Trump and I,
and the Greater Jihad

It happened to me when I was in my early twenties. It happened to a young friend just last year. I don’t know how common the experience might be.

It was an interesting employment interview. The manager of the little office knew what was required for the position. He pressed on each point of my background. How had I done in my previous position? Why had I made the choices I had made? Why was I open to a change?

Still, it was a comfortable conversation. He knew how to set a thoughtful dialogue. When he asked how I would handle hypothetical situations, he seemed to appreciate my approach to business.

It was apparent that we were close when we got to compensation. I told him what I thought the position was worth and what I would be worth in filling it. Then we looked at each other in silence. For some reason, I remembered a sentence a friend had spoken during her own interview: “This is what I want, but I am flexible. I will accept more.” This time, the silence went on for a few moments.

Finally, he spoke. He was impressed with my background and with what he thought I might contribute. He did not feel he could responsibly accept the figure I had proposed. He was willing to take a risk on unproven ability by making what he hoped I would find to be an adequate counter-offer.

Then he named a figure that was higher than what I had told him I wanted.

I thought back to that experience as I talked with my young friend. She had switched positions in much the same way. She was finally offered more than the amount she was prepared to accept. In her case it was substantially more. It did work out well for the company. A few weeks later, she was asked to travel to meet with the executive staff of her new employer. They wanted to be introduced to the new person who had, in a that few weeks, contributed much more significantly than anyone had expected.

The lesson I learned, that my young friend learned, was one not to be found in The Art of the Deal or in the business history of Donald Trump. It is that no deal is a good deal unless all participants benefit. A hard bargain will likely be no bargain at all.

President Trump is not unique in viewing business success, in fact all of life, as adversarial. A good deal comes from getting all you can. A great deal comes from screwing someone over. Unethical practices are a foundation. What is right, what is smart, is whatever you can get away with.

See the early section on the art of exaggeration to close a deal. Principle 7, self-promotion, has tips on “truthful hyperbole” and “innocent” exaggeration, that may have helped with selling Trump University enrollments.

Principle 4 is about catering to a specific market. Read page 182 on certain types of discrimination in housing. “It’s absurd and probably illegal, but it happened to be great for Trump Tower.”

I wonder whether Principle 10, cutting costs to the bone, contributed to the numerous lawsuits from small contractors and working class employees. That fraction who are willing to fight back have a common complaint: he profits by welshing working people out of what they have earned, daring them to stand up against his team of lawyers.

Principle 11, having fun, sounds pretty good. But living extravagantly, beyond what his real estate holdings could support during and after the crash of 2009, may have contributed to his desperate relationship with the kleptocracy of the Kremlin. All roads behind what had once been the Iron Curtain seem to lead to money laundering operations.

Financial analysts, those who have examined what little of his success is documented, have concluded that he might well have enjoyed a larger portfolio, had he simply put the fortune he inherited into diverse investments, then flown away with winter flocks to a warmer climate, living out his years clipping coupons.

Exploitation is sometimes not a formula for success. And there is an alternative.

I have maintained an on-again, off-again relationship with that man who hired me those decades ago. We have floated in and out of contact over those decades. I last spoke with him a few years ago, I think. He remains a dazzling financial genius, earning whatever income he chooses. When we lived near each other he once showed me a slip of paper. It was what he had determined he would earn that year.

The financial figure he had decided upon was not a goal, as we understand goals. It was, instead, a stopping point.

He kept track so he would know when to stop, when to change his focus from financial achievement to personal development. Over time, he shifted his emphasis to spiritual life, financing a religious retreat in the Washington, DC, area.

Whether in business dealings, or in personal relationships, he maintained his own Art of the Deal, seeking and developing areas of mutual interest. He became successful by contributing to the success of those he met. His was a journey of discovery, finding what others wanted out of life and creating an environment of success for them, often simply with his words.

It was not just a financial strategy. It was a way of life.

The happiest times for me have been those rare moments when I have come closer to that way of life. I suspect and hope that the same potential is a universal part of humanity, available to all.

But there is within me, perhaps within everyone, a darker view. A more exploitative ethic has not so much grown in our national life as it has grown more pronounced. The clash between the two approaches, the adversarial and the inclusive, seem to inform much of our politics. The darker side seems to ascend at the moment but, we can hope, only for the moment.

The ascendant view turns a healthy sense of community into a sick sort of tribalism, a putting down of other groups to build up our own. Other ethnicities, other religions, other skin colors become suspicious by definition.

In its most raw form, it becomes personally exploitative. It is the zero-sum ethic of doing unto others until you have squeezed out of them all that can be gotten.

Regret becomes deepest when it involves choices we need not have made, values we adopted without thinking.

I experience, perhaps we all experience, what I suspect at least a few of my friends might call a greater jihad: the spiritual struggle within.

I wish I had won that struggle more often.

But life, and its struggle, is not over yet.
Not for me. Not for my country.

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4 thoughts on “Trump and I,
and the Greater Jihad”

  1. Mr. Deming, I am scared to admit that I agree with you once again, my old friend! I would like to think that this is because you are becoming more reasonable… more conservative. 🙂

    I think it is a far better and more sustainable relationship when both parties to a negotiation are able to walk away mutually satisfied at the outcome. If one side or the other feels as if they were cheated or taken advantage of with the outcome of any deal made, then resentment and less than stellar performance usually results. If both sides are happy with the negotiations, then they are more apt to trust each other and continue to work well together in this and perhaps future endeavors.

    It is easy to tear down and only “get yours”. This may even work for awhile, but in the end, the anger and resentment it builds will only serve to undermine what might have been an even greater achievement.

    I have not read “The Art of the Deal”, but if Trump advocates the adversarial approach, then that explains a lot regarding his petulant and sophomoric behavior when he doesn’t get what he wants out of any given “deal”.

  2. “…no deal is a good deal unless all participants benefit.”

    If only that were inscribed over business schools and the Temples Of Mammon on Wall Street. It is the essence of capitalism to take the most while giving the least. That is its ethos. This is why it needs regulation.

  3. “It is the essence of capitalism to take the most while giving the least.”

    No sir. I wholeheartedly disagree. True capitalism is offering goods or services for a fair price driven by market conditions. In such a manner, both the seller and the buyer are satisfied with the exchange and as such the business continues to grow and the buyer continues to use their goods or services.

    Just like an unreputable used-car lot, if someone tries to scam as much as possible from a buyer, it may make for more of a financial return initially, but chances are good that the place will develop a word of mouth reputation that it cannot be trusted. As such the market will ensure that it won’t be in business for long.

    We need regulations regarding fair labor practices, interstate commerce, anti-monopolies, and reasonable environmental protections. Most of the other regulations are often unnecessary and only add to the cost of the good or service, which will inevitably be passed on to the consumer.

  4. TP,
    In the ideal, you are correct. Just because there are some fair deals to be found, does not make the system fair. Big Money talks with their free speech to manipulate government. The consumer is out of the picture in those deals.

    How about the pharmaceutical companies and epipens? Is “Pharma-Bro” fair enough for you? How about health care? Fair enough for “market conditions”? What does that mean when you are sick?

    Charging as much as they can get away with is what they do. We don’t get to negotiate, just like the government cannot negotiate prices for Medicare.

    I’m glad you were never over the barrel like many of us have been.

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