‘If Trump wins ... it’s possibly the end of civilisation’: ghost writer excoriates candidate
Tony Schwartz tells New Yorker he regrets painting Trump, the Republican pick for the White House, in a positive light in The Art of The Deal. Mogul fires back, accusing him of ‘great disloyalty’
The co-author of Donald Trump’s book The Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz, has revealed he feels a “deep sense of remorse” for portraying the mogul in a positive light and says he believes a Trump presidency could “lead to the end of civilisation”.
The Art of the Deal was published in 1987. It spent 48 weeks on The New York Times’ bestseller list and has sold more than one million copies. Trump, the Republican party’s US presidential candidate, was paid a US$500,000 advance by publisher Random House. He split the sum with Schwartz and gave him half the royalties.
However, in an interview with the New Yorker, Schwartz talked extensively about the 18 months he spent working with Trump, and said he would have called the book The Sociopath.
“I put lipstick on a pig,” he says. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is … I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilisation.”
Schwartz initially met Trump while interviewing him as a journalist. Talking to him again for a piece in Playboy in 1985, Trump told him about his book deal and Schwartz suggested he focus on his leadership style. Trump liked the idea and offered Schwartz the job, which he took to solve money troubles. “It was a huge windfall,” he told the New Yorker. “But I knew I was selling out. Literally, the term was invented to describe what I did.”
Schwartz, who now runs a consulting firm, spent 18 months with Trump – in his office, helicopter, meeting rooms and in his Manhattan apartment and Florida estate on weekends. His first attempts to get Trump to participate in a series of traditional interviews did not work. Schwartz said discussion was consistently hobbled due to Trump’s short attention span, with Trump fidgeting until he’d ultimately call off the session.
“It’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandisement, for more than a few minutes,” Schwartz says. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time.”
Instead, Schwartz suggested he shadow Trump while he worked, an idea the mogul loved. The writer spent days listening to Trump’s conversations with lawyers, bankers and reporters on an extension line two metres away from Trump, without their knowing, which Trump enjoyed. “If he could have had 300,000 people listening in, he would have been even happier,” Schwartz says.
Schwartz told the New Yorker he found the process draining and said that he had made a concerted effort to make Trump appear “a sympathetic character” in order to ensure the book’s success, rather than “just hateful or, worse yet, a one-dimensional blowhard”. He said he purposely left out unflattering details of Trump’s character and business, including the knowledge that Trump had lied to him about the success of his casinos and hotels. The Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza Hotel would subsequently both file for bankruptcy.
After the book’s success, Trump offered Schwartz the opportunity to write a sequel, for a third of the profits. Schwartz turned it down and instead wrote a book by himself, called What Really Matters.
He said he decided to speak out after Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, with a speech in Trump Tower that included the line: “We need a leader that wrote The Art of the Deal.”
“If he could lie about that on Day One – when it was so easily refuted – he is likely to lie about anything,” Schwartz says.
Trump then told the New Yorker: “Wow. That’s great disloyalty, because I made Tony rich. He owes a lot to me. I helped him when he didn’t have two cents in his pocket. It’s great disloyalty. I guess he thinks it’s good for him – but he’ll find out it’s not good for him.”
On Good Morning America on Monday, Schwartz responded to criticism that he had only spoken out only after making money from the book, saying: “I now feel it’s my civic duty. I have nothing to gain from this.”
In the New Yorker interview, he revealed that he was pledging his royalties from all 2016 sales of The Art of the Deal to charities supporting immigrants and victims of torture. “I like the idea that the more copies that The Art of the Deal sells, the more money I can donate to the people whose rights Trump seeks to abridge,” he says.