Great Again is, foremost, a book of self-promotion. Unlike Trump’s The America We Deserve, which was a more reasoned book with supporting evidence, written when he considered running for president in 2000, Great Again is driven entirely by braggadocio and bombastic, polemic reasoning and conclusions. He relies on the same loud and invasive style that catapulted him into television fame and “free” advertising on news outlets throughout the primary season. Reading the book has much the same impact as listening to one of his free-wheeling speeches. Significantly, it is a conscious strategy by his own admission: “I am never shy about creating news by being controversial and fighting back. … I always draw a large crowd of journalists who are like sharks, hoping I’ll put some blood in the water. I try to oblige” (emphasis added). This book is simply another medium through which to promote himself in a familiar style. He brags about his accomplishments, the reasonableness of his unrestrained assessments of what he believes plagues the United States, and his prescriptions for healing the country. Through it all we are told that we “can believe what [Trump says], because to see what [he’s] accomplished, all you need to do is take a nice walk through the greatest cities of the world—and look up. Look up, and you’ll see the Trump building rising skyward.”
By his own declaration he is a very successful man, with the material possessions to prove it: “I know how to deal with complex issues and how to bring together all the various elements necessary for success. I’ve done it for years and have built a great company and a massive net worth.” His insights about America and the solutions he offers to its problems are based exclusively on this assertion; missing from his exposition “that Donald Trump is for real”, is evidence that corroborates the issues he focuses on or how to deal with them. Nor is there mention, not surprisingly, of the bankruptcies (six by Politifact.com’s estimate) and quick exits from deals that left others holding the debt he helped build (Forbes, Newsweek, and Politifact.com, for example, offer more details to varying degrees). Drawing attention to these would go against the narrative, even if he may have learned lessons worth sharing.
In addition to Trump’s great wealth, his primary credential for identifying and solving the problems of the US, we learn, is his business acumen. He points continuously to hard-nosed business smarts in negotiating “the deal” and his abilities to take a “large-scale failing property and [make] it great again” as he reminds us that it is something he has “done over and over again.” And all of these accomplishments, he tells us, have prepared him “for the really big and important one: our country.” The final proof is a list of his prized real estate, which includes 66 properties and an accounting of a small fleet of aircraft—a Boeing 757, a Cessna Citation X, and three Sikorsky 76 helicopters.
Through it all we are told that we “can believe what [Trump says], because to see what [he’s] accomplished, all you need to do is take a nice walk through the greatest cities of the world—and look up. Look up, and you’ll see the Trump building rising skyward.”
Looking further into the text, the reader learns a little more about Trump’s style and reasoning. To begin, note that Great Again is a new title stamped onto a previous book, CRIPPLED AMERICA: How to make America Great Again. Except these are not identical books. Besides a new title, the second book has a different cover and a rewritten preface. The new preface cuts two paragraphs from the its beginning and expands on the hyperbole found in the first. The rest of the new book appears to be the same as the old.
The changes tell us something about the books and about Trump. The new imprint starts with a positive-looking Trump rather than the angry Trump on the first. Gone, too, is the anger Trump expresses in the two deleted, opening paragraphs. He is no longer as “angry and mean looking” as he was when “[there was] very little that’s nice about [Crippled America],” which was “not in a joyous situation.” Instead, we now see empathy for the under- and un-employed, people with whom he “talk[s]…hug[s] and hold[s],” as well as outrage at “lawyers and judges” who “have been stepping all over the US Constitution” and at a Congress unable to pass “a little thing like a … budget.”
In the preface, Trump recasts and re-brands the book from one of anger and frustration to one of recognition and understanding of the issues that have “crippled” the United States. But do not be mistaken, he is still angry. He has tweaked the book’s frame from a candidate who railed at his opponents in the primary season to a more balanced candidate who is conscious of a potential constituency beyond his conservative base. All of this is corresponds to the effort to broaden his appeal from the conservative base of the Republican Party in his primary battle to a wider electorate after winning the Party’s nomination.
