It’s not hard to draw a line between Donald Trump’s 1987 business manual Trump: The Art Of The Deal—spectacularly spoofed earlier this year by Johnny Depp and Ron Howard for Funny Or Die— and his current status as the Republican nominee for president. The bestselling book re-positioned Trump—previously little more than a bad-haired buffoon with some sketchy business practices and a pirate-like taste for gold—as a sort of ’80s folk hero, a self-made winner who battled it out at the business table not for the money, but for the pure and simple love of the deal. Survivor creator Mark Burnett was so taken by this version of Trump that he built an entire TV show around him, giving the mogul a national platform (and a potential recruiting base for political talent, as it ultimately turned out).
Of course, Trump didn’t write The Art Of The Deal on his own (or at all, depending on who you ask). Journalist Tony Schwartz—who’d caught the real estate tycoon’s attention by writing an article criticizing him, because Donald Trump doesn’t care what people say about him, as long as they’re saying things about him—was personally tapped by Trump to take his life’s story and collected wisdom and turn them into a book. In a way, Schwartz—a dedicated liberal and self-described “seeker”—might end up being partially responsible for a Trump presidency, a thought that causes him to express no small measure of horror in a recent interview in The New Yorker.
Full of references to Schwartz as Trump’s “Boswell”—a reference The Donald probably wouldn’t get, given that Schwartz says, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life”—it’s a fairly nasty takedown of Trump’s character, as written by a man who spent a great deal of time trying to get inside his head. (And who admittedly profited enormously off of doing so, since Schwartz received $250,000 in advance, and half the royalties, for his work on the book.) The most damning stuff comes from Schwartz’s take on Trump’s attention span, which proved a constant problem while trying to assemble the book. “It’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes,” Schwartz says now, bemoaning his subject’s inability to sit still and give a straight interview for more than a minute or two. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time.”
The world is not lacking, at present, in people ready to give their opinions on Donald Trump. But there’s something fascinating about Schwartz’s in-depth knowledge of the man—they spent 18 months together, with Schwartz listening in on private business calls for hours at a time to gather research material for the book—and his efforts to atone for his part in his rise. (“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes,” he notes, “There is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”)
You can read the entire interview, including the techniques Schwartz said he used to spin Trump’s numerous business failures into seeming successes, or hide the ways his father’s connections smoothed his path to success, over at The New Yorker.