THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP by Michael D’Antonio

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This morning I spent an inordinate amount of time reading the MUELLER REPORT.  It is not my purpose to recount what was divulged, but what concerns me most is the dysfunction that exists at the pinnacle of our government.  What does it say about us as a people, and what does it say about the man who is responsible for trying to block American citizens from learning about Russian penetration of our elections, his refusal to even accept that it occurred, and the fact that his administration refuses to take any action to secure our elections for the future.  Denial is one thing, but outright deception and overt lying is another.  So, one must ask what type of individual would use the American electoral process as a “branding opportunity,” and upon learning of the appointment of the Special Counsel from then Attorney-General Jeff Sessions responds that “Oh my god, this is terrible.  This is the end of my presidency.  I’m fucked.”*  The answers to these questions are provided in Michael D’Antonio’s book, THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP.

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To D’Antonio’s credit his narrative is based on thorough research and he even had access to Donald Trump  until he started interviewing people who were critical of him.  He has written an entertaining and fair biography and has created the foundation for several books that have followed his publication which repeatedly cite his work.  Whether you have read TRUMP REVEALED by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher, THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP by David Cay Johnston, or TRUMP NATION: THE ART OF BEING THE DONALD, by Timothy L. O’Brien they all tell similar stories and anecdotes and all seem to agree on their characterization of Trump’s early life, career, business practices and philosophy, personal life including his marriages and affairs. However, what sets D’Antonio’s book apart is the detail provided and his ability to integrate the political and economic history of New York City and its unique personalities like Mayors Ed Koch, Abe Beame, and John Lindsay as well as Trump’s mentor Roy Cohn among many other fascinating characters throughout his narrative.  In addition, the author places the Trump family and wealth in the context of American history, going as far as comparing the post 1980s to the Gilded Age of the 19th century as he discusses Trump’s life in the context of broader social, psychological and technological trends throughout the 20th century.

As part of his discussion of New York’s economic crisis of the post 1960 period, D’Antonio describes the urban decay and blight that began to affect Brooklyn, the home base of Trump’s father’s wealth and operations.  Trump was very perceptive as he witnessed white flight to the suburbs, civil rights violence, and the poverty endemic to New York’s economic collapse.  Trump realized that this situation depressed real estate values and that a move to Manhattan could be very profitable.  Trump would be at the forefront of trying to displace the poor and middle class in Manhattan who lived in rent-controlled apartments as he sought to turn buildings into expensive condominiums which he will accomplish over a period of years greatly enhancing his wealth into the 1980s.

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(Coney Island – Brooklyn, NY)

If there is a failing in D’Antonio’s approach is that in addition to the amount of detail pertaining to Trump’s lifestyle and accumulation of wealth are his constant tangents.  The author will be describing any one of many complications associated with Trump’s business dealings and other affairs and then will turn to a full accounting of the lives of other individuals’ attendant to the original discussion I.e., Liz Smith, the gossip columnist, Ed Koch’s biography, or discussing what made a man sexy in the 1980s according to Playgirl magazine or any number of other seemingly  irrelevant digressions.

One of the more interesting aspects of D’Antonio’s methodology is his dissection of Trump’s financial dealings, the creation of his fortune, his dance with insolvency and bankruptcy, and his economic recovery.  D’Antonio delves into various financial transactions dating back to Fred Trump and how he took advantage of Lehrenkrouss and Company, a Brooklyn Mortgage Company in the 1930s; Donald Trump’s manipulation of New York bankers, politicians, and others to acquire various properties including the Commodore and Plaza Hotels; how Trump was able to wedge himself into the casino industry in Atlantic City and the fallout from those  transactions; and his success in branding so many buildings with his name.  Other interesting chapters deal with Trump’s battle with author Tim O’Brien over his book TRUMPNATION that argued that “the Donald’s” wealth was far below what Trump stated.  What follows is a detailed description of the legal battle that ensued.  In similar fashion D’Antonio relates the battle over Trump University that would lead to a financial settlement for many of the students that were fleeced.

