Seven hundred pages of Trump later, here's what I know:
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:
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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."
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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."
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"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.
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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.
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If you pay much attention to Donald Trump's ISIS policy, you might know that he plans to finance a war against ISIS by stealing "their" oil.
You might wonder, "But doesn't that oil actually belong to the people of Iraq/Syria, who ISIS stole it from?" To which Donald Trump would reply, "Fuck them, they still owe us for the invasion."
Yeah, Trump actually introduced the bones of this idea back in 2011: "When you do someone a favor, they say thank you. When you give someone a loan, they pay you back. And when a nation like the United States sacrifices thousands of lives of its own young servicemen and -women and more than a trillion dollars to bring freedom to the people of Iraq, the least -- the absolute least -- the Iraqis should do is pick up the tab for their own liberation."
Of course, we obliterated much of their infrastructure in the process, but whatever. And here's where we find out that Trump doesn't just think we should get what's "owed" to us. He actually supports hiring out the United States goddamn military as a mercenary force in exchange for oil money:
"There is another way to pay to modernize our military forces. If other countries are depending on us to protect them, shouldn't they be willing to make sure we have the capability to do it? Shouldn't they be willing to pay for the servicemen and servicewomen and the equipment we're providing? Depending on the price of oil, Saudi Arabia earns somewhere between half a billion and a billion dollars every day. They wouldn't exist, let alone have that wealth, without our protection. We get nothing from them. Nothing."
"Just saying, that's a nice Arabia you have ... be a shame if something were to happen to it."
And if that wasn't the single most terrifying thing you've ever read from a legitimate presidential candidate, check out what he had to say about the liberation of Kuwait:
"Why didn't the United States make a deal with them that outlined how they would pay for us to get their country back for them? They would have paid anything if just asked."
Emphasis mine. He's literally saying we should've held Kuwait's sovereignty hostage until they paid up. Oh, and while other countries pretend the Iraq wars weren't about oil, Trump doesn't bother. His position is that those brave troops died to keep the oil flowing, and we owe it to them to make sure it continues to do so:
"Iran will take over Iraq and its great oil reserves, the second largest after Saudi Arabia. If that happens, all of our brave men and women will have died in vain and $1.5 trillion will have been squandered."
But if Iraq's oil goes directly to keeping your Suburban plowing along at 14 miles per gallon, the 4,495 American men and women who died in Iraq will have at least died for something, dammit.
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In Donald Trump's books, women exist for one of two reasons: to tell Donald Trump how awesome he is, or to be momentarily praised so he can then shit-talk a female rival. For example: In Trump's second book, Time To Get Tough, he mentions his wife, Melania, by name exactly six times.
There are several points in the book where he mentions things he said to Melania or gives her opinion on something in his words. But there's only one point -- in the entire book -- where he quotes her actual words on anything: "For years I would ask her whether or not I could run and win. And she would say, 'Donald, people love you, but they wouldn't vote for you for president.' When I asked her why, she said, 'You're a little wild and a little too controversial. They respect you, they think you're really smart -- the smartest of all -- but enough people just wouldn't vote for you.'"
"The smartest of all." Just ... roll that around in your head for a bit. This is one of exactly two quotes we have from Melania in either of the political books Donald's written during their marriage. The second is set during a charity dinner after the start of Trump's current campaign:
"Darling, do you know what? You've never been booed before."
Trump does go off on a tangent about gender equality during his third book. But he just brings it up to point out that he hired a woman to oversee a construction project back in 1983 when, as he says, "the fight for gender equality in business was just beginning." He spends about a paragraph talking about gender equality, before it becomes clear that this whole tangent is just an excuse to shit on Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina:
In his first book, written in 1999, Trump predicts a massive spike in crime starting in early 2000. The culprit of this new crime wave? "A lot of these boys don't have fathers. All they've got is a mother, and that mother might well be a teenager herself. As anybody knows, a single mother is going to have a hard time controlling a normal boy, especially when he hits strutting age. She can say, 'Son, you stay home tonight and do your math,' but he won't hear her."
