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For decades, Donald Trump made deals with an “I win, you lose” mentality. Little surprise that he is bringing the same philosophy to governing the most powerful nation on earth.
*Normalerweise schreibt Forbes ja nicht über Politiker – aber wie dieser Artikel von Randall Lane, Chief Content Officer von Forbes, zeigt, bestätigen Ausnahmen die Regel. Im November 2017 übernahmen wir dieses Porträt über Donald Trump, das Lane nach einem persönlichen Interview verfasst hatte. Und es zeigt: Trump ist eigentlich gar kein Politiker – oder agiert zumindest nicht so.
Um dem Text seinen Charakter nicht zu nehmen, druckten wir den Artikel im englischen Original.
Trump really did call the White House a “dump,” he’s over it. Inside the small West Wing study— where he stacks his papers and takes his meals atop what he calls his “working desk,” the president talks volubly about a chandelier he had installed and the oil paintings of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. He pokes open the door to his pristine private bathroom, a must for the germophobe-in-chief. He takes us outside to see the serene swimming pool. And inside the Oval Office, freshly renovated with drapes, carpet and fixtures that lean heavily on gold, he slides his hand across the same Resolute Desk where JFK handled the Cuban Missile Crisis and Reagan fought the Cold War, adorned with nothing but two telephones and a call button. “This looks very nice,” says the president.
He could as easily be pitching a Trump Tower penthouse or a Doral golf club membership, and over the course of a nearly one-hour interview in the Oval Office, President Trump stays true to the same Citizen Trump form that Forbes has seen for 35 years.
He boasts, with a dose of hyperbole that any student of FDR or even Barack Obama could undercut: “I’ve had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in a nine-month period, that’s ever served. We had over 50 bills passed. I’m not talking about executive orders only, which are very important. I’m talking about bills.”
He counterpunches, in this case firing a shot at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly called his boss a moron: “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
And above all, he sells: “I also have another bill … an economic development bill, which I think will be fantastic. Which nobody knows about. Which you are hearing about for the first time …Economic-development incentives for companies. Incentives for companies to be here.” Companies that keep jobs in America get rewarded; those that send operations offshore “get penalized severely.” “It’s both a carrot and a stick,” says the president. “It is an incentive to stay. But it is perhaps even more so – if you leave, it’s going to be very tough for you to think that you’re going to be able to sell your product back into our country.”
And so here we are, the first president to come solely from the private sector, representing the party that for more than a century championed laissez-faire capitalism and free trade, proposing that government punish and reward companies based on where they choose to locate factories and offices. Is the president comfortable with that idea? “Very comfortable,” he replies. “What I want to do is reciprocal. See, I think the concept of reciprocal is a very nice concept. If somebody is charging us 50 percent, we should charge them 50 percent. Right now they charge us 50 percent, and we charge them nothing. That doesn’t work with me.”
Dealmakers rarely seek that kind of win-win-win-win-win. Whether it’s a stock trade, a swap of middle relievers or optioning a real estate parcel, a deal tends to involve just two parties and generally results in one coming out ahead of the other (so much so that a “win-win” is considered a noteworthy aberration). “Man is the most vicious of all animals,” Trump told People Magazine in 1981 (and it merited a mention the first time he appeared in Forbes, a year later). “Life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.” It’s a mentality that remains hard-wired in President Trump.
Nearly a year after the most stunning Election Day in many decades, pundits still profess to find themselves continually shocked by President Trump. They shouldn’t be: His worldview has been incredibly consistent. Rather than as an opportunity to turn ideology into policy, he views governing the way he does business – as an endless string of deals, to be won or lost, both at the negotiating table and in the court of public opinion. Look at his first year through this prism, and it makes sense. And it offers clues for the next three years – or seven.
Ask President Trump if he’s having fun in his new job, and he has a quick answer: “I am having fun. I’m enjoying it. We’re accomplishing a lot. Your stock market is at an all-time high. Your jobs, your unemployment is at the lowest point in almost 17 years. We have fantastic numbers coming out.” Fantastic numbers aren’t generally how most people would measure fun.
But Trump always has. “Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry,” he wrote in ‘The Art of the Deal’ 30 years ago. “I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.” Numbers offer Trump validation. They determine the winner or loser of any deal and establish an industry hierarchy. It’s why Trump, more than any of the 1,600 or so people who’ve been on The Forbes 400, has spent more time lobbying and cajoling Forbes to get a higher valuation – and validation.
