The Gospel of Trump

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again by Donald J. Trump (Threshold Editions; 208 pp.)

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again by Donald J. Trump (Threshold Editions; 208 pp.)

It has been said that Donald J. Trump has constipation of the brain and diarrhea of the mouth. His verbose and rambling speeches more often than not extend past the hour-long mark. In addition, he has a penchant for nonsensical proposals, as exemplified by his idea to “close up that Internet” and “penetrate the Internet” in order to defeat ISIS. However, Trump’s latest book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, mercifully does not exhibit these unfortunate tendencies. The book is a mercifully thin volume at just 208 pages, reaching that length only by including a biography, a list of properties, and a statement of his alleged $8.7 billion net worth. And although his policy proposals—delivered with characteristic Trump-ish flair—are generic and unspecific, they are at the very least fairly lucid and readable.

As expected, Crippled America offers plenty of hilarious self-aggrandizement. No fewer than five pages into the book, Trump writes:

Donald Trump builds buildings.

Donald Trump develops magnificent golf courses.

Donald Trump makes investments that create jobs.

And Donald Trump creates jobs for legal immigrants and all Americans.

Just seven pages later, he continues:

The image I created through the media enabled me to build one of the greatest luxury brands in the world. People buy my apartments, buy my label, and play on my golf courses, because they know if I put my name on it, it has to be top quality.

He also mentions that he owns “the most magnificent golf resort in the world in Aberdeen, Scotland.” If these statements were not crass enough, he makes sure to make his belief in his own greatness even clearer by stating, “I’m rich. I mean, I’m really rich. I’ve earned more money than even I thought I would—and I’ve had some pretty big dreams.”

At the very least, one must give Trump credit for his relentlessly consistently messaging: our country does not win anymore, and we need to Make America Great Again! He opines about “all talk and no action” politicians, who are all incompetent losers controlled by special interests. In contrast, Trump is a winner who will negotiate great deals. The idea that Trump is a winner and a strong leader because of his immense wealth is central to his campaign and message. Thus, it is no surprise that he would harp on his business successes repeatedly in Crippled America. However, one would hope that he would be less crude about it in print as compared to his freestyling speeches made without the help of a teleprompter. For better or worse, he sticks to his plainspoken style, which undoubtedly adds to the book’s entertainment value at the expense of its seriousness. (Although with Trump’s large and sustained polling lead continuing into 2016, he is becoming hard to brush off as unserious in any way.)

Just as Trump’s treatment of his own wealth and success is predictable, so is his treatment of policy issues. Indeed, there is little in the way of substantive policy. On illegal immigration, which bizarrely has become Trump’s signature issue after a throwaway line in his announcement speech, he offers the usual rhetoric:

Nobody can build a wall like me. I will build a great wall on our southern border … one way or another, [Mexico is] going to pay for it. I don’t mind putting a big, beautiful door in that wall so people can come in and out … LEGALLY.

With respect to ISIS, Trump advocates “bombing the hell out of those oil fields to cut off the source of their money.” On education, he wants to get rid of Common Core. On the Second Amendment, he wants to protect it. And on Obamacare, he wants to repeal and replace it with something better. Beyond the innovation that Mexico pays for any border wall, his proposals are fairly standard Republican talking points dictated in strong terms without any real policy depth.

Of course, Trump cites his alleged negotiating ability—he wrote The Art of the Deal—which he uses as a crutch to compensate for his lack of detailed policy proposals. His argument is that he will negotiate great deals with Congress and other countries. The evidence for his great negotiating ability is amusing in how irrelevant it is for running a country:

We have to start by getting tough with the Chinese. I’ve negotiated with Chinese companies. I know how they do business. I’m actually landlord to China’s largest bank, which has its offices in Trump Tower. We’ve successfully negotiated several leases.

According to Trump logic, which is almost satirical in how farcical it is, negotiating leases now qualifies someone to negotiate trade deals. Nevertheless, though expressed in the crudest and most self-congratulatory way possible, his broader contention that detailed policy papers are pointless is not unconvincing. It is very likely that on day one, the next president will have to throw out the minutiae of his proposals in favor of incrementally advancing any policy objectives. Any accomplishments will depend on arm twisting and, yes, negotiation based on broad goals and principles. At least Trump is not trying to sell the country on Hope and Change.

Crippled America is curiously different from other campaign books in Trump’s lack of emphasis on his family background. Many politicians choose to put biography front and center, but Trump hardly makes a mention of his family. Marco Rubio makes sure to repeatedly mention that his father was a bartender and his mother was a maid, John Kasich makes sure everyone knows his father was a mailman and his grandfather was a coal miner, and Ted Cruz emphasizes that his father fled from oppression in leaving Cuba. Trump’s family, on the other hand, only makes a few cameo appearances in Crippled America, an unsurprising fact considering Trump’s persistent narcissism. He mentions that his father was the son of immigrants and that his mother was an immigrant when he discusses immigration, and he brings up both his father and his children when discussing the value of hard work; he talks about himself the rest of the time. The book does include color photographs of Trump’s family in an insert; however, in true Trump fashion, he intersperses the ten family photographs with eleven photographs of his properties, including Trump Tower and the Bank of America Building. Look no further than here to understand the man’s priorities in life.

As a candidate with an unusual background for seeking office, Trump’s treatment of social values in the book is also fascinating. Now on his third wife and having been adulterous in the past, he can hardly claim to be an exemplar for the evangelical Christians that are an important voting bloc in states like Iowa. He brushes this all off by saying that he worked too hard to be a good husband, all while insisting that he was a good father. He also insists that he is a Presbyterian, although this claim is dubious, given his lack of church attendance and inability to cite any passages from the Bible. It certainly is interesting to see Trump squirm in an attempt to fit the cultural expectations of the electorate in an election cycle that has defied all expectation.

Another passage of note is Trump’s discussion of the media, which he seems to have a love-hate relationship with. Trump is often duplicitous, whether it be in his real estate dealings or in his claim that he is religious, but he is fully transparent about his media strategy. He pointedly states, “I am never shy about creating news by being controversial and fighting back.” Indeed, he has given every indication that his outrageous statements, such as his proposed Muslim immigration ban, are deliberately crafted with the purpose of controlling the news cycle. By now, his pattern of behavior is clear. He says something ridiculous, with full knowledge of how politically incorrect it is, and then dials the rhetoric back, thereby garnering outsized media attention for days on end. Anyone who believes that Trump is ignorant or bigoted should pay heed to the fact that he is playing the media—a fact that he effectively admits in Crippled America.

Unfortunately, Trump’s pomposity and bombast (or as he would say, braggadocio) is better suited for live television than the printed word. Though entertaining, Crippled America offers little beyond the amusement gleaned from a run-of-the-mill Trump rally. Nevertheless, it perfectly encapsulates the vapid and uniquely Trump-ish way of speaking and writing. As one final example, take an excerpt from one of his legal filings made as he complained about the city of Palm Beach’s effort to regulate the size of his American flag:

A smaller flag and pole on Mar-a-Lago’s property would be lost given the property’s massive size, look silly instead of making a statement, and most importantly would fail to appropriately express the magnitude of Donald J. Trump’s and the club members’ patriotism.

Such is the way of Trump. A consummate entertainer, he can even make a legal filing amusing. Crippled America’s value lies not in the value it adds to any discourse but in providing insight into the Trump phenomenon, as it effectively reproduces his unique style and message. Crippled America may also, indeed, be Trump’s third favorite book after the Bible and The Art of the Deal. Since the proceeds go to charity, it could be worth one’s time to spend just a few hours reading it.