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D’Antonio describes Trump’s early years, most importantly the impact his father had upon him and how he wanted to mirror Fred’s business tactics.  Another important component of Trump’s upbringing was his experience at the New York Military Academy, where under the auspices of Major Theodore Dobias cadets were instilled with a feeling of confidence that would propel them through life with a sense that they deserved great success because the academy made them better than everyone else.  Trump took his father’s lessons and his experiences under Dobias to heart to create the foundation of the narcissistic personality that would dominate his adulthood that emphasized winning at all costs and avenging those who were critical of him.  Further lessons were learned from Roy Cohn, Trump’s lawyer for many years who believed in stalling, duplicity, threats, law suits, and never admitting that you made an error.   In dealing with the origin of and later manifestation of Trump’s need to be the best at everything, no matter how insignificant, D’Antonio is correct in arguing that it is not important that Trump lies per say, but he actually believes the lies that he tells and then acts upon them – the mark of a truly disturbed personality.

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What is clear from D’Antonio’s biography and numerous other books pertaining to Trump’s journey in life is that he spent a lifetime constructing his personal image.  When that façade is threatened by a negative comment or something or someone, he perceives to be untoward he goes ballistic and seeks revenge employing the “Roy Cohn/Roger Stone” strategy.  What is interesting today as Trump fumes and derides people who worked in his administration who testified for the Special Counsel, the White House is filled with fear from presidential retribution.  If one compares his behavior today with the collapse of his casino empire and fear of bankruptcy in the early 1990s it is the same, even to the point of blaming his financial debacle on three of his executives who were killed in a helicopter crash who had helped administer the Atlantic City hotels and casinos.

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Trump is the master of self-promotion and much of his wealth is tied to his brand not his ability to make “deals.” Trump figured out that fortune and fame go together, and superficiality is more important than substance, the result is that he is the epitome of both concepts.  As other authors have also argued D’Antonio is clear that Trump is a classic case of narcissism.  Narcissists enjoy conflict and will exaggerate or obfuscate to gain the upper hand, a strategy that Trump has pursued in political, business, and personal conflicts that he has either caused or exacerbated when the opportunity presented itself as he views publicity whether good or bad, as good.

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No one should be surprised at the type of President Trump is, the signs were clear long before he ran for the White House and we are now experiencing the fallout from the admonitions of authors, reporters, and Trump associates  about before the 2016 election. Perhaps D’Antonio is correct as he portrays Trump in the context of what Christopher Lasch developed in his 1979 book, THE CULTURE OF NARCISSISM: AMERICAN LIFE IN AN AGE OF DIMINISHING EXPECTATIONS – “Trump represented….the pathology of our age.”  Our society, in part may be responsible for the creation of a Trumpian character as it evolved over the decades, now we reap its benefits!

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THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean

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(April 28, 1986 Los Angeles Central Library City Fire)

“Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance.

It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.” (93)

 

People can acquire many types of addictions.  Mine, happens to be books and libraries and it is a very difficult “affliction” to accommodate.  Despite the digital age, there are books everywhere.  New, old, they seem to proliferate mercilessly, the temptation seems to rise each day.  When I came across Susan Orlean’s new book, THE LIBRARY BOOK I knew that I once again had to confront my disease.  In the end, Orlean has written a wonderful ode to libraries and books.  Her subject revolves around the April 28, 1986 fire that destroyed about 500,000 volumes and damaged another 700,000 books, in addition to microfilm, special collections, and an unsettling amount of other materials at the Los Angeles Central Library.  Her narrative is a combination of historical fact, and a deeply personal emotional experience as she describes her own childhood visiting libraries with her mother and doing the same with her son.  Orleans provides a concise history of the Central Library and how the city of Los Angeles responded to the crisis the day of the fire, and how it tried to cope and rebuild from the loss.  As Billie Connor, a children’s librarian described after she and others entered the building immediately after the LAFD put the fire out; “they felt like they died and gone to see if Dante knew what he was writing about.” (34)

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For Orlean the motivating factor in writing THE LIBRARY BOOK was emotive as she realized she was losing her mother to dementia.  Her mother who had imbued her with the love of libraries is recognized as Orlean composes her narrative to try and preserve her memories of her mother from when she was a child.

Orlean’s approach is rather eclectic and comprehensive at the same time.  She provides wonderful character portraits which add to our understanding of the role that libraries play in our communities.  One individual stands out, that of John Szabol, the head of the Central Library system of Los Angeles who early in his career acquired the nickname,  “Conan the Librarian.”  Szabol views libraries as serving many functions in addition to the dissemination of books.  During disasters they serve as a community center to assist displaced people.  Libraries are one of the few places where the homeless are welcomed and given access to computers, the internet, and if they want “dally” all day.  Szabol dispatch of mobile bookmobiles to homeless areas are among the many programs to assist the public that went beyond the traditional library.

