... here we are at the start of a new decade. How do you respond when people call you ostentatious, ego-ridden and a greedy symbol of the Eighties?
Rich men are less likely to like me, but the working man likes me because he knows I worked hard and didn’t inherit what I’ve built. Hey, I made it myself; I have a right to do what I want with it.
With so much poverty on the city streets, isn’t it embarrassing for you to flaunt your wealth?
There has always been a display of wealth and always will be, until the depression comes, which it always does. And let me tell you, a display is a good thing. It shows people that you can be successful. It can show you a way of life. Dynasty did it on TV. It’s very important that people aspire to be successful. The only way you can do it is if you look at somebody who is.
And for you, sitting snugly inside the one hundred and eighteen rooms of your Palm Beach mansion– People understand that the house in Florida is business. I use it very seldom. I could be happy living in a studio apartment.
Oh, come on.
I mean it; the houses, the planes and the boat are just investments. I paid twenty-nine million dollars for the Khashoggi yacht; two years later, I’ll be selling it for more than one hundred million dollars and getting a bigger one.
Why in the world do you need a bigger yacht?
I don’t. But the Khashoggi boat is worth more only if I sell it. This new one will–believe it or not–be even more spectacular and bring tremendous acclaim to Trump properties in Atlantic City.
What is it that attracts you to all this glitz?
I have glitzy casinos because people expect it; I’m not going to build the lobby of the IBM office building in Trump Castle. Glitz works in Atlantic City, and yet the Plaza Hotel has been brought back to its original elegance of 1907. So I don’t use glitz in all cases. And in my residential buildings, I sometimes use flash, which is a level below glitz.
Then what does all this–the yacht, the bronze tower, the casinos–really mean to you?
Props for the show.
And what is the show?
The show is “Trump” and it is sold-out performances everywhere. I’ve had fun doing it and will continue to have fun, and I think most people enjoy it.
What satisfaction, exactly, do you get out of doing a deal?
I love the creative process. I do what I do out of pure enjoyment. Hopefully, nobody does it better. There’s a beauty to making a great deal. It’s my canvas. And I like painting it.
I like the challenge and tell the story of the coal miner’s son. The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son . If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination–or whatever–to leave their mine. They don’t have “it.”
You obviously have a lot of self-confidence. How do you use that in a business deal?
I believe in positive thinking, but I also believe in the power of negative thinking. You should prepare for the worst. If I’m doing a deal, I want to know how bad it’s going to be if everything doesn’t work rather than how good it’s going to be. I have a positive outlook, but I’m unfortunately also quite cynical. So if all the negatives happened, what would my strategy be? Would I want to be in that position? If I don’t, I don’t do the deal. My attitude is to focus on the down side because the up side will always take care of itself. If a deal is going to be great, it’s just a question of, How much am I going to make?
How far are you willing to push adversaries? I will demand anything I can get. When you’re doing business, you take people to the brink of breaking them without having them break, to the maximum point their heads can handle–without breaking them. That’s the sign of a good businessman: Somebody else would take them fifteen steps beyond their breaking point.
What if your pushing results in losing the deal?
Then I pushed him too far. I would have made a mistake. But I don’t. I push to the maximum of what he can stand and I get a better deal than he gets.
Another aspect of your deal making is how you handle the media. You managed to suppress an unflattering TV documentary about you funded by your archnemesis, [New York businessman and publisher] Leonard Stern. Do you also claim victory over him?
Total victory, yes. But I don’t want to dwell on triumph or defeat.
That may sound magnanimous, but, in fact, you’re known to exact revenge on people you think have tried to pull something on you.
I think I’m fair, not tough, in business. But if somebody is trying to do an injustice to me, I fight back harder than anybody I know. When somebody tries to harm you or your family, you have an absolute right to fight back.
You often say that the key to your success is being a good deal maker and a good manager. Why?
I’ve seen great deal makers go down the tubes because they haven’t known how to manage what they’ve had. Take [Saudi financier indicted for a felony] Adnan Khashoggi: He was a great deal maker but a bad businessman. Time will tell if Merv is a good manager. He is going to have to be.
When you were growing up in Queens, your father was supposedly a harsh taskmaster. It has been theorized that your father instilled in you a great sense of inadequacy. True?
That’s one hundred percent wrong. I was always very much accepted by my father. He adored Donald Trump and I’ve always known that. But I did want to prove to my father and other people that I had the ability to be successful on my own.
You’ve often said that your father made you work as a teenager and taught you the value of the buck.
