You can't get away from Donald Trump. He's the President. As with Barack Obama, Trump has those who worship his every move and those who hate his stinking guts.
But I am not here to praise him nor to bury him. No, I'm not even here to talk politics.
I'm here to talk books.
Regardless of your personal feelings, Trump is President. And it's always interesting, at least to me, to learn about our elected officials and see what makes them tick. Because, to be honest, one has to be a little touched in the head to want to go into politics. And so, I read (actually, listened) to two books about the man, one that painted him in a distinctly negative light, and another that was far more flattering.
Let's face it: Whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump is an interesting cat. And he did beat both a veritable army of GOP insiders and the most favored candidate in American history, to win the election.
[Full disclosure: I voted for the guy. Mainly because, as a reluctant Republican, I have grown so disgusted with the party as I have with the Democrats, and Washington in general, that I relished the idea of sending a giant, human middle finger to the entire establishment. Regardless, one does have to admire his ability to accomplish what he sets out to do, even if you dislike him politically or personally. I felt much the same about Barack Obama (whom I did not vote for, twice–but still, the man knows how to accomplish what he wants and is also an interesting guy. There's a lesson there for all of us.)]
First up, the more "negative" book, Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success by author and journalist Michael D'Antonio, published in 2015. I know that in 2016 D'Antonio updated the book and re-christened it The Truth About Trump, but I listened to the audio version, borrowed by my wife from our local library for me to listen to during my many long car trips between the D.C. Metro area and New England I had to make in the recent past.
Reviews of this book call it “A carefully reported and fair-minded account" (USA Today), “A brisk and entertaining read, drawing on interviews and documents and distilling decades' worth of news coverage to tell the story of Trump's childhood, family, business deals, and political forays” (The Washington Post), and "Balanced, well sourced, and perfectly timed" (Financial Times (UK)). Me, I find these claims of balance and a lack of bias laughable.
Let's get it out of the way: D'Antonio clearly does not like Trump. That said, the book is meticulously researched, well-written and constructed, and sheds a lot of light on Trump and what makes him tick.
Trump's family history is pretty fascinating, with his hellraising and, quite frankly, dishonest and kind of sleazy grandfather (who first built, and then lost, the family fortune), to his father Fred who, through hard work and good timing, nearly single-handedly rebuild the family fortune, to Donald himself, the story of the Trumps is one of sheer determination and will. No one will tell ANY of these men that they cannot do something, and they all have a knack for sniffing out an opportunity and exploiting it . . . even if that involves some unsavory steps along the way.
What D'Antonio discusses definitely raises some red flags (and sensationally hints at far more sinister doings without much in the way of evidence, but I digress) about Trump's temperament and proclivities–his penchant for stretching the truth, if not outright lying; his habit of bending the rules to benefit himself and his family, if not outright breaking them; insinuating that he is a virulent racist and anti-Semite with no real proof; his cozy relationship with corrupt attorney Roy Cohn . . . but was it enough to make me pull the lever for his opponent? Absolutely not. For all of his vices–greed, arrogance, women, and a pathological inability to not fight back seem to be Donald's vices–to me at least, Hillary Clinton was far worse.
And yet, through it all, Trump comes across as an enthusiastic builder with an almost childlike sense of wonder about everything. One can imagine him looking at a building he fought tooth-and-nail to get built and being like, "Holy cow, can you believe it?" He clearly also believed in his designers and architects, going to the mat for many of them. And he, obviously, believes in himself.
He also tends to, let's say, exaggerate his accomplishments and disparage those of his opponents with stereotypical New York bravado.Honestly, this is a quality I do like a President to have, especially if this dick-swinging (pardon the vulgarity) translates into the bad hombres on the world stage actually fearing and indeed respecting the United States after nearly fifty years of feckless, conciliatory, and downright dumb foreign policy.
This is where some of D'Antonio's biases seemed to show. No matter the topic, his words have an air of smarmy condescension, as though he is indignant at this rude, uncultured gatecrasher who stormed the supposedly hallowed halls of government. Everything is filtered through a lens of disdain, everything Trump does, says, and believes talked about as somehow phony, plastic, pre-fab, gauche. Even his friendship with The Power of Positive Thinking guru Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is discussed in snarky, cynical prose, like, "Can you believe anyone would fall for this Midwestern, corn-fed rube?" It gets kind of annoying.
To believe D'Antonio, everything about the man is fake. Every single thing. And he's probably a literal criminal with blood on his hands. Though he tries to come across as objective, I found that, contra the reviews, this book is incredibly biased.
