At the heart of the Trump formula for winning, however, lies the larger-than-life persona. His architecture of the self rejects earlier models in the American success tradition—Franklin’s “virtue” and Alger’s “character” and Carnegie’s “personality”—to focus on creating a Titan image, a persona that doesn’t earn respect or kindle affection, but that radiates power and inspires awe. Trump’s Titan first appears in The Art of the Deal, frequenting establishments such as the exclusive Le Club because “its membership included some of the most successful men and the most beautiful women in the world.” To become a Titan, one must go “first class all the way. ... Let everything you do and own convey an image of importance. Own a first-class car, carry first-class luggage, go to first-class restaurants, and shop in first-class stores.” The Trump persona specializes in, above all, the art of the gasconade. He notes shrewdly, “I play to people’s fantasies. ... People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole.”
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With its pragmatism and disregard for questions of morality, Trump’s approach to success makes no attempt to link an oversized personal image to a deeper notion of personal growth. Readers get no sense of how Trump’s vision helps create good people, either individually or collectively, as in Franklin’s virtuous republic, Alger’s bourgeois utopia, or Carnegie’s well-adjusted bureaucratic society. Trump’s reflections on family say little about love or even personal happiness, instead stressing no-nonsense issues of trust and support. While Trump values loyalty and recommends hiring and rewarding individuals who will stick by you, ultimately the success seeker can only depend on blood ties: “You can trust family in a way you can never trust anyone else,” he asserts in The Art of the Deal.
Similarly, Trump’s thoughts on women seldom address their humanity, talents, or role in the achievement of love and happiness. In The Art of the Deal, he dutifully claims, “I’ve hired a lot of women for top jobs, and they’ve been among my best people.” But in the commentary that follows, he depicts women primarily as status symbols for successful men. He describes the clubs he joined in New York as places where you’d likely see “a wealthy 75-year-old guy walk in with three blondes from Sweden.” Trump ventures into pop-anthropology analysis in Think Big, arguing that modern success-seeking is a male-dominated endeavor “only a short step out of the jungle. In primitive times, women clung to the strongest males for protection. … High-status males displayed their prowess through their kick-ass attitudes.” For proof, Trump offers his own record of sexual conquest:
The women I have dated over the years could have any man they want; they are the top models and the most beautiful women in the world. I have been able to date (screw) them all because I have something that many men do not have. I don’t know what it is but women have always liked it. … Beautiful, famous, successful, married—I’ve had them all, secretly, the world’s biggest names.
Finally, the moral vacuum surrounding Trump’s success advice appears in the reward he holds out. The payoff for following his formula is wealth, and the flashier the better. His books are replete with paeans to gold-spangled display. From renovating glitzy hotels in Manhattan to building a lavish casino in Atlantic City, Trump relishes glamorous business projects. His crowning achievement was the 1983 completion of Trump Tower in the heart of New York, which demonstrated “how big a building I can legally build,” he describes in The Art of the Deal. These creations, along with his opulent penthouse apartment in New York and spectacular residence in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, comprise the hard-earned fruits of success. “I know people are responding to my passion for beauty and style, which is reflected in my work,” he confesses in Think Big. Build it bigger and they will come.