My father never made me work. I liked to work during summers. I don’t understand these teenagers who sit home watching television all day. Where’s their appetite for competition? Working was in my genes.
Still, your father was one tough son of a bitch, wasn’t he?
He was a strong, strict father, a no-nonsense kind of guy, but he didn’t hit me. It wasn’t what he’d ever say to us, either. He ruled by demeanor, not the sword. And he never scared or intimidated me.
Your older brother, Fred, who died from heart failure brought on by acute alcoholism, had a more difficult time with him, didn’t he?
Take one environment and it will work completely differently on different children. Our family environment, the competitiveness, was a negative for Fred. It wasn’t easy for him being cast in a very tough environment, and I think it played havoc on him.
I was very close to him and it was very sad when he died … toughest situation I’ve had….
What did you learn from his experience?
[Pauses] Nobody has ever asked me that. But his death affected everything that has come after it…. I think constantly that I never really gave him thanks for it. He was the first Trump boy out there, and I subconsciously watched his moves.
And the lesson?
I saw people really taking advantage of Fred and the lesson I learned was always to keep up my guard one hundred percent, whereas he didn’t. He didn’t feel that there was really reason for that, which is a fatal mistake in life. People are too trusting. I’m a veryuntrusting guy. I study people all the time, automatically; it’s my way of life, for better or worse.
I am very skeptical about people; that’s self-preservation at work. I believe that, unfortunately, people are out for themselves. At this point, it’s to many people’s advantage to like me. Would the phone stop ringing, would these people kissing ass disappear if things were not going well?
Trump: Nothing wrong with ego. People need ego, whole nations need ego. I think our country needs more ego, because it is being ripped off so badly by our so-called allies; i.e., Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, etc. They have literally outegotized this country, because they rule the greatest money machine ever assembled and it’s sitting on our backs. Their products are better because they have so much subsidy.
We Americans are laughed at around the world for losing a hundred and fifty billion dollars year after year, for defending wealthy nations for nothing, nations that would be wiped off the face of the earth in about fifteen minutes if it weren’t for us. Our “allies” are making billions screwing us.
How do you feel about Japan’s economic pre-eminence?
Japan gets almost seventy percent of its oil from the Persian Gulf, relies on ships led back home by our destroyers, battleships, helicopters, frog men. Then the Japanese sail home, where they give the oil to fuel their factories so that they can knock the hell out of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Their openly screwing us is a disgrace. Why aren’t theypaying us? The Japanese cajole us, they bow to us, they tell us how great we are and then they pick our pockets. We’re losing hundreds of billions of dollars a year while they laugh at our stupidity.
The Japanese have their great scientists making cars and VCRs and we have our great scientists making missiles so we can defend Japan. Why aren’t we being reimbursed for our costs? The Japanese double-screw the U.S., a real trick: First they take all our money with their consumer goods, then they put it back in buying all of Manhattan. So either way, we lose.
You’re opposed to Japanese buying real estate in the U.S.?
I have great respect for the Japanese people and list many of them as great friends. But, hey, if you want to open up a business in Japan, good luck. It’s virtually impossible. But the Japanese can buy our buildings, our Wall Street firms, and there’s virtually nothing to stop them. In fact, bidding on a building in New York is an act of futility, because the Japanese will pay more than it’s worth just to screw us. They want to own Manhattan.
Of course, I shouldn’t even be complaining about it, because I’m one of the big beneficiaries of it. If I ever wanted to sell any of my properties, I’d have a field day. But it’s an embarrassment, I give great credit to the Japanese and their leaders, because they have made our leaders look totally second rate.
You believe in an eye for an eye?
When a man or woman cold-bloodedly murders, he or she should pay. It sets an example. Nobody can make the argument that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent. Either it will be brought back swiftly or our society will rot away. It is rotting away.
you were invited to consider building a luxury hotel in Moscow a few years ago. What was your trip to Moscow like?
It was not long after the Korean plane was shot down over Russia. There I am up in my plane when my pilot announces, “We are now flying over the Soviet Union,” and I’m thinking to myself, What the hell am I doing here?
Then I look out the window and see two Russian fighter planes … I later found out, guiding us in. I had insisted on having two Russian colonels flying with me–I felt safer, and my pilot doesn’t speak great Russian, which is putting it mildly, and I didn’t want problems in radio communications.
Once you got to Moscow, how did the negotiations go?
I told them, “Guys, you have a basic problem. Far as real estate is concerned, it’s impossible to get title to Russian land, since the government owns it all. What kind of financing are you gonna get on a building where the land is owned by the goddamned motherland?”