In the Oval Office, when I tell him the markets are up 20 percent during his term, he stretches the time period to yield an even glossier figure. “No, 25 since the election. You have to go since the election!”
That depends on the index, of course (he’s conveniently using the most Trump-friendly one, Nasdaq), but the president will brook no such subtlety. “Since Election Day it’s 25 percent. It has gone up since Election Day $5.2 trillion – $5.2 trillion. If Hillary Clinton would have won, the markets would have gone down substantially.”
For Trump, numbers also serve as a pliant tool. American business has fully embraced Big Data, Moneyball-style analytics and machine learning, where figures suggest the best course of action. But Trump, for decades, has boasted about how he conducts his own research – largely anecdotal – and then buys or sells based on instinct. Numbers are then used to justify his gut.
He governs exactly that way, sticking with even his most illogical campaign promises – the kind other politicians walk back from once confronted with actual policy decisions, whether making Mexico pay for a border wall when illegal immigration is historically low or pulling the U.S. from the Paris climate accords, despite the fact that compliance is voluntary – citing whatever figures he can to justify his stances. When asked about Russian interference in the election, for example, he notes that he got 306 electoral votes and adds that the Democrats need “an excuse for losing an election that in theory they should have won.” For the greatest-ever American salesman (yes, including P. T. Barnum), statistics serve as marketing grist.
He also uses numbers as leverage, a way to set parameters and eventually declare victory. Back when he bought the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League in 1984, he reportedly described his bidding style to his fellow owners thusly: “When I build something for somebody, I always add $50 million or $60 million onto the price. My guys come in, they say it’s going to cost $75 million. I say it’s going to cost $125 million and I build it for $100 million. Basically, I did a lousy job. But they think I did a great job.”
In any situation, Trump must be the alpha dog. Delegation isn’t his strong suit. Witness what happened when Tillerson apparently reopened a dialogue with the North Koreans. “He was wasting his time,” Trump now says. But doesn’t publicly upbraiding his top diplomat effectively neuter him? “I’m not undermining,” Trump says. “I think I’m actually strengthening authority.” It’s hard to see whose authority he’s strengthening, other than his own.
Thanks to “The Apprentice“, most people think Donald Trump ran a big company. He did not. The Trump Organization has 22 real estate assets, with their own management teams. Trump licenses his brand to over a dozen entities, collecting royalties. All in all, it’s a valuable company that’s more impressive for its efficiency than its breadth. Trump leveraged that mindset, and his formidable skills as a marketer and showman, to run a historically efficient political campaign. “Nobody talks about it, but I spent much less money and won,” he says. He’s absolutely right.
But there’s precious little about running the Trump Organization that provides the kind of experience that it takes to run the ultimate organization in America: the U.S. government. Inheriting the keys to American government is akin to a succession at General Electric or Microsoft. Continuity is generally assumed – honoring prior commitments and running the company/country as best as possible, while pivoting to new priorities and policies.
Trump’s transactional mindset, however, doesn’t see it that way (nor do many of his core supporters, who expect radical change above all else). If previous policies were bad deals, he sees no reason to honor them, even at the cost of America’s reputation or the perception of stable American policy.
Take Obamacare: “It’s a total mess,” Trump says. Fair point. But doesn’t Trump, as the CEO of America, have an obligation to operate it as well as he can until he has an alternative, rather than threaten to withhold payments to insurance companies, shrink the enrollment period and slash the advertising budget? “What we’re doing is trying to keep it afloat, because it’s failing,” he says. “I mean the insurance companies are fleeing and have fled. They fled before I got here. But with that being said, no, Obamacare is Obama’s fault. It’s nobody else’s fault.”
Trump intends to run the country more like the Trump Organization in other ways. Much has been made about how slow he’s been to nominate people to key positions. In the State Department, for example, he has failed to put up names for more than half of the confirmable positions. That’s apparently not an accident.
“I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be – because you don’t need them,” he says. “I mean, you look at some of these agencies, how massive they are, and it’s totally unnecessary. They have hundreds of thousands of people.” And how does this man, who’s never really had a boss, feel about now having 330 million of them, to be exact? He acknowledges the fact, but then answers in a way that is perfect, consistent Trump: “It doesn’t matter, because I’m going to do the right thing.”
Text: Randall Lane
Fotos: Jamel Toppin für Forbes
Der Artikel war die Coverstory unserer November 2017-Ausgabe.