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Behind the Facade: Donald Trump And The Art Of The Real

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he arrives to introduce his wife Melania during the Republican National Convention, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland. (Evan Vucci/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he arrives to introduce his wife Melania during the Republican National Convention, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland. (Evan Vucci/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Donald Trump received some rather rude advance publicity for his Thursday night speech, during which he will be formally anointed as the Republican candidate for president of the United States.

It came in the form of a lengthy interview with the New Yorker, during which Tony Schwartz, the journalist who wrote Trump’s “The Art of the Deal,” said, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Schwartz, who came up with the title “Art of the Deal,” noted that he would have chosen a different title if he were working on the book today: “The Sociopath.”

“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Tony Schwartz

Ouch.

For the record, Schwartz spent months with Trump -- shadowing him, interviewing those around him, even listening in on his business calls — in an effort get at the private self behind his brash, self-aggrandizing public persona. His conclusion was that there was no private self. What you saw was what you got.

To millions of Americans, this transparency is central to Trump’s appeal. He refuses to censor himself. He never backs down from his statements, whether they are bigoted, false, or both. He kowtows to no special interests.

Schwartz — and other journalists who have spent extended periods of time with Trump — paint a much more disturbing picture. They describe a man constitutionally incapable of logic, moral reasoning or self-reflection.

Mark Bowden, who profiled Trump for Playboy years ago, noted that his response to terrorism -- banning Muslims from the U.S., “going after” the families of suspected terrorists, using nuclear weapons — “are the same [ideas] that occur to any teenager angry about terror attacks. They appeal to anyone who can’t be bothered to think them through — can’t be bothered to ask not just the moral questions but the all-important practical one: Will doing this make things better or worse?”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up his book "The Art of the Deal," as he speaks during a campaign stop Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 in Birmingham, Ala. (Eric Schultz/AP)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds up his book "The Art of the Deal," as he speaks during a campaign stop Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 in Birmingham, Ala. (Eric Schultz/AP)

Most accounts of Trump seem to line up with the disorder known as narcissistic personality disorder, in which, according to the Mayo Clinic, “people have an inflated sense of their importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

Equally striking is his inability to focus. He doesn’t cultivate close relationships. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t have a spiritual practice. In essence, he doesn’t do anything that might require sustained attention.

Most ominously, Trump thrives on conflict. His core philosophy, as detailed in his 2007 book, "Think Big," is that the world “is a vicious and brutal place. We think we’re civilized. In truth, it’s a cruel world and people are ruthless. They act nice to your face, but underneath they’re out to kill you.”

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The problem with this worldview is that the country is in the midst of violent upheaval. Not only are terrorist groups abroad eager to bait the United States into a religious war, but videos of cops killing unarmed African-Americans has provoked deadly and misguided attacks on police themselves.

Amid all this turmoil, Trump will no doubt seek to present himself as a “law-and-order” candidate, a tough guy who will quell all dangers, domestic and abroad.

But Trump’s entire candidacy has been predicated on fomenting conflict. He doesn’t have ideas. He has impulses.

He turned the Republican debates into playground brawls. He spent months encouraging his supporters to assault any protesters who showed up at his rallies. And his policies, such as they are, involve getting tough with any population he views as inferior, from undocumented workers to Muslims to the Chinese.

Schwartz -- and other journalists who have spent extended periods of time with Trump -- ... describe a man constitutionally incapable of logic, moral reasoning, or self-reflection.

Trump’s ad hoc ideology consists of inflaming racial and economic grievances. He is the ultimate divider in a culture besieged by resentments that continue to explode into senseless acts of violence.

Whatever rosy vision Trump sets out at his slickly produced convention, American voters should remember his initial response to the horrific mass shooting in Orlando last month. It was not one of sober reflection, or sorrow, but undisguised glee. “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” he tweeted.

Can anyone honestly claim that a man who finds in mass murder the occasion for self-congratulation will help heal America?

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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