In April 2016, on the verge of securing the Republican nomination for president, Donald Trump announced that his “campaign is evolving and transitioning, and so am I.” At a rally around the same time, he told supporters that “at some point, I’m going to be so presidential that you people will be so bored,” but “I just don’t know that I wanted to do it quite yet.”
When Trump was elected, some critics held out hope that he would grow in office, as other presidents have. No one believes that’s possible anymore. After Mick Mulvaney took over as Trump’s third chief of staff last December, he let it be known that his approach would be to “let Trump be Trump.” Mulvaney was simply succumbing to reality. As Trump himself has said, he is essentially the same person today that he was at age 7. He has his story, and he’s sticking to it.
Growth and development are always about seeing more. The wider, deeper and longer our perspective, the more variables we can consider — and the more capable we become. Likewise, the more responsibility we take for our behaviors, and the less we blame others for our shortcomings, the more power we have to influence our destiny. None of this is possible for Trump.
I got to know Trump three decades ago when he hired me to write “The Art of the Deal.” Although the book became a bestseller, working with him was deeply dispiriting, given his almost complete self-absorption, the shortness of his attention span and the fact that he lied as a matter of course, without apparent guilt.
In reality, Trump’s worldview remains remarkably narrow, shallow and short-term. It’s narrow because he is so singularly self-absorbed, which has been true throughout his life. In the 18 months I worked with him, I can’t remember a single time Trump asked me a question about myself. I never saw him engage for more than a cursory couple of minutes with any of his three young children.
Trump’s knowledge and understanding have remained shallow because he resists reflection and introspection and struggles mightily to focus. When I set out to interview him for “The Art of the Deal” in 1986, he was unable to keep his attention on any subject for more than a few minutes. “I don’t like talking about the past,” he would tell me. “It’s over.” After a dozen interview attempts, I finally gave up and settled instead for piecing the book together by sitting in Trump’s office listening in on his constant stream of brief phone calls.
His need for instant gratification stands in the way of considering the longer-term consequences of his actions. Instead, he simply reacts in the moment. This helps to explain why he moves into overdrive whenever he feels attacked. On Wednesday alone, as the furor around him grew, Trump tweeted furiously, more than 20 times in all. “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast!” he declared in one post, after the House speaker walked out of a meeting with Trump that Democrats described as a presidential meltdown. “Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”
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