There’s a passage in Donald Trump’s The Art Of The Deal that struck me powerfully when I first read it in 1988, and continues to resonate with me today. It concerns Trump’s efforts to build the Trump Tower, and his negotiations with Walter Hoving, the owner of Tiffany, for specific rights he would need to make the Tower what he wanted it to be:
I said to Hoving, “Look, I want to buy your air rights, because that will allow me to build a much better building that you yourself will like much more. By selling me air rights, you will preserve Tiffany forever. No one will ever be able to build over it, and therefore no one will ever try to rip it down....I’m offering you five million dollars,” I said to Walter Hoving, “to let me preserve Tiffany. In return you’re selling me something—air rights—that you’d never use anyway.”
Hoving agreed, and shook Trump’s hand then and there. Unfortunately, he then said, “I have one small problem. I’m going away with my wife for a month, and I won’t have time to devote to this until I get back.”
Trump was disturbed by the implication that this deal wouldn’t be formally closed for a month, perhaps longer. He suggested that Hoving might change his mind while he was away. It might have been the worst thing he could have said:
Walter Hoving looked at me as if I’d insulted him. “Young man,” he said, “perhaps you didn’t understand. I shook your hand. I made a deal with you. That’s that.”
Fortunately for Trump, Hoving wasn’t as insulted as he might have been. The deal was struck. Trump Tower was built according to the preferred design. But more important than the architecture of Trump Tower is this: the revelation to the young Donald Trump that, unlike the sharpies and edge players that characterized New York real estate, Hoving was an honorable man who regarded his word, once given, as inviolable:
While there are certainly honorable people in the real estate business, I was more accustomed to the sort of people with whom you don’t want to waste the effort of a handshake because you know it’s meaningless. I’m talking about the lowlifes, the horror shows with whom nothing counts but a signed contract.
With Walter Hoving, I realized, I was dealing with a totally different type—a gentleman who was genuinely shocked at any suggestion that he might renege on a deal....he actually made me feel a little guilty for suggesting that anything might go wrong in our deal.
Given the results of the Indiana primary, we may be about to see whether the young Trump internalized Walter Hoving’s admirable values.
I’m not as optimistic about the future of this country as I once was. After all, we put a lying, treasonous narcissist in the Oval Office. We also returned him to power even after he’d shafted us. All his promises to us were weasel-worded. Every one came with an “expiration date.” His circle of lieutenants proved to be even worse than is he. They’ve collaborated in mutual defense even as they’ve ripped the nation free of its Constitutional foundations.
Are we about to elevate another wholly dishonest power-seeker to the highest office in the land? If the voters bestow the presidency on Hillary Clinton, the answer is yes. If it should choose Donald Trump instead, we won’t know for a while. That is, we won’t know whether he regards his promises to us concerning border control, international trade, and a less interventionist foreign policy as “deals,” from which it would be dishonorable to back away.
It’s been said that to Trump, everything is negotiable. Does that include the “deals” he’s made to secure the support of so many Republican-leaning voters? Will he treat his campaign statements as mere instruments for the pursuit of power, or will he regard them as just as binding as the assurances he and Walter Hoving exchanged?
At this point, all we know is that he’s the sole viable alternative to Hillary Clinton. All else rests in the lap of the gods.
The primary season has pained me throughout. At first the crop of Republican aspirants looked too good to be true: too large and too strong to be believed. Then one by one, strong, accomplished candidates were pruned from the field. Scott Walker. Bobby Jindal. Rand Paul.
As long as Ted Cruz remained in the running, we still had a chance the GOP nomination would go to someone we knew to hold firm and admirable convictions: someone we could trust with the burdens of the presidency, and trust to do as he said he would do with the powers of the office. That possibility has just expired. What remains is hope:
- The hope that Donald Trump will defeat Hillary Clinton in November;
- The hope that President Trump will prove equal to the responsibilities of the president;
- The hope that he’ll act on his campaign promises rather than slough them as mere election tactics.
Though you’ll never hear me denigrate hope, I can’t feel confident about the nation’s prospects. Mine is a hope against the odds. But as with so many other things about which Americans have nurtured hope at long odds, we shall see.