Let's all think back to the distant days of mid-2015, when Donald Trump's presidential campaign was still a funny joke. Most journalists assumed it was all just a stunt to drum up ratings for The Apprentice. This tweet by a writer with The New York Times sums up the majority opinion at the time:
Now, seven months and one caucus later, Donald Trump is still the most popular Republican presidential candidate. He might actually be our next president (the odds are against it, but the odds were against this, too, and here we are). So let's stop treating this like a reality show stunt and dig into what a Trump presidency would actually look like.
Fortunately, we have three political books Donald Trump has authored over the years for reference. His first, The America We Deserve, was published ahead of his first presidential bid, back in 2000. His second, Time To Get Tough, was published in 2011. And Crippled America, his Return Of The Jedi, came out in November. I read them all, much to the shame of my Kindle account.
I'm so sorry, Werner.
Seven hundred pages of Trump later, here's what I know:
6 He Became More Politically Successful When He Started Treating His Supporters Like Idiots
Joshua Lott/Getty Images News/Getty Images
The first thing you notice is that Trump didn't always sound like a bloviating rich villain from an '80s movie. Over the course of his books you can see a transition from what is clearly a ghostwriter trying to make Trump sound sophisticated to what appear to be Trump's own words shouted into a tape recorder while in the back of a limo. Here's how Trump comes out sounding when he's written by a ghostwriter for 'his' blog:
"The Trump brand carries a promise that whatever bears the name will be elite. ... I have to believe in whatever I put my name on, and it has to reflect who I truly am. My branding strategy is 'to thine self be true.' Shakespeare said it first, and I second it here -- and everywhere else I put the name Trump."
The Sharper Image
Compare that to this paragraph from Trump's third book, which I'm pretty sure is an almost unedited transcript of a rambling monologue he may or may not have realized anyone was writing down:
"I've had a good relationship with the church over the years -- God is in my life every day. I don't get to church every Sunday, but I do go as often as I can. A lot of Sundays, when there's a special occasion, and always on the major holidays, I make sure I am there. People like to give me Bibles, which I love."
Throughout each book, you get more and more of these little "islands of Trump," where you can just hear him making a garbled unedited metaphor, like, "Money has always been the mother's milk of politics, but these days you need an extraordinary amount of milk to keep a campaign afloat."
Suto Norbert/Hemera/Getty Images
That strawberry is the Trump campaign, apparently.
The Nerd Writer recently made a hit video analyzing Donald Trump's speech patterns. He pointed out that Donald Trump favors words with few syllables and short, punchy, simple sentences that he frequently repeats -- if you've watched any five-minute clip of Trump talking, you've heard all of this. Well, much of his third book is written exactly the way he talks:
"Winning matters. Being the best matters. I'm going to keep fighting for our country until our country is great again. Too many people think the American dream is dead, but we can bring it back bigger, better, and stronger than ever before. But we must start now. We need to ensure America starts winning once again."
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Except Iowa. Fuck 'em."
As far as the substance, Trump's first book is pretty logical, even if you disagree with him. It's not a great work of political nuance, but he tries to support each of his major arguments. In one chapter he points out that the country needs to find $50 billion to repair aging schools and suggests we get the money by pulling our troops out of Europe ("We can protect Europe with our nuclear arsenal and use those funds for schools"). By Trump's third book, released late last year, his defense policy has been reduced to: "Everything begins with a strong military. Everything. We will have the strongest military in our history, and our people will be equipped with the best weaponry and protection available. Period."
Trump's second book is probably the "smartest" of his three political works. His ghostwriter actually went to the trouble of doing a significant amount of research. The book ends with a bibliography that takes up more than a quarter of the page count.
But his third book has no bibliography. Instead, it ends with pictures: 10 of people (himself, his family, etc.) and 11 of buildings he owns.
Left: Trump Sky Penis Globesack Tower. Right: Trump Radiator Building.
It worked. When Trump ran for president the first time, he qualified for only two primaries, and only then as a Reform Party candidate. He didn't run in 2012, after releasing his most heavily researched political treatise. One of the things Donald Trump's learned in 16 years of flirting with the presidency is that specifics won't earn him the kind of voters he needs. Big, shiny towers, apparently, do.
5 He Has A Hilariously Fragile Ego ... And Projects That Onto The Country
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images
You know how in the Back To The Future trilogy, Marty's big arc involves learning how not to flip out whenever someone calls him "chicken"? Donald Trump has a similar problem: He can't handle anyone laughing at him. You might remember the White House Correspondents' Dinner from 2011, when President Obama spent a solid five minutes mocking Donald Trump to his face. Which looked like this, by the way:
This is a GIF.
Trump addressed that moment in his second book. It marks the only time in any of his writings that Donald Trump praises Barack Obama, "I loved the evening, and I loved what the president was saying, because even though they were jokes, he was telling them in a nice and respectful way and he did a good job telling them."
He explained his unsmiling face as confusion over how to react. But is it possible that, maybe, Donald Trump's whole presidential campaign is just an effort to get us to take him seriously and finally stop making fun of his hair? Because then we get quotes like, "The president of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. The president is the spokesperson for democracy and liberty. Isn't it time we brought back the pomp and circumstance and the sense of awe for that office that we all once held?"
And now you start to get an insight into what motivates Donald Trump; his entire philosophy revolves around protecting a fragile self-image, and it informs all of his foreign policy. It comes up whenever he mentions the terrible things happening to America today:
They're "laughing at us." Over and over again -- you see the exact same thing in his stump speeches, in his interviews, in his tweets (here's a hundred freaking examples). Maybe it's because he possesses the narcissist's desperation to hide his insecurities from the world, or he thinks that America is full of people with those same insecurities, or both. Either way, the problem isn't that ISIS is defeating us but that ISIS is laughing at us:
Everything Trump says and does starts to make more sense once you realize it's coming from a man whose greatest fear is that other people don't fear him enough.