the star.

Even when he is not overtly try­ing to win at­ten­tion, his nat­u­ral in­stinct – a form of ge­nius to some, a sign of in­sta­bil­ity to oth­ers – is to choose the un­fil­tered path, as he did Thurs­day, when he told sen­a­tors dur­ing a White House dis­cus­sion about im­mi­grants from Haiti, El Sal­vador and some African na­tions that the United States should bring in peo­ple from coun­tries like Nor­way, which is ma­jor­ity-white, not from “s .... hole coun­tries.” Although Trump on Fri­day ap­peared to deny hav­ing used that vul­gar­ity, he tweeted that he did use “tough” lan­guage – a long-stand­ing point of pride for the pres­i­dent, whose po­lit­i­cal as­cent was fu­eled by his ar­gu­ment that, as a bil­lion­aire, he is lib­er­ated to say what some other Amer­i­cans only think.

From his ear­li­est days in the real es­tate busi­ness, Trump boasted fre­quently about be­ing smart, said Bar­bara Res, who was Trump’s top con­struc­tion ex­ec­u­tive when he built Trump Tower on Man­hat­tan’s Fifth Av­enue in the 1980s.

“He needed to be stroked all the time and told how smart he was,” she said. “Ev­ery de­ci­sion process was clouded by his sense that he knows more than any­body else. But you could work with that: The way we got things done was to ap­proach him with an idea and make him think it was his. It was so easy.”

Res added: “Don­ald was al­ways a for­est per­son; he never knew any­thing about the trees. He knew con­crete was brought in on trucks, but he re­ally didn’t know how to run a project. What he had was street smarts – good in­stincts about peo­ple.”

Those who have watched Trump for decades say he has al­ways en­cour­aged peo­ple around him to view him as some­one who could see things that oth­ers could not. A.J. Benza, a for­mer jour­nal­ist who cov­ered Trump for many years in New York and in 2001 had a pub­lic spat with him when Trump be­gan go­ing out with Benza’s girl­friend, said that Trump of­ten talked about be­ing the smartest guy in the room.

“He never meant ‘book ge­nius’ when he said it,” said Benza, who now hosts a celebrity pod­cast. “He means, OK, he didn’t hit the brains lot­tery, but he’s bril­liant and cun­ning in the way he op­er­ates. He’s amaz­ing at tak­ing the tem­per­a­ture of the room and know­ing how to ap­pease ev­ery­one. You want that kind of in­stinct in your quar­ter­backs, in your gen­er­als. It’s not what we’ve ever thought of as what makes a great pres­i­dent, but he’s never go­ing to be the guy who makes great speeches. This is who he is.”

Be­ing some­thing of a ge­nius was cen­tral to Trump’s self-im­age, his for­mer ex­ec­u­tives said. Ev­ery­one around him learned to cater to that – even his father, who trained Trump to fol­low in his foot­steps as a de­vel­oper.

In the first ma­jor newspaper pro­file of Trump, in the New York Times in 1976, his father, Fred Trump, de­scribes his son as “the smartest per­son I know.”

Through­out his life, Trump has be­lieved that his in­stincts and street smarts po­si­tioned him to suc­ceed where oth­ers might strug­gle. At the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, he con­cluded that “there was noth­ing par­tic­u­larly awe­some or ex­cep­tional about my classmates” in the real es­tate di­vi­sion of the Whar­ton School’s busi­ness pro­gram, Trump later wrote in one of his books. “Per­haps the most im­por­tant thing I learned at Whar­ton was not to be overly impressed by aca­demic cre­den­tials.”

Res said that Trump of­ten bragged that he was “first” in his class in the Whar­ton pro­gram or that he was a “top stu­dent” there, but his name does not ap­pear in the school’s honor roll and classmates re­called him as some­one who skated by do­ing lit­tle work. “He did what it took to get through the pro­gram,” class­mate Louis Calo­maris told the Wash­ing­ton Post in 2016.

His father of­ten told Trump that “you are a king,” in­struct­ing him to “be a killer.” Fred Trump was a stu­dent of Dale Carnegie, the evan­ge­list of suc­cess through self-im­prove­ment, and an acolyte of Nor­man Vin­cent Peale, the New York min­is­ter who preached a gospel of pos­i­tive think­ing.

Never a strong stu­dent, Trump said that he came to be­lieve he did not need to study as oth­ers did to make their way in the busi­ness world. Rather, he be­lieved he had the in­her­ent smarts to make the right de­ci­sions. “I know in my gut,” he said in an in­ter­view last year. “I know in 30 sec­onds what the right move is.”

Wash­ing­ton Post

Pres­i­dent Trump at­tends a meeting on po­ten­tial changes to the fed­eral prison sys­tem last week in Wash­ing­ton. In the wake of a new book, he also spent last week on Twit­ter de­fend­ing his ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

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