There was a time not so very long ago when the revelations in Trumped! would have provoked headlines and gossip, punch lines and news analysis. The portrait of Donald Trump drawn by former Trump insider John R. O’Donnell is not a pretty one. According to O’Donnell, Trump is a racist. (”Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”) He is cheap, reneging on promised bonuses to executives and stiffing the hired help. (”Donald never tipped anyone…not even his drivers.”) Stranger still, Trump is appallingly | ignorant of even the most basic facts about the casino business — the business upon which he staked his empire.
In all, O’Donnell makes a convincing case that Trump was so inept as a businessman — so irrational, so filled with delusions of his own grandeur — that the collapse of his empire was all but inevitable. He was a fraud.
Except we know that already. We know it not because we have O’Donnell’s insider knowledge, but because we’ve watched Trump’s extraordinary public disintegration over the course of the last year and a half. We’ve watched his marriage unravel. We’ve seen the financial tide turn. And thus, the sensation of reading O’Donnell’s book is not that of shock. It is instead the feeling of having one’s suspicions confirmed. Which, I might add, is not altogether unpleasurable.
O’Donnell’s perch was the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City — The Donald’s most profitable casino — which he ran. The book is unquestionably motivated by O’Donnell’s anger at Trump for disparaging three high-ranking Trump officials shortly after they died in a 1989 helicopter accident. He finally quit in disgust not long after the Taj Mahal opened. Yet this is a surprisingly honorable kiss and tell. Despite the juicy tidbits, the tone is low-key and evenhanded. There is context here.
The context, finally, is the business saga, and every salacious anecdote in the book leads to the conclusion that Trump was the business version of that peculiar American type, the creature of his own press clips. This is not news either, of course, but nothing I’ve read before makes this point plainer than O’Donnell’s uproarious description of the first few days of the Taj Mahal. Trump preened and strutted for the press, which described the casino’s 1990 opening as a huge success. But O’Donnell knew better: The operation was so completely mismanaged that New Jersey regulators wouldn’t allow the slot machines to open, costing Trump millions of dollars. As the problems piled up, Trump was splenetic, foulmouthed, panicky — and clueless. It wasn’t until a few months later, when it became apparent that the Taj’s ”take” would not be enough to cover its huge interest payments, that the press caught on.
Better late than never, I suppose. The same might be said of this book. B