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The key points of 'The Making of Donald Trump By David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston's book 'The Making of Donald Trump' delves deep into the life, business dealings, and political journey of Donald Trump. It uncovers a multitude of facets from Trump's controversial business empire to his ascent in American politics, offering a critical examination of his relationships, branding strategies, and the role of the media in shaping his public image. Through meticulous investigative journalism, Johnston provides a comprehensive portrait of a figure who has become one of the most polarizing in modern American history.

Key Takeaways

  • Donald Trump's business ventures, including his real estate empire, are marked by a series of bankruptcies and controversies, raising questions about his business acumen and ethics.

  • Trump's connections with organized crime figures and controversial mentors have influenced his business practices and political strategies, hinting at a complex web of relationships.

  • The Trump brand has been carefully crafted through strategic use of media and entertainment, with 'The Apprentice' playing a significant role in shaping public perception.

  • Trump's political rise was fueled by the birther movement and his populist messaging, which resonated with a significant segment of the American electorate.

  • David Cay Johnston's investigative journalism sheds light on the importance of rigorous reporting in democracy and its potential impact on political outcomes, as seen in the 2016 election.

Donald Trump's Business Ventures and Controversies

Real Estate Empire and Bankruptcies

Donald Trump's real estate empire is a tapestry of high-profile developments, aggressive expansion, and, at times, significant financial turmoil. His ventures, ranging from lavish hotels to casinos, have been marked by a series of bankruptcies that raise questions about his business acumen. These financial setbacks, however, have been framed by Trump and his supporters as strategic moves rather than failures.

Bankruptcy has been a recurring theme in Trump's real estate narrative. The following table outlines some of the key bankruptcies in Trump's business history:

Despite these setbacks, Trump's brand has remained resilient, often bouncing back and finding new avenues for growth. His ability to maintain a public image of success, despite the financial distress of his companies, is a testament to his branding prowess.

Trump University and Legal Challenges

Trump University, launched in 2005, promised to teach students Donald Trump's secrets to real estate success. However, it quickly became mired in controversy and legal challenges. Allegations of misleading marketing and aggressive sales tactics led to multiple lawsuits from students who felt defrauded.

Trump University was never an accredited institution, and it offered no degrees or legitimate educational credits. Its operations ceased in 2010, but the legal repercussions continued for years, culminating in a settlement in 2016.

  • The initial claim was for $40 million.

  • Over 5,000 students joined the class-action lawsuits.

  • The settlement reached was $25 million, without admission of wrongdoing.

Allegations of Fraud and Questionable Deals

Donald Trump's career has been marred by numerous allegations of fraud and involvement in questionable deals. Bold claims have been made about the legitimacy of his business practices, ranging from the misrepresentation of assets to outright deception of investors and authorities.

  • The Trump Organization's involvement in the failed Trump SoHo project raised suspicions of potential fraud and misrepresentation.

  • Accusations of impropriety surfaced with the Trump Foundation, leading to its eventual dissolution.

  • The Trump University lawsuit settlement, which cost millions, highlighted the alleged exploitation of students.

While not all accusations have led to legal consequences, they contribute to a narrative of a businessman willing to push ethical boundaries for profit. The scrutiny of these deals intensified as Trump ascended to the presidency, with the public demanding greater transparency and accountability.

Trump's Relationships with Questionable Characters

Connections to Organized Crime Figures

In 'The Making of Donald Trump', David Cay Johnston sheds light on Trump's past associations with individuals linked to organized crime. These connections have raised questions about the integrity of his business dealings.

  • Trump's early real estate developments involved alleged interactions with crime figures.

  • Construction projects, such as Trump Plaza, reportedly utilized concrete from companies controlled by mafia interests.

  • The book details relationships with individuals like Roy Cohn, who had notorious connections to the underworld.

Johnston's investigation suggests that these relationships may have provided Trump with certain advantages in the rough-and-tumble world of New York real estate. However, the implications of these ties have been a persistent shadow over Trump's career, contributing to the controversial nature of his public and private endeavors.

Controversial Mentors and Associates

Donald Trump's rise to prominence was not solely the product of his own ambition; it was also shaped by his associations with a number of controversial figures. Bold claims have been made about the influence of these mentors and associates on Trump's business practices and political strategies.

Among these figures were individuals with alleged ties to organized crime, as well as advisors who have been criticized for their ethical conduct. Trump's willingness to engage with such characters has raised questions about his