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Character portraits abound in the book.  Apart from Szabol is Orlean’s description of Charles Fletcher Lumis who became the head of the Central Library in 1905 because the library board fired his predecessor because she was a woman.  Lumis’ life is an amazing story in of itself.  Traveler, poet, historian, journalist his talents and life are a fascinating story.  Despite his unusual approach to administration he was responsible for many library components that exist today, i.e.; the photography and autograph collections; the California and Spanish history collections; among his many innovations.  Another library character that stands out is Glen Creason who began taking courses in library science in 1979 and is currently the longest serving librarian in the history of the Central Library.  He has become the library’s institutional memory and his career has spanned surviving the 1986 fire, the AIDS epidemic in which thirteen librarians died, the reopening of the building, and the adjustment to the internet.  Orlean’s approach is to discuss these somewhat obscure figures in a deeply personal manner and she gives them an enthusiasm and zest for what they have done and continue to do that is unimaginable.

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(The library today)

Focusing on a different aspect of her study of libraries, Orlean presents a history of book burning that appears to be the norm, rather than the exception throughout the centuries.  Orlean begins her discourse with a discussion of the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria, carrying forth through the 20th century as the Nazis committed libricide with their Feurspruches and Brenn Kommandos designed to snuff out all Jewish learning.  It seems that Heinrich Heine was correct, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”  Hitler was not the only practitioner of libricide; Mao, the Khmer Rouge, Saddam, and the Taliban who continue the practice to this day. Further, Orlean even tries to replicate burning books by trying to ignite her copy of FARENEIHT 451, a task that was difficult and painful.

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Before the fire the library contained over 2 million volumes.  Orleans’ initial focus is how so many volunteers and businesses responded to try and salvage the 700,000 damaged books.  She describes amazing people and procedures to save them.  From freeze drying the books, to packing them up and transporting them to freezers at the fish market, hotel kitchens, and other food warehouses in order to stop the spread of mold.  The city’s response was incredible. Human chains of hundreds of people were formed as strangers worked together to save “knowledge.”  The fire itself was deemed as suspicious from the outset, and in a short time it became clear it was arson.  Since Harry Peake, an actor wanna be, fit the profile of an arsonist; white male between seventeen and twenty-five; in addition to being present at the library at the time of the fire he was immediately considered a suspect.  A month later, when someone identified him from a composite photo it reaffirmed that suspicion.

Orlean does a wonderful job integrating American history and its impact on the Central Library’s own progression.  There are numerous examples to support that conclusion.  Some of the most interesting is how the library administration responded to the demographic growth of Los Angeles, particularly after World War II.  New programs were added to meet the needs of the people, i.e.; microfilm and microfiche, teen departments and other innovations.  The library also tried to meet the concerns of the government as Sputnik and returning veterans created concerns for the public that needed to be met.  Finally, Orlean’s history reflects the sexism that was dominant in all libraries.  For decades only, men were allowed top administrative positions. That began to change with the appointment of Mary Jones, Mary Foy, Harriet Wadleigh, and Althea Warren over the years.

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By the last third of the book, Orlean began to alternate chapters dealing with the library’s history and the case against Harry Peake. The investigation of Peake’s actions at the time of the fire  was drawn out over a long period as Harry was a fabulist who could not keep his story straight.  With seven different iterations of where he was the morning of the fire, investigators had a difficult time creating other than a circumstantial case against him.  The bizarre case resulted in Peake’s law suit against the city, and the city’s counter suit against Peake.  The result was inconclusive and to this day one wonders how the fire came to be.

If there is a theme that emerges from reading Orlean’s work, it is how the Central Library has maintained its relevance throughout the last hundred years or so.  The ability to reinvent itself to meet the needs of their community and constituency whether rich or poor, or even homeless is truly amazing.  Reading Orlean is to travel and immerse oneself in the problems faced by libraries, and how miraculously in the case of the central Library it has overcome disaster and continues to flourish to this day.

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Perhaps  the most wonderful aspect of Orlean’s narrative is how she navigates the Central library and its branches and explain how they operate. Along the way she imparts numerous pearls of information to acquaint the reader of the wonderful world of libraries.  Her observations are priceless as she states that a library is the perfect place to become invisible.  It also has its own rhythms and sounds that are unique.  The Los Angeles system is best described “as if the city has a bloodstream flowing through it, oxygenated by books.”  Orlean has written a wonderful book that should satisfy the interests for all who frequent libraries and wonder how they evolved, and how they are constantly working to meet our needs.

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(Fire damage from April 28, 1986)