Chilling. And in the 17 years since we've seen how prescient Donald's predictions can be:
There are no other discussions of women's issues, and very few mentions of women doing anything at all, in any of the three books Donald Trump has written on politics. And speaking of Donald Trump's politics ...
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One of the most persistent conspiracy theories around this election is that Donald Trump, longtime Clintonfriend, is running just to poison the election for the GOP:
The standard theory claims that, because Trump was an avowed liberal and friend of the Clintons for most of his life, his sudden shift to the far right must be a calculated move to spoil the election. Even if you don't buy the conspiracy theory, you probably do accept the narrative that Trump's politics have changed dramatically over the years.
But while there are a few positions Trump's changed on over the years (from lukewarm pro-choice to full pro-life, from OK with some gun control to rejecting it entirely), my overall impression of Donald Trump from his political works -- which again span 16 years -- is of consistency. In his first book he calls China "our biggest long-term challenge," and he expresses his fear over illegal immigration: "We must take care of our own people first. Our policy to people born elsewhere should be clear: Enter by the law, or leave."
Of course, that's a far cry from accusing all undocumented immigrants of being mostly rapists or otherwise criminal; that didn't start until last y- wait, 2011?
Presumably right after this.
"I actually have a theory that Mexico is sending their absolute worst, possibly including prisoners, in order for us to bear the cost, both financial and social."
He's also identified with Ronald Reagan since the beginning: He compares himself to Reagan twice in his first book. In fact, the last paragraph of his first book makes it clear he views himself as a mash-up of FDR, Nixon, and Reagan:
"Maybe our next great leader -- one with the cunning of Franklin Roosevelt, the guts of Harry Truman, the resilience of Richard Nixon, and the optimism of Ronald Reagan -- is walking down Fifth Avenue right now, straight through the heart of this land of dreamers and shakers -- this land that I love."
It's a little surprising he didn't throw George Washington in there, but maybe he didn't want to come off as boastful.
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Donald Trump takes a lot of pride in the fact that he "predicted 9/11." Some journalists have even lauded him for his prescience:
And it's true that, in his first book, Trump predicted terrorism would be an increasing problem for the U.S. He listed New York City as a potential target and even name-dropped Osama bin Laden. This all sounds impressive until you remember that, six years before he wrote The America We Deserve, a less successful attack was carried out on the World Trade Center, near Trump's home. You didn't have to be Nostradamus to predict a follow-up. Besides, the specific types of attack Trump worried about back then were some sort of bioweapon, or a "dirty bomb." He sure as shit didn't predict 9/11. But the "accuracy" of this prediction convinced Donald to make more predictions, this time in his 2011 book, all of which were hilariously wrong:
"In a handful of years, America will be engulfed by the economic tsunami that is the People's Republic of China -- my guess is by 2016, if we don't act fast."
SPOILER: America still hasn't been engulfed by China's economic tsunami. In fact, in 2015 their economic growth slowed to its lowest rate in a quarter-century. Trump made another prediction in his Chamber Of Secrets, 2011's Time To Get Tough: He said we had "four, maybe eight years tops" to turn the economy around. The key to that would be getting the price of oil down. If we had "proper leadership" (aka, him), Trump thought, we might be able to get the cost of oil down "to $40-$50 a barrel."
Oil is at $31.50 per barrel as of this writing.
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So you still agree that the president somehow controls the price of oil, Donald?
But there is exactly one instance in which Donald Trump made a prediction that was downright spookily accurate. In his first book, way back in 1999, he wrote:
"I am definitely a different look. I'm not prepackaged. I'm not plastic. I'm not scripted. And I'm not 'handled.' I tell you what I think. It's quite a departure from the usual office-seeking pols. Maybe the voters would find it refreshing. I guarantee you one thing, they'd find it interesting."
It took 16 years, but he was right on the goddamn money there.
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How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.
It's easy to work the system and win these awards even if you don't deserve them.