De­cod­ing the mind of Don­ald Trump

The Asian Age - - Oped - Fraser Nel­son

When An­thony Scara­mucci an­nounced that he was writ­ing a book about his time with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the joke was that it should be en­ti­tled Ten Days That Shook the World.

This, he says, does him an in­jus­tice be­cause he man­aged 11 days as White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor be­fore be­ing fired — af­ter a lava flow of sto­ries that seemed ex­tra­or­di­nary even by Trumpian stan­dards. But he re­mained loyal to the Pres­i­dent, and has been speak­ing in his de­fence ever since. This book prom­ises to re­veal one of the deep­est mys­ter­ies in Amer­i­can politics: how Mr Trump’s mind works.

“I’m al­most done with the man­u­script,” he says, fresh from a meet­ing with his pub­lish­ers in New York. “Ob­vi­ously, my short stint in the White House won’t be a ma­jor drama. The book will be about the Pres­i­dent’s per­son­al­ity. Al­most like a disc- op­er­at­ing man­ual: how the Pres­i­dent thinks, how he works, what he likes to do stylis­ti­cally. About his ne­go­ti­a­tion style, trade poli­cies, where he stands po­lit­i­cally. And why he’s go­ing to con­tinue to beat the pants off of his po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­saries who still haven’t fig­ured him out.”

Those who rail against Mr Trump, he says, play straight into his hands: he loves to wind up his de­trac­tors so they lose their com­po­sure. He of­fers an ex­am­ple: a pres­i­den­tial tweet last week re­fer­ring to costs be­ing “bourne” by the Amer­i­can tax­payer. “There are ac­tu­ally peo­ple in the me­dia who think he doesn’t know how to spell the word ‘ borne’. They don’t re­alise that he’s try­ing to light their hair on fire, he’s try­ing to in­cite them.” They rise to the bait ev­ery time, he says. “When he says that ‘ My but­ton is big­ger than your but­ton and my but­ton works’, they don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the an­gle that he’s ap­proach­ing them from.”

He sees this as Mr Trump’s great gift, his su­per­power. The Pres­i­dent is not a great reader, and is said to strug­gle with au­tocues. Oth­ers have spec­u­lated that he might suf­fer from un­di­ag­nosed dys­lexia. But Mr Scara­mucci ar­gues that, just as some blind or deaf peo­ple have a height­ened sense of smell and touch, Mr Trump has com­pen­sat­ing pow­ers over the spo­ken ( or tweeted) word. That he can dom­i­nate the news agenda with a few out­landish phrases, al­low­ing him to reach mil­lions of Amer­i­cans di­rectly. And be­com­ing, as the Mooch puts it in the ti­tle of his forth­com­ing book, “the Blue- Col­lar Pres­i­dent”.

Mr Scara­mucci is the ar­che­typal Wall Street slicker: a 54year- old millionaire with a taste for the high life — and the spot­light. When he was ap­pointed White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, he be­came a one- man foun­tain of head­lines. On day two, his es­tranged wife gave birth to their son ( it emerged that she had de­cided to di­vorce him a few weeks ear­lier). He vowed to purge any­one caught leak­ing (“I’m go­ing to fire ev­ery­body”), yet the next day called a re­porter to de­nounce his White House ri­vals in the most colour­ful terms. He thought it was off the record but it was writ­ten up with no ex­ple­tive spared. His mis­take, he tells me, was to speak can­didly to a jour­nal­ist whom he had re­garded as a fam­ily friend. And to “throw a cou­ple of curse words in”.

He is still deeply wary of jour­nal­ists. We first met last au­tumn, and I’ve been press­ing him for an in­ter­view ever since. I was in­ter­ested not so much in his now fa­mil­iar tales of mishap but his the­o­ries about what method lies be­hind the Trump mad­ness, and the forces that took him to power.

His story starts with his fa­ther, a former crane op­er­a­tor in Long Is­land, who earned enough to give his fam­ily a com­fort­able up­bring­ing. But this job, he cal­cu­lates, now pays about a third less in real terms than it did back then.

“My par­ents were in the as­pi­ra­tional work­ing class,” he says. “Sim­i­larly sit­u­ated peo­ple now feel like they’re in the des­per­a­tional work­ing class.”

Only two can­di­dates at the last US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion un­der­stood the depth of this de­spair, he says: Mr Trump and Mr Bernie San­ders. And only one of them made it to the bal­lot pa­per. “I saw this bil­lion­aire liv­ing in a glass tower next to Tif­fany’s who was some­how in direct touch with peo­ple I grew up with. I thought it was fas­ci­nat­ing,” he says. “If I was to be crit­i­cal of my­self, I had been steeped in too many China World Eco­nomic Fo­rums, hang­ing around in an echo cham­ber of con­firmed bi­ases. Talk­ing to su­per- smart peo­ple, but af­ter a while you start to dis­con­nect from neigh­bour­hoods like the one I grew up in.”

