Donald Trump has been a public figure since the ’80s, but that image has been overshadowed by his recent presidency. Tina Brown, author of “The Vanity Fair Diaries,” discusses how much Trump has changed since then.
Tina Brown: I decided at Vanity Fair to buy an extract of his new book, The Art of the Deal, and I bought it because I love the voice in the book. I thought to myself, this is BS but it’s authentic BS. That was critical thing, I loved his voice. I thought, you know what, I know he’s a con man, but something about the voice is very beguiling.
Brown: Subsequently, about a month or so later, I met him at a party hosted by a big Park Avenue socialite. And each of our dinner partners was kind of ignoring us and so we ended up sort of bouncing back and forth over the heads of the other diners at the dinner party. And he, of course at that point, was very genial. I was the person who had extracted his book and he saw me as a big ally and he would go like, Aye, Tina, what do you think of my cover this week of Newsweek? I mean that’s better than Time, isn’t it? And I’d go, actually I think Time is better than Newsweek. No, I could have had Time. You know it was exactly what he’s like today except at that time he was much more fun and much more genial in a way, and he was just this funny, coarse, crass guy but he had a personality.
Brown: But of course subsequently, as we covered his business failures, which then took over, he became much darker and much more aggressive and much more belligerent. A piece that we ran by Marie Brenner was so kind of critical of him that he was very, very unhappy. I mean Marie Brenner wrote the fact that he had Hitler speeches on his desk. And she wrote about his bankruptcies and so forth, and he was very, very upset about this piece. She was at a party in Manhattan, at a benefit, and she’s sitting there having dinner and she suddenly finds something cold and wet coming down her back. And she looks up and there is Donald Trump, heading off across the room having emptied a glass of white wine down her evening dress.
Brown: That, in a sense, was what Donald Trump became, and it’s really the Trump we see today. Trump is the absolute, sort of, final arch of celebrity culture that we saw beginning in 1984 when he rose to now, when the reality show ethos has just reached its apotheosis, if you like, and he is that person. Really I think a lot of people underestimated how deeply The Apprentice made its mark on the American psyche. I mean there was season after season of that show which huge amounts of people watched. Maybe not the people who write opinion columns, but the people who vote watched that show. And that show was all about presenting Donald Trump as a winning CEO, a decisive guy. A man who could get the difficult decision done. A man who didn’t hesitate while he made his company work. It was, of course, a phony image because it was a reality show, but it was an image that just sealed itself onto the American psyche so that when he runs for president they all say, he’s going to make the country work. And that’s really why he made it through to the Oval Office.