How did Donald Trump go from controversial real estate mogul to presidential nominee? After nearly 30 years of reporting on Trump, in his new book Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston brings us the entire, meticulously documented story of the man who would be president. Click here now to order your copy of The Making of Donald Trump.
The following is from David Cay Johnston’s chapter on Donald Trump’s personal values in The Making of Donald Trump:
In 2005, Donald Trump flew to Colorado to give a motivational talk. Accompanying him were his wife, Melania, and a violent convicted felon and swindler named Felix Sater, who was helping Trump make two major development deals in Denver. Trump and Sater gave interviews to the Rocky Mountain News — interviews that would prove to be significant a few years later. The three took a limousine an hour north to Loveland, solidly Republican territory where more than a thousand people had paid to hear Trump’s advice on how to succeed in life and business.
Motivational speakers like Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins work up audiences with carefully crafted talks. They make lofty appeals to people about vanquishing inner demons so a better self can flourish and dreams of success can morph into reality.
Trump’s talk was nothing like that.
For more than an hour, Trump let fly one four-letter expletive after another. He had no prepared text, much less a rehearsed presentation. He ripped into the location and functionality of the Denver International Airport. The rambling remarks were rich with denunciations of former wives and former business associates. In vilifying a former employee, saying she had been disloyal, Trump gratuitously described her as “ugly as a dog.”
“I have to tell you about losers,” Trump told the audience. “I love losers because they make me feel so good about myself.” Had Loveland’s Bixpo 2005 conference invited a loser to speak, he assured the crowd, the fee would have been three dollars rather than the “freaking fortune” paid to Trump. However large the speaking fee had been, it did not motivate Trump to show enough respect for the paying audience to prepare even a simple outline. Many in the crowd said afterward that none of his talk was useful and certainly not uplifting.
However, within Trump’s inchoate vitriol, some in the audience did identify two recommendations on how to succeed in life and business.
First, Trump advised, trust no one, especially good employees. “Be paranoid,” he said, “because they are gonna try to fleece you.” It was strange advice, as some in the audience told local reporters afterward, because trust is central to market capitalism. Businesspeople known for being trustworthy attract better workers, who in turn make their businesses run better. Trustworthy entrepreneurs make the economy more efficient by reducing friction in business deals. Business owners who are prudent about making promises and are known for honoring their word often go through life without a single lawsuit. Trump has been a party in more than 3,500 lawsuits, some of them accusing him of civil fraud (an issue we will examine in another chapter).
Second, Trump recommended revenge as business policy. “Get even,” he said. “If somebody screws you, you screw ’em back ten times over. At least you can feel good about it. Boy, do I feel good.”
Two years after the Loveland speech, Trump released Think Big, his twelfth book. Think Big was coauthored by Bill Zanker, founder of The Learning Annex, which runs classes on everything from pole dancing and making your own soap to writing business plans. Chapter 6 of Think Big is titled “Revenge.”
“I always get even,” Trump writes in the opening line of that chapter. He then launches into an attack on the same woman he had denounced in Colorado. Trump recruited the unnamed woman “from her government job where she was making peanuts”; her career going nowhere. “I decided to make her somebody. I gave her a great job at the Trump Organization, and over time she became powerful in real estate. She bought a beautiful home.”
When Trump was in financial trouble in the early 1990s, “I asked her to make a phone call to an extremely close friend of hers who held a powerful position at a big bank and who would have done what she asked. She said, ‘Donald, I can’t do that.'” Instead of accepting that the woman felt such a call would be improper, Trump fired her. She started her own business. Trump writes that her business failed. “I was really happy when I found that out,” he says.
In Trump’s telling, the story of an employee declining to do something unseemly is really the story of a rebellion to be crushed:
She has turned on me after I had done so much to help her. I had asked her for one favor in return and she turned me down flat. She ended up losing her home. Her husband, who was only in it for the money, walked out on her and I was glad. Over the years many people have called asking for a recommendation for her. I only gave her bad recommendations. I can’t stomach disloyalty … and now I go out of my way to make her life miserable.
Trump devotes another several pages to actress Rosie O’Donnell, who described him as “a snake-oil salesman” in 2006. A few months later, at Zanker’s 2007 Learning Annex Real Estate & Wealth Expo, Trump called O’Donnell “a pig,” “a degenerate,” “a slob,” and later (on television) “disgusting inside and out.” He made disparaging remarks about her looks, weight, and sexuality and said on national television that O’Donnell’s emotional health would improve if she never looked in a mirror.
In Think Big, Trump calls O’Donnell a bully: “You’ve got to hit a bully really hard really strongly, right between the eyes … [I] hit that horrible woman right smack in the middle of the eyes. It’s true … some people would have ignored her insults. I decided to fight back and make her regret the day she decided to unload on me!”
At the end of the chapter, Trump writes, “I love getting even when I get screwed by someone — yes, it is true … Always get even. When you are in business you need to get even with people who screw you. You need to screw them back fifteen times harder … go for the jugular, attack them in spades!”
Trump’s words take on more significance when read in the context of his campaign statement, “No one reads the Bible more than I do.” He says The Art of the Deal is the greatest book ever written except for the Bible. He has never been able to recite a biblical verse.
Among the many biblical verses warning against vengeance is Romans 12:19, which in one modern translation states, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
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Pulitzer winner David Cay Johnston draws on 30 years of reporting to expose the real story of Trump.
Just before the New York State primary election in April 2016, Trump told Bob Lonsberry, a radio host in Rochester, New York, that he was religious. “Is there a favorite Bible verse or favorite story that has informed your thinking or character?” Lonsberry asked.
“Well, I think many,” Trump replied. “I mean, when we get into the Bible, I think many, so many. And some people — look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us … we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”
His invocation of “an eye for an eye” alludes to Exodus 21:24. But Trump, who made a show of attending Presbyterian services once during the campaign, seemed unaware that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repudiated this Old Testament verse, saying in one modern translation:
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven … (Matthew 5:39–45)
Sixteen pages of Think Big are devoted to revenge. All of them run directly contrary to this basic biblical teaching. Trump leaves no room for doubt that revenge is a guiding principle of his life — “My motto is: Always get even. When someone screws you, get them back in spades” — but that guiding principle stands in direct opposition to both Christian and Jewish theology.
On another page of Think Big, Trump acknowledges that “this is not your typical advice, get even, but this is real-life advice. If you don’t get even, you are just a schmuck! I really mean it, too.” It will come as no surprise that Trump’s views on revenge were not limited to employees he considered disloyal, people he had done deals with, or even petty insults by an actress. In fact, in the year 2000, Trump turned his revenge on his own family.
Copyright (2016) by David Cay Johnston. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Melville House Publishing.