Trump Insights: Japan

October 20, 2017—10 minute read


Here's an interesting, and insightful, anecdote about The Donald from December 1989, when Trump, accompanied by his executive assistant, Norma Foerderer, flew on his private jet to Japan, where he hoped to drum up business for his struggling real-estate empire.

From Lost Tycoon (W.W. Norton, 1993) by Harry Hurt III

He something of a quandary about what to do when he finally arrives in Japan. Although the banks and the media still have no idea of the grave nature of his financial situation, he knows he has to make some big deals in short order or his house of cards will come tumbling down. But his agenda is just a list of maybes. Maybe he will try to sell some more apartments in Trump Palace to the Japanese. Maybe he will broach the idea of selling stock in the Plaza Hotel to the Japanese. Maybe he will find a buyer for his yacht, the Trump Princess. Maybe he will try to drum up business for his casinos by meeting with a Japanese high roller named Akio Kashiwagi who likes to gamble millions of dollars on baccarat.

But there is a fundamental problem underlying every potential item on Donald's agenda: his publicly proclaimed hostility toward the Japanese. In the advertisements he ran in connection with his faux presidential campaign in the fall of 1987 and in subsequent statements to the media, he expressed his contempt for the failure of American politicians to make the Japanese pay a larger share of their defense costs. Likewise, he had accused the Japanese of taking unfair advantage of the United States through trade barriers and the like. Ironically, the Japanese have so far been among the biggest buyers of Trump apartments. At the same time, however, they are acutely aware of Donald's anti-Japanese remarks, which they consider both offensive and uninformed.

The only fixed appointment on Donald's schedule other than a couple of formal dinners with Japanese bankers and financiers is a Mike Tyson boxing match. The heavyweight champion, who recently divorced Robin Givens and patched up his relationship with Donald, is scheduled to fight an unimpressive contender named Buster Douglas on Sunday morning.  The bout promises to be a laugher. Douglas has a record of twenty wins and four losses, all against virtual unknowns. Tyson, on the other hand, is undefeated as a professional, with thirty-seven wins, thirty-six by knockout. For Donald and the rest of the boxing world, the main interest in the Tyson-Douglas bout is seeing Iron Mike take another step in his quest to surpass the late Rocky Marciano's record of forty-one knockouts.

As if to confirm the theory that he is haunted by a death wish, Donald has already set himself up for a fall. Prior to leaving New York, he told real estate vice-president Blanche Sprague that singer Michael Jackson would be accompanying them to Tokyo. Unaware that the boss's claim was just another big lie, Sprague leaked word to the media that Jackson would be coming along. The rumor subsequently traveled around the globe to Japan. Upon arriving in Tokyo, Donald and his party find a horde of Japanese reporters and camera crews waiting in the airport concourse.

"Stop!" Donald commands his minions, forging ahead of them at a quickened pace. "I'll go out by myself. They're here to see me."

But when Donald reaches the end of the concourse, the media horde does not react or even seem to know who he is. By the time the rest of his traveling entourage catches up with him, the Japanese are staring dumbfounded.

"Where is Michael Jackson?" a Japanese media spokesman asks in English.

One of Donald's party informs them that Jackson could not make the trip, then hastens to add, "Mr. Trump is here and will give you a brief photo and question opportunity about his reasons for coming to Japan."

The media spokesman looks baffled. He turns to the assembled horde of reporters and camera crews and says something to them in Japanese. The entire group turns and drifts off without bothering to ask a single question of their American visitor. Donald is visibly shaken. Fearing that the Japanese media snub might put him into a dangerous depression, Norma Foerderer and Blanche Sprague grab Donald by the arm and escort him through the airport.