Lastly, his discussion of the culture that gave rise to Trump is laughably elitist, tone-deaf, and flat-out false. In D'Antonio's world, everyone that voted for Trump is an idiot brainwashed by those dastardly paranoiacs in the conservative media or their church who are lying about the wonderful things that globalism has wrought. Concerned about the border and unchecked illegal immigration? That's just racist, uneducated white people being racist, uneducated, and white. Manufacturing jobs leaving your town for overseas? Learn to code, dude. Dislike of Obama, and coastal elites in general? You're just an easily manipulated fool whipped up into a frenzy by talk radio against the smart people who are really looking out for you–forget that your lot in life has diminished precipitously in the past decade with literally no hope for a reversal of fortune, you xenophobic, protectionist fool.
All told, I'm glad I read (listened to) this book. There are things about Trump to admire, yes, but there are also things to be wary about. But with the sheer amount of other things that D'Antonio gets flat out wrong, it makes me call into question what else in the book may be factually incorrect.
I'd say read it, especially if you're a Trump fan. Alternative perspectives are always good. But beware the smugness and the out-of-touch elitism. If you're a conservative, hell, if you're even slightly right-of-center, there's a good chance that D'Antonio hates you as much as he hates Trump.
Cernovich started out life as a blogger and a mindset author with no interest in politics–that's when I first came across him. I purchased, read, and enjoyed Gorilla Mindset–read my review here–and was quite surprised when, after Trump threw his hat into the presidential ring, Cernovich called that he would win, and also discussed why. And then, much to many people's surprise, Cernovich came out of the closet, so to speak, as a right-leaning American nationalist and populist, and began supporting Trump and attacking Clinton.
That's an important distinction to make, by the way: Cernovich was not a believer in Bernie Sanders' policies, but I don't recall him attacking the man. Indeed, he defended him, trying to highlight how he was unfairly treated during the primaries by the people who were supposedly there to help all Democrats win, the Democratic National Committee.
Cernovich is controversial for many reasons, his support for Trump among them–though interestingly, he recently said he is going to "pivot" away from being a die-hard, constant Trump supporter and get back to journalism and mindset stuff. And although there have been conspiracy theories of varying degrees of veracity, he does only seem to target the powerful and not "the little guy."
Regardless, it's the mindset stuff that first made me interested in Mike, and the fact that MAGA Mindset was billed as a breakdown of how Trump weathered the media storm and the insanity that is American electoral politics to achieve his goal of becoming President of the United States promised to be interesting and, at the very least, entertaining.
To be blunt, I found MAGA Mindset rather disappointing. After Never Enough, the writing styles are night and day: D'Antonio writes like a journalist, and Cernovich writes like a blogger. MAGA Mindset is punchy, concise, and provocative, but unlike Gorilla Mindset it also felt a little light, airy, insubstantial.
Look, I understand it. Communication styles need to vary based on your audience. In speaking to a mass audience, one has to adjust their level of discourse. Trump does it (see: his much-derided "Fourth-grade level vocabulary" . . . but he is speaking to a nation of over 320,000,000 million), but manages to at least convey rather complex points in simple language. Cernovich did this ably in Gorilla Mindset. Here, it just doesn't feel as on-point.
Also, while the discussions about how Trump managed to maintain his mindset are interesting and offer some insight into the man's thought process, it didn't feel like enough, and indeed, almost seemed like a rehash of the principles Cernovich outlined in far-greater detail in Gorilla Mindset.
That said, there are positives to MAGA Mindset, lest you think this review is trying to piss all over the book. The 10 Trump mindset principles are applicable to anyone, liberal or conservative, pro-Trump or anti-Trump, and worthy of recapping here in short form as opposed to the lengthier discussions in Gorilla Mindset: "Think big," "Imagine reality using visualizations," "Treat failure as preparation for success," "Maintain your momentum," "Keep your energy high with passion and enthusiasm," "Focus," "Keep pushing until you get what you want–do not take no for an answer," "Think positive," "Stay informed to recognize opportunity," and "Use affirmations" are all fine bits of advice. And his section on the culture that gave rise to Trump offers an interesting, right-leaning perspective to D'Antionio's establishment liberal breakdown of things.
And Cernovich also dresses down the media, which is fine by me because, seriously, screw those frauds.
But MAGA Mindset is short, rushed. I wanted more. I wanted even the ugly parts of Trump, and instead got a near-hagiography, interesting in light of Cernovich's recent shift of focus away from the man himself to more journalistic muckraking as a part of what he calls "The New Right" (see his new forthcoming documentary Hoaxed for an idea of what this may entail). And MAGA Mindset is pretty one-sided (if I go into how one-sided, this review will be even longer), but at least Cernovich, unlike many of his journalistic peers, admits his biases.
In the end, I'd love to recommend MAGA Mindset . . . but I can't. There's not enough "there" there.
But I am glad that I read both books, the pro-Trump and the anti-Trump sides. So how do I feel about the man now, you may ask?
I don't know. I haven't been following politics too much lately.
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