They said, “No problem, Mr. Trump. We will work out lease arrangements.”
I said, “I want ownership, not leases.”
They came up with a solution: “Mr. Trump, we form a committee with ten people, of which seven are Russian and three are your representatives, and all disputes will be resolved in this manner.”
I thought to myself, Shit, seven to three–are we dealing in the world of the make-believe here or what?
What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?
I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.
You mean firm hand as in China?
When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world—
Why is Gorbachev not firm enough?
I predict he will be overthrown, because he has shown extraordinary weakness. Suddenly, for the first time ever, there are coal-miner strikes and brush fires everywhere–which will all ultimately lead to a violent revolution. Yet Gorbachev is getting credit for being a wonderful leader–and we should continue giving him credit, because he’s destroying the Soviet Union. But his giving an inch is going to end up costing him and all his friends what they most cherish–their jobs.
Besides the real-estate deal, you’ve met with top-level Soviet officials to negotiate potential business deals with them; how did they strike you?
Generally, these guys are much tougher and smarter than our representatives. We have people in this country just as smart, but unfortunately, they’re not elected officials. We’re still suffering from a loss of respect that goes back to the Carter Administration, when helicopters were crashing into one another in Iran.
That was Carter’s emblem. There he was, being carried off from a race, needing oxygen. I don’t want my President to be carried off a race course. I don’t want my President landing on Austrian soil and falling down the stairs of his airplane. Some of our Presidents have been incredible jerk-offs. We need to be tough.
A favorite word of yours, tough. How do you define it?
Tough is being mentally capable of winning battles against an opponent and doing it with a smile. Tough is winning systematically.
Sometimes you sound like a Presidential candidate stirring up the voters.
I don’t want the Presidency. I’m going to help a lot of people with my foundation–and for me, the grass isn’t always greener.
But if the grass ever did look greener, which political party do you think you’d be more comfortable with?
Well, if I ever ran for office, I’d do better as a Democrat than as a Republican–and that’s not because I’d be more liberal, because I’m conservative. But the working guy would elect me. He likes me. When I walk down the street, those cabbies start yelling out their windows.
Another game: What’s the first thing President Trump would do upon entering the Oval Office?
Many things. A toughness of attitude would prevail. I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.
What would President Trump’s position on crime be? I see the values of this country in the way crime is tolerated, where people are virtually afraid to say “I want the death penalty.” Well, I want it. Where has this country gone when you’re not supposed to put in a grave the son of a bitch who robbed, beat, murdered and threw a ninety-year-old woman off the building? Where has this country gone?
What would be some of President Trump’s longer-term views of the future?
I think of the future, but I refuse to paint it. Anything can happen. But I often think of nuclear war.
I’ve always thought about the issue of nuclear war; it’s a very important element in my thought process. It’s the ultimate, the ultimate catastrophe, the biggest problem this world has, and nobody’s focusing on the nuts and bolts of it. It’s a little like sickness. People don’t believe they’re going to get sick until they do. Nobody wants to talk about it. I believe the greatest of all stupidities is people’s believing it will never happen, because everybody knows how destructive it will be, so nobody uses weapons. What bullshit.
Does any of that fuzzy thinking exist around the Trump office?
On a much lower level, I would never hire anybody who thinks that way, because he has absolutely no common sense. He’s living in a world of make-believe. It’s like thinking the Titantic can’t sink. Too many countries have nuclear weapons; nobody knows where they’re all pointed, what button it takes to launch them.
The bomb Harry Truman dropped on Hiroshima was a toy next to today’s. We have thousands of weapons pointed at us and nobody even knows if they’re going to go in the right direction. They’ve never really been tested. These jerks in charge don’t know how to paint a wall, and we’re relying on them to shoot nuclear missiles to Moscow. What happens if they don’t go there? What happens if our computer systems aren’t working? Nobody knows if this equipment works, and I’ve seen numerous reports lately stating that the probability is they don’t work. It’s a total mess.
And how would President Trump handle it?
He would believe very strongly in extreme military strength. He wouldn’t trust anyone. He wouldn’t trust the Russians; he wouldn’t trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we’re defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing…. We’re being laughed at around the world, defending Japan—
Wait. If you believe that the public shares these views, and that you could do the job, why not consider running for President?
I’d do the job as well as or better than anyone else. It’s my hope that George Bush can do a great job.
You categorically don’t want to be President?
I don’t want to be President. I’m one hundred percent sure. I’d change my mind only if I saw this country continue to go down the tubes.