Tony Schwartz, a man at least partially responsible for the myth of Donald Trump, has an explanation for the US president’s current mental state: Trump is in survival mode.
Schwartz co-wrote Trump’s bestselling business book and autobiography, The Art of the Deal. The two spent 18 months together writing the book, with Schwartz following Trump and listening in on his calls. Although Trump later wrote a slew of books with other ghostwriters, it was his 1987 collaboration with Schwartz that sold more than a million copies and crucially painted Trump as a deal-making genius.
In an essay for the Washington Post published May 16, Schwartz writes that this week’s drama in the White House, like Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey, is no surprise. Of course Trump couldn’t stand that Comey reportedly wouldn’t pledge his loyalty, says Schwartz, because Trump sees the world as a zero-sum game of survival.
Right now, as scrutiny of his relationship to Russia grows, Trump feels like he’s under attack. His instinct is to respond by acting out, Schwartz writes:
Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.
Schwartz believes Trump’s recent actions are a typical reflection of the “fight” part of his fight-or-flight mode. In a follow-up appearance on CNN yesterday, Schwartz said he thinks Trump is experiencing “pretty significant meltdown.” He also speculated that his former co-author would never allow himself to be impeached, but would rather resign and spin his action into a victory.
Schwartz has been publicly regretful of his role in creating the legend of Trump. For an interview in the New Yorker last year, he said he had reservations about co-writing the book, and felt he was selling out when he accepted the job. (To partially atone, Schwartz, who now runs a company to help people work more effectively, promised that he would donate his half of the royalties from 2016 book sales to immigration law charities, among others.)
“…The prospect of President Trump terrified him,” said the article. “It wasn’t because of Trump’s ideology—Schwartz doubted that he had one. The problem was Trump’s personality, which he considered pathologically impulsive and self-centered.”
Said Schwartz, “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”