Love him or loathe him, Donald Trump obviously has a showman’s flair for publicity, along with a clear understanding of the ephemeral, spectacle-hungry nature of politics. He’s expertly tapped into the hatred so many of us feel toward business as usual in Washington that he gets a pass from many for not knowing much about anything, or caring.
Simply by saying the most ridiculous, execrable things, by bragging and exaggerating and lying, by pissing off epic numbers, he keeps his base of support humming.
It certainly helps that a good percentage of American voters are impervious to political lies, and often even embrace them, as long as you’re entertaining. He is. Endlessly so.
And from that, from having become this towering rogue, Trump is paving a path toward history.
He will be far better remembered in 50 or 100 years (should the planet not implode) than Clinton, either Bush or Obama for no reason other than being the worst president imaginable.
History adores the villain. Just as Attila the Hun remains the only person with name recognition from the 5th or 6th centuries, and Caligula’s reign expunged any popular knowledge of Rome’s “five good emperors,” Trump has wallowed so deeply into awfulness as to assure a top spot in the minds and hearts of generations to come.
The key to this dubious achievement is presented by Trump himself in the book that propelled him into the consciousness of the country, Trump: The Art of the Deal.
The book, published in 1987, is quite well known, of course.
But consider this passage in which Trump describes the importance of the media, and how he goes about shaping and distorting his public image.
(By the way, feel free to substitute his references to “the press” as “the people”; and to change “business” to “politics.”)
“One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better…The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. I’ve always done things a little differently, I don’t mind controversy, and my deals tend to be somewhat ambitious…
Sometimes they write positively and sometimes they write negatively. But from a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks. It’s really quite simple. If I take a full-page ad in the New York Times to publicize a project, it might cost $40,000 and in any case, people tend to be skeptical about advertising. But if the New York Times writes even a moderately positive one-column story about one of my deals, it doesn’t cost me anything, and it’s worth a lot more than $40,000.
The funny thing is that even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business… The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”