Psychology, Society

How Does Donald Trump Have Friends?

This morning, I read an excerpt from the new book about Donald Trump’s first year in office as President of the United States of America. It was a fascinating read, confirming many things I believed and giving me much more of an in depth portrait into the madness that is the White House currently.  But one thing puzzled me: Roger Ailes was referred to as Trump’s “friend.” I believe someone else was as well. And I got to wonder, how can a man like Trump have actual friends? You know, people who voluntarily spend time with him because they like him.

I wrote the following on Facebook:

“Look, I get why it’s good to be “friends” with Trump in the last year. If you’re the last person he talks to on a certain subject, maybe you sway him into doing something that is personally beneficial for you. And, even if you don’t, you can claim “I have a personal relationship with the President,” “I am a personal friend of the President of the United States,” etc. There’s a lot of appeal in that to a certain type of person.

And I suspect this was true to some extent even when Trump was just a reality TV star. Maybe you think you’re getting on TV if you talk to him enough. At the very least, you can say you’ve met someone who’s on TV. You’re friends with someone who’s rich and on TV.

But what I am struggling with today, one year into this disaster, is why people were “friends” with a man who never stops talking about himself and who never listens, BEFORE he was on TV or President. Yes, he was rich. But my understanding of Trump is that the one thing he is truly good at is getting other people and businesses to spend more money than he does promoting the Trump brand. So, aside from being objectionable as a human being, and offering nothing redeeming in terms of friendship, I also don’t see how the relationships could have been particularly financially beneficial to everyone who claims to be a “friend.”

So, why exactly have the American rich enabled him for so long? What specifically does he do that makes people his friends (and stay friends)? Why would you put up with speaking to someone regularly whom you have no respect for? Or, even if you do have respect for him because you got conned into thinking he’s self-made, why do you repeatedly speak to someone who doesn’t listen to you and only ever talks about how great they are? (And tells the same stories over and over.)

Seriously, I want to know.”

I didn’t get any responses so far. But now I have a working theory:


How Donald Trump Gets “Friends”: a Working Theory

Let’s say you’re a successful American entrepreneur in the 1980s or 1990s. (You’re male, obviously.) You’ve done pretty well for yourself and you’re self-made. But you can’t help but noticing that you’re still not at the top; there is another tier of super rich people who have more than you. Some of them are Old Money but some of them appear to have made to the very top by their own bootstraps. You want to get what they have. It’s the American Dream, after all.

It’s the 1980s or 1990s and there is nobody who embodies the public face of the super rich like Donald Trump. Others are likely richer, you suspect, but Trump is everywhere: his name is on buildings and all sorts of other stuff, he’s always in the media, and didn’t he own a football team? This guy is Rich. Also, he’s self made. (No, he’s not. But you’re Nouveau Riche enough not to know that yet. And besides, more than any other person to inherit a fortune in recent US history, Trump behaves as if he’s Nouveau Riche. If someone told you he inherited his money, you wouldn’t believe it.)

You decide that if there is one person who can tell you the secrets to getting to the very top, it must be The Donald. Maybe you read his book, or try, and you realize that whatever made him a success, you’re not going to get it there. You need to get it from the horse’s mouth. And if you befriend Trump, you’ll probably get in on his action and make a little extra money while you’re learning from him. Who knows? Maybe you become business partners.

So you harass your network until someone gets you an in with The Donald. Eventually you find someone who can arrange it – why is not important – and eventually The Donald deigns to meet you, even though he’s never heard of you and you’re not one of those people that The Donald really wants to impress. And you have lunch or dinner and you exchange cards and such. Maybe you attend one of his events. But you don’t get what you want. So you do it again. And again.

It takes you weeks, maybe months, maybe years, before you realize that The Donald is in it entirely for himself. What he wants out of your conversations is for you to spend your money in order for him to get more rich and more famous. He may contribute some money to whatever the venture may be – though that money is likely borrowed from one of the innumerable sources content to lend Trump money at terms they would lend money to literally nobody else – but he wants you to contribute more than he does. He’s going to provide the branding, after all, and branding is so very important in this day and age. (Also, you are smart enough to not be one of the people who doesn’t realize this fact until it’s too late. So you don’t end up suing him or getting sued by him.)

But you speak to him rather a lot, on the phone mostly but sometimes at lunches or dinners. And you attend his events because they are beneficial to you and your wife, or your business, or both. You are seen in public more than before and it’s good for your profile. Maybe your picture is in media it never used to be in. Your business is mentioned more frequently. It’s not like you don’t benefit from this relationship at all, even if you don’t really like the guy.

But The Donald sees something in you. You don’t interrupt him much and so he thinks you’re a great conversationalist. When you do open your mouth, it’s to say something that confirms his preconceptions or, on that very rare day, you say something that surprises him, allowing him to grasp something new that also manages to confirm his preconceptions. So he likes you. And he calls you. More and more often.

And you call him. Often it’s more to tell your actual friends and colleagues his latest ridiculous, uninformed take on something or other. Occasionally it is to get his advice because, deep down, you still sort of believe in him as a businessman even though you know it’s all a con. He becomes sort of like that family member or high school friend or perhaps even business partner that you don’t like but has been around so long – and is authentically himself – that you tolerate them and, occasionally, appreciate how authentic they are.

Soon a decade or two has gone by. And you speak to Trump on the phone more than you used to. He has your phone number after all. And he complains to you about everyone in the world but the two of you and he tells you the same old stories and he lectures you about things you know way better than he des. And you pipe up occasionally to let him know there’s still someone on the other end of the phone. And you occasionally try to tell him something though you’re never sure if he’s going to remember it. And you realize that you’ve become his friend.

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