I have fought the urge to let this one go, but with the presidential race as tight as it is, I thought the public deserved to hear the perspective of someone who has actually met Donald Trump, as most of us will never get that particular pleasure. I must say, as the headline attests, as a human being I found him to be, in his words, a total disaster.
Here’s the setup. It was 2006 and I was given the opportunity to work on a video shoot for Forbes magazine, where I was a reporter. The shoot was to feature Donald Trump and two of his children, Ivanka and Donald Jr. The premise was that The Donald was starting to give the keys to his empire ― such as it was ― to the kids, and they wanted to ask him a few questions. He, in turn, would also get to ask them a few questions.
Someone from Team Trump informed me that I would need to write the actual questions for the interviews, for both sides, as the Trumps were far too busy. I found this a little odd, as the premise of the interview was focused around the kids getting to ask their dad, not my dad, things they would really want and need to know.
Inside the boardroom, I must say, it looked like 1986 had never ended.
But, being a professional, I did my very best to write up a list of questions for both sides. I labored over my questions and wrote about 10-15 smart, incisive yet totally socially acceptable and polite questions for Donald, and the same for his kids. Nothing mean, or smarmy or hurtful. I included fairly typical questions that most people would find fair game, such as the kids asking Trump about past business mistakes, and what he learned from them, and the like. You know, moments where he may have had to exhibit the slightest hint of humility. I submitted my questions to the Trump organization, and never heard back from them. I assumed this meant the questions were accepted by all concerned.
The day of the shoot we arrived at the back door of Trump Tower, and took a private elevator up to Trump’s offices, and then the boardroom, where the interview was to take place. Inside the boardroom, I must say, it looked like 1986 had never ended. There was brass, smoked glass, and a conference table that looked like he got it from a law firm that went out of business.
I got this sense he believed us to be the little people, and we weren’t worth any of his time or attention.
Trump barely deigned to acknowledge the Forbes team. I got this feeling from him, that he clearly felt he was far too powerful and important to take a moment to even say hello to, let alone have a short conversation with, us. Even though we were there as his guests. I got this sense he believed us to be the little people, and we weren’t worth any of his time or attention.
Let me be clear, I didn’t expect a red carpet welcome. But it’s a normal human thing to acknowledge your guests, talk to them, and let them know they are welcomed. Trump, however, didn’t see it that way. I felt we didn’t matter to him. It was just plain bad manners, and rude.
I’ve met other wealthy people. In fact, it was part of the job description at Forbes, you know? None of them, not one, radiated the sense of entitled arrogance I got from Trump that day. I met Eli Broad, for example, a man who could buy and sell many Donald Trumps, and he was polite and easy to engage in a conversation. This always struck me and said something about Broad’s character to me. Note how powerful people treat the little people, because that tells you who they really are.
After the video crew set up, I finally saw that the questions I wrote were handed to Donald and his kids. I had already assumed they were reviewed and accepted since I had never heard word back from his people, but clearly this assumption was wrong. It was apparent he had never read them before that moment.
He took one quick glance at my questions ― that his organization asked us to write for him, once again ― and shook his head at anything that would smack of even the smallest hint of him being anything less than infallible, and immediately threw them all way. “No, I’m not going to talk about that,” he said, regarding a question about one business lesson he learned the hard way. Only the safest, most flattering questions were allowed to remain.
Remember, this interview was for Forbes, hardly a place hostile to the interests of the wealthy, but Trump, I saw, couldn’t take even the slightest criticism. I was amazed he could be so thin-skinned.
What struck me the most is the contempt he had for us journalists. Clearly he only had time for people with power that could help him.
Even Donald Jr. thought this wasn’t cool, and wanted to ask his dad actual questions. But The Donald wasn’t having it. So we produced something very much like a promotional video for Donald Trump, featuring his kids. For all that, it’s not a bad video, and the crack video team at Forbes did a thoroughly professional job, but it was an opportunity lost. (You can see the video here.)
What struck me the most is the contempt he had for us journalists. Clearly he only had time for people with power that could help him. So, a nasty man.
I just ask you take a moment to think about how Trump treated us little people. Because in the big picture that is how most of us look to him.
One definition of character is whether you do the right thing when no one is watching. I would add another is whether you treat people well when you don’t have to. From my experience, Donald Trump failed this character test.