Like any dealer he was watching for the card
that is so high and wild
he'll never need to deal another.
Leonard Cohen Stranger Song
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jun 17 2019 (IPS) - A friend of mine who became wealthy as an art dealer but eventually lost his fortune told me: “Money isn´t everything, but it helps.” This made me think of Donald Trump, who likes to describe himself as an entrepreneur, i.e. ”owner of a business enterprise who, by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits.”1 The keyword is profits. According to Trump, success is measured through wealth. Like chess and poker, entrepreneurship is about winning and losing. Trump characterizes people he dislikes as losers, while he considers himself to be a winner.
Donald Trump´s favorite book is Trump: Art of the Deal. On 8 January 2016, while being a presidential candidate, Trump delivered a long-winding speech at the Liberty University. A private, evangelical institution, self-defined as ”the biggest Christian university in the world”. After being introduced by its rector, Jerry Falwell Jr., declaring that Trump: “lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment”, Trump began to speak about religion. It may sound as if he was drunk, but he wasn´t. Trump does not drink alcohol:
- We´ve done great with the Evangelicals … the Evangelicals been amazing …The Tea Party been amazing … and we´re doing really well. Let´s see what happens. I think we can do really something special. […] We´re going to protect Christianity. I can say that, I don´t have to be politically correct or … we´re going to protect it. You know … I asked Jerry and I asked some of the folks, because I hear it´s a major theme right here, but Corinthians, right? Two Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame. “Where the spirit of the Lord” … Right? “Where the spirit of the Lord is … there´s liberty!” … and here it is … Liberty College, but Liberty University, but it´s so true … when you think … and that´s really the one you like. Is that the one you like? Cause I love it and it´s so representative of what´s taking place. But … we´re going to protect Christianity.
Trump rambled on and on, about Christmas being abandoned, about the wall he is going to build, stating that US generals are incompetent and so are the country´s present leaders. Trump assured his listeners that while talking about these losers he might use foul language, but he was not going to do so because:
- My education is too good to be called plain spoken. I´m not so plain spoken. You know I wrote The Art of the Deal. I wrote many bestsellers like The Art of the Deal. Everybody reads The Art of the Deal. Who has read The Art of the Deal in this room? Everybody. I always say … I always say “a deep, deep second to the Bible.” The Bible blows it all away. There´s nothing like the Bible. But, The Art of the Deal was about … in fact there is a few of them over there [?] … was the bestselling business book.2
Trump: Art of the Deal was actually written by Tony Schwartz. Howard Kaminsky, in charge of the book´s publisher, Random House, confirmed that “Trump didn’t write a postcard for us,” while Schwartz declared that writing the book was his “greatest regret in life, without question”. Already during the first hours of the one and a half year Schwartz spent with Trump, he found that the future president had ”the attention span of a five-year-old”. It was almost impossible to make Trump sit down and provide information about business deals and beliefs, and even more difficult to make him share his memories. Instead, Schwartz was allowed to follow Trump around, listen to his phone conversations and witness how he dealt with staff and business partners. Schwartz found that Trump did not even have the patience to read what he had written. Nevertheless, when the book had been published Trump told everyone that he himself had written most of it, he even believed he spoke the truth.3
Schwartz´s observations about Trump´s lack of attention are verified by people who have been close to him. In the 1990´s, Barbara Res was vice president in the Trump Organization. On one occasion she tried to prepare Trump for a court appearance about the purchase of a coveted piece of property. Trump assured her that he did not need any preparations. Against all odds, Res persuaded Trump to meet with her, an associate and an attorney, though Trump was incapable of paying any attention to his visitors. During the entire two hour meeting ”he kept taking phone calls.” Unprepared as he was, Trump acted poorly in court, Trump Organization lost the case and the deal fell apart. Res summarized her working relationship with Trump: ”He was so distracted. He really couldn´t stay focused.”4 Michael D´Antonio, who interviewed Trump five times, came to a similar conclusion
- I think he’s definitely got attention deficit disorder. That doesn’t mean he isn’t really smart— it just means he’s not at his best when he’s asked to dwell on a topic.5
President Trump has the final say about the fate of millions. Unfortunately, he seems to lack the ability to listen to others, a fatal flaw for a world leader. Furthermore, he measures capability in money:
- I have total net worth of $8.73billion, I’m not doing that to brag. I’m doing that to show that’s the kind of thinking our country needs.6
In ”his” Art of the Deal Trump declared:
- There are people – I categorize them as life´s losers – who get their sense of accomplishment and achievement from trying to stop others. As far as I´m concerned, if they had any ability they wouldn´t be fighting me, they´d be doing something constructive themselves.7
A winner like Trump would probably benfit more from thinking about Mark 8:36 than two [sic] Corinthians 3:17, namely ”what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” The Russian billionaire Aleksandr Lebedev, who gained his wealth during the collapse of the Soviet Union, stated that if you are in the right place, at the right time and supported by the right people it is actually not so difficult to make a lot of money. This does not mean you are a genius, and it does not enable you to head a Government, which is completely different from running a business. Unlike Trump, Lebedev spends a great part of his wealth on investigative journalism and support to the arts, as well as healthcare for children and war veterans.
Lebedev despises other Russian oligarchs: ”I think material wealth for them is a highly emotional and spiritual thing.” He considers them to be a bunch of uncultured ignoramuses spending their money on personal consumption. ”They don’t read books. They don’t have time. They don’t go to exhibitions. They think the only way to impress anyone is to buy a yacht.” Worst of all: ”They have no interest in social injustice.”8
Together with with Mihail Gorbachev, Lebedev owns 49 percent of Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper known for its critical coverage of Russian politics, since 2001 six of its journalists have been murdered in connection with their investigative reporting. Even if he and Putin do not have the same political convictions, Lebedev assumes that they are of another breed than most Russian oligarchs, or billionaire politicians like Trump. Lebedev and Putin have been KGB agents and thus learned ”how to read people” and be capable of playing different roles, essential traits for any secret agent. Most of his time with KGB Lebedev gathered information about financial markets, an experience he later put in practice when he turned himself into a billionaire.
Like another stock exchange speculator turned billionare, George Soros, Lebedev believes that while self-interest has free play in the market, it should not be allowed to influence anything else. The arts, politics, science and education should not be controlled by greed. Like Soros, Lebedev declares his life’s task to make people aware of the dangers of unbridled capitalism and the necessity of providing each and everyone with education and healthcare.
Money provides individuals with power and success, though too much of it tend to blind and corrupt them. However, money might also help others to get a better life. Our lives do not have to be a constant battle to win, we may just as well try to help others out of their misery and pain.
1 Collins Dictionary (2011). Glasgow: Harper Collins
3 Mayer, Jane (2016) ”Donald Trump´s Ghostwriter Tells All,” The New Yorker, July 18
4 Kruse, Michael (2016) ”Donald Trump´s Shortest Attribute Isn´t His Fingers,” Politico Magazine, September 8
6 Rushe, Dominic (2015) ”I´m really rich”: Donald Trump claims $9bn fortune during campaign launch,” The Guardian, June 16
7 Trump, Donald J. with Tony Schwartz (2015) Trump: The Art of the Deal. New York: Ballantine Books, p. 59.
8 Tran, Mark and Luke Harding (2010) ”Alexander Lebedev: Profile,” The Guardian, November 2.
Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.