Al­most all of Mr Trump’s ri­vals, he says, suf­fered from this dis­con­nect. “They were us­ing a 35- year- old play­book of Amer­i­can politics. Ho­mogenis­ing their lan­guage, not pay­ing close at­ten­tion to what was ac­tu­ally go­ing on in the mid­dle of Amer­ica.” And what was go­ing on, he says, was the fail­ure of an eco­nomic sys­tem — which had started to threaten the po­lit­i­cal or­der. “If you look at world his­tory, you see that democ­racy has been a frag­ile ex­per­i­ment. Per­i­cles and the founders of Athe­nian democ­racy were try­ing to em­power peo­ple only in or­der to pre­vent their re­volt. To­day we have these high ideals — say the words of Locke, J. S. Mill or Thomas Jef­fer­son — but the po­lit­i­cal rights we talk about are founded on eco­nomic prin­ci­ples. When peo­ple are feel­ing eco­nom­i­cally des­per­ate, they will call for change.” Mr Trump, he says, is the ve­hi­cle of this change.

“You also have to un­der­stand that dis­pos­able in­come in the US is up. Busi­nesses feel bet­ter, there’s more buoy­ancy and op­ti­mism in the busi­ness com­mu­nity, there’s greater job cre­ation, you’ve got very low un­em­ploy­ment num­bers,” he adds. “Amer­i­cans have clas­si­cally and typ­i­cally voted with their pocket books. So this is a guy that will be im­pos­si­ble to beat, I think, at the time of re­elec­tion.” Mr Trump’s re­cent threat of tar­iffs on Chi­nese prod­ucts, he says, will also be good for the Amer­i­can worker.

I ask how a Gold­man Sachs banker and a be­liever in free mar­kets can be com­fort­able with pro­tec­tion­ism, and the no­tion of a trade war.

Mr Scara­mucci doesn’t see it as a trade war. “Long ago, the US made a de­ci­sion that goods and ser­vices would flow freely into our coun­try if they were from the de­vel­op­ing world, but we ac­cepted higher lev­els of tar­iffs on goods flow­ing from us to them. So you had un­even trade deals, and we called it free trade,” he says.

“China en­tered the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion as a de­vel­op­ing na­tion. Eighteen years later, I’d say China is a fairly de­vel­oped na­tion. Its econ­omy is the sec­ond largest in the world. All the Pres­i­dent is say­ing is that this strat­egy, this im­bal­ance, has had the ef­fect of hol­low­ing out the Amer­i­can mid­dle and lower classes. It has def­i­nitely di­min­ished wages in the US, and cre­ated a rust belt. We’ve lost 70,000 or 65,000 fac­to­ries since the sign­ing of Nafta, and so all the Pres­i­dent is say­ing is that we need sym­me­try in these deals now. We need to pro­tect the Amer­i­can worker.”

And it’s work­ing al­ready, he says. “Pres­i­dent Xi last night agreed to re­duce the tar­iffs on the auto im­ports. They have a 25 per cent tar­iff on our cars, we have a 2.5 per cent tar­iff on theirs. He has agreed to re­duce his tar­iff.” So he sees Mr Trump as a man of trade peace. “The move Mr Xi made is in­dica­tive of that, be­cause it sends a mes­sage that he’s ready to abort a trade war. That would have never hap­pened un­der Mr Obama or un­der a new Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, so you have to give the guy some credit, right? And by the way, look at the ne­go­ti­a­tions on North Korea. I pre­dict that there will be a very sat­is­fac­tory out­come there as well.”

What about Syria? Here, Mr Scara­mucci isn’t quite so con­fi­dent. In gen­eral, he says, Mr Trump is dis­in­clined to use the mil­i­tary. “He may be abrupt in his ne­go­ti­at­ing style but he wants a diplo­matic so­lu­tion over ev­ery­thing else.”

I put to him that the Pres­i­dent of Syria Bashar alAs­sad might have car­ried out the chem­i­cal weapons at­tack on pre­cisely this as­sump­tion, bet­ting that Mr Trump would fire a few mis­siles, then leave him alone to con­tinue the slaugh­ter. “Yes, that’s prob­a­bly what he’s think­ing.” Is that a prob­lem? He won’t say. “It’s easy to be crit­i­cal from a dis­tance. But I’m way less crit­i­cal of our pub­lic of­fi­cials than I was 15 years ago,” he says. “I now have more ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what they’re go­ing through.”

Be­ing sacked didn’t af­fect his friend­ship with Mr Trump, he says. “I’m a big boy. I’ve been fired be­fore. There are peo­ple that I have fired that I have wanted to keep a good re­la­tion­ship with.” And he sees cer­tain up­sides to the whole drama. “The Pres­i­dent made me as fa­mous as Me­la­nia and Ivanka — and I didn’t have to sleep with him or be his daugh­ter. So it’s all good.” And it will be even bet­ter once he com­pletes the sale of SkyBridge Cap­i­tal, the $ 11 bil­lion hedge fund that he founded. And would he go back to the White House for a sec­ond time? He’d never say never, but sees no pos­si­bil­ity of his be­ing asked. “I think that I had a voice that could have re­ally helped the Pres­i­dent long- term. But c’est la vie.”

Scara­mucci’s story starts with his fa­ther, a former crane op­er­a­tor in Long Is­land, who earned enough to give his fam­ily a com­fort­able up­bring­ing. But this job, he cal­cu­lates, now pays about a third less in real terms than it did back then.

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