The Tokyo airport reception proves to be an omen of things to come. When Donald and his party arrive at their hotel, they see a throng of six thousand people milling about the entrance. The Trump entourage brightens, thinking that the crowd might be waiting for Donald. Then they realize the crowd is populated almost entirely by teenagers. At first they fear the crowd has turned out for Michael Jackson and that they will again face the embarrassment of explaining why Jackson did not accompany Donald to Tokyo. But the truth is even worse than the Trump people imagine. The crowd has come out to greet the Rolling Stones, who are staying at the hotel. Donald is being upstaged by the same rock and roll band that insulted him at their December 1989 pre-concert press conference in Atlantic City.

For the next two days Donald suffers from an extreme case of jet lag. Dressed in the same rumpled suit every waking moment, he takes on a gray pallor, his eyes swell, and he refuses to ingest Japanese food. ("I'm not going to eat any raw fish," he rails.) The first night in Tokyo he and his traveling party attend a formal dinner with a group of Japanese bankers. Before the meal is served, Donald gets up and walks out, leaving his underlings to deal with their insulted hosts.

The first real meal Donald eats in Tokyo is a hamburger for lunch the next day at a Japanese McDonald's. Feeling better, he decides to take a walk through the Imperial Gardens. The walk inspires a new idea. "Call the emperor," Donald orders his entourage. "Tell him I want to see him." But like the Japanese media at the airport, the emperor's spokesman does not seem to know who Donald is. He informs Donald's intermediary that an appointment might be arranged one year from the following Thursday, provided that the emperor is supplied with a written request stating the purpose of the visit.

On Saturday Donald decides that being in Tokyo is a waste of time. He instructs his entourage to prepare to leave after the boxing match the following morning. Later that evening he takes a group of Japanese high rollers to Mike Tyson's hotel suite to introduce them to the world heavyweight boxing champion. Tyson is infamous for being moody, but on this particular evening he seems unusually cheerful and gracious. Donald is also in an upbeat mood, for he expects Tyson to rack up another easy victory.

"You know, I drive all the way to New Jersey and I see you murder some guy in sixty seconds," teases a female member of the Trump group. "I've just flown twenty-two hours. I hope it's worth it."

"You won't be disappointed," Tyson assures. "I know how to take care of business, baby."

On Sunday morning, a different Mike Tyson shows up to defend his world heavyweight championship. In sharp contrast with the night before, he looks listless and distracted, prompting at least one member of the Trump entourage to wonder if he is on some kind of drug. Tyson's handlers are also worried. Besides being in a protracted emotional funk, the champ was recently knocked down in a sparring match by former Olympian Greg Page. On the other hand, Buster Douglas seems extremely fit and totally unintimidated, despite the fact that his mother has just died. At 260 pounds, he appears to be a giant compared with the 220-pound Tyson.

The two boxers fight just the way they look. Douglas is the aggressor throughout the first six rounds. Tyson is flat-footed and ineffectual. In round seven Tyson rallies briefly, and knocks Douglas to the canvas with a right uppercut. But Douglas bounces back up just before the bell. The bone-weary Tyson opens the tenth round with a hard right to Douglas's jaw. But that is the champ's last solid blow. Douglas lands an uppercut that makes Tyson reel backward. As Tyson falls, Douglas connects with a hard left. Tyson hits the canvas so hard his mouthpiece pops out. Ten seconds later the referee signals that the fight has ended. Buster Douglas is the new heavyweight champion of the world.

"It's over for him," Donald observes ominously as Tyson's handlers guide the fallen former champ from the ring. "He'll never come back from this."

The Trump group expects to go back to Tyson's dressing room to commiserate, but the boss has other ideas. "I'm going to Buster Douglas's dressing room," Donald announces. "He's the champ."

"What about Tyson?" asks a member of the Trump entourage.

"I'm not going to Tyson's dressing room," Donald declares. "I can't go near him. It might rub off. The same thing could happen to me."

Minutes later Donald and his entourage drive out to the airport and board the Trump plane for the twenty-two hour flight back to New York. The boss's mood is now darker than ever. Throughout the first leg of the return trip he keeps trying repeating his postfight postmortem of Tyson's career: "It's over for him.... He'll never come back from this.... He's finished.... I can't go near him.... It might rub off.... The same thing could happen to me...."

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