After the preface, we are taken into a world in which Trump expounds on the troubles facing the US and offers his solutions. He appraises a wide range of subjects, devoting a chapter to each. They include, but are not confined to his ire at “our ‘unbiased political media,” immigration, foreign policy, education, energy and global warming, health care, and the right to bear arms.
The nature of his argumentation is to eschew complexity in favor of the most simple terms. For example, when arguing that our education system needs to be overhauled he declares that “the problem is politicians!” We need “education…to be run locally” and for Department of Education programs and initiatives to make the quality of education equal across the United States to be ended. For Trump, the solution for improving education is simple: in the case of charter schools “If a … school isn’t doing the job, it closes. That’s the type of accountability we need.” The logistics of developing policies and then implementing them are irrelevant.
When Trump highlights a problem or issue in the United States, he has two basic solutions: build something or take government out of regulating it. The first is key, because building, he says, is what he is good at: “Donald Trump builds buildings. Donald Trump develops magnificent golf courses. Donald Trump makes investments that create jobs. … Donald Trump creates jobs for legal immigrants and all Americans.”
He relies on a similar but even more imperious logic when addressing energy needs in the United States. He promotes oil extraction in North America to the exclusion of all other forms of energy development because “oil is there for the taking; we just have to take it.” This policy idea is predicated on his beliefs about climate change and the role of fossil fuels in the process. For Trump, the only problem with climate change is that “it causes us to waste billions of dollars to develop technologies we don’t need to fulfill our energy needs.” “Violent climate ‘changes’ are nothing new,” he declares, “I just don’t … believe they are man-made.” In fact, “so-called ‘experts’ can’t figure out if it is getting too hot or too cold.” Data or other forms of evidence that might support or contradict his position are again irrelevant.
When Trump highlights a problem or issue in the United States, he has two basic solutions: build something or take government out of regulating it. The first is key, because building, he says, is what he is good at: “Donald Trump builds buildings. Donald Trump develops magnificent golf courses. Donald Trump makes investments that create jobs. … Donald Trump creates jobs for legal immigrants and all Americans.” He applies this skill widely, even to immigration reform. Here Trump declares his “plan is simple: We build a wall…”( 100). And “nobody builds walls better than [Trump].” (20)
Trump’s evaluation of the issues surrounding immigration to the United States employs softer rhetoric than in his run for the nomination. But he continues to assert that “some of those [illegal] immigrants are a source of real crime.” And he persists in relying on innuendo and anecdotes to substantiate the claim that “Some of them [illegal immigrants] are rapists, as a matter of fact, and we have now seen in San Francisco, some of them are killers”, referring the murder of Kathyrn Steinle in San Francisco in 2015. The clear message is that illegal immigrants, and maybe legitimate immigrants from suspect countries like Mexico, are a threat to the United States. But the FBI data do not support him. In 2010, incarceration rates for foreign born males between 18 and 39 in the United States are less than half of what they are for native-born. And specifically for foreign born, poorly educated Mexican males of the same age group, incarceration rates are almost four times lower than for the comparable native born population. But his inflammatory rhetoric garners headlines and Trump is “happy to oblige.”
This style of rhetoric is the crux of what Trump is about in Great Again. He obliges us with his theories of foreign policy (he knows “how to make deals” and “bring foreign governments to the table”), economic growth (“bring … businesses back to America”), and education reform (accountable local control). The details of his ideas and how he would carry them out are buried in hyperbole, and his ability to effect change is founded on his assurances that we can believe him because of “all that he has accomplished.” Actual data or details are not germane because, as he says, “I am confident my answer makes the most sense.” Experts, or as he prefers, “experts,” do not know what they are talking about, so we should rely on the great wealth and real estate empire he has created as evidence of his ability to execute his “great ideas.”
Logic, veracity, and strength of argument are not criteria Trump relies on to support the merits of his ideas or his understanding of the world. Instead he relies on television ratings, the volume of news coverage, and the size of audiences at his campaign stops. The attention he receives is his metric. Great Again is yet another medium through which Trump strives to draw attention to himself. There is an irony here: he criticizes the media for being “more interested in entertaining their audiences” and “begging for attention,” saying it “really sums up the problem we face in this country.”