The ghost and Mr. Trump

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-breaking news article spread so quickly as Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece on ghostwriter Tony Schwartz.

The story came out yesterday morning. By midday, my Facebook feed was choked with links back to it or articles referencing it — a traffic jam I added to by posting it myself.

But no wonder. Tony Schwartz wasn’t just anyone’s ghostwriter. He was Donald Trump’s ghostwriter, and his work co-writing the 1987 best-seller “Trump: The Art of the Deal” was the first step in creating Donald Trump, Success Story.

The book made Trump a national figure and papered over the more unsavory elements of his past, depicting him as a charming, roguish developer symbolic of ’80s success. (Spy magazine also saw Trump as a symbol of the ’80s, but in the opposite way: a “short-fingered vulgarian” who represented so much that was wrong about New York in that era. “Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty,” Spy’s Kurt Andersen described the relationship to me, and we all know who was Moriarty.)

Schwartz, however, had a secret. He didn’t much like Trump. Asked by Mayer what he’d call the book if he wrote it today, he responded, “The Sociopath.”

It’s unusual for a ghostwriter to spill the beans on his subject. William Novak, co-author of that other 1980s monster memoir, “Iacocca,” has also written books with Oliver North, Tip O’Neill, Magic Johnson and “Mayflower Madam” Sydney Biddle Barrows. But for all the polarizing people he’s worked with, he has kept his thoughts to himself, except for occasional generous words of praise. It’s a job, he took the money, and it’s on to the next.

For years, Schwartz — though privately thinking himself a sellout (“Literally, the term was invented to describe what I did,” he told Mayer) — kept his counsel. After all, he got half the royalties on “The Art of the Deal,” which sold millions of copies. But with Trump now a step away from the presidency, he believed he had to come clean. His words were brutal.

“It’s impossible to keep him focused on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes,” he said at one point.

And, “Lying is second nature to him.”

It’s not a pretty picture.

At this point, however, it’s unlikely it will affect Trump’s candidacy. By now America knows his M.O. Some people believe that he’s a brilliant businessman, just what the country needs to put those foreigners and the Other in their place, and if he has a challenging relationship with the truth, well, that’s part of the deal. Others see him as a fraud taking advantage of chaotic times who will lead the country to ruin. (Trump himself is apparently modeling his candidacy on Richard Nixon’s 1968 run, and as a Nixon aficionado, I’ll have plenty to say about that in days to come.)

As for Tony Schwartz, he’s Faust, the man who made a deal with the devil. He’s donating his royalties for the book to organizations that counter everything Trump represents, but he knows it’s the least he can do.

“I’ll carry this until the end of my life,” he told Mayer. “There’s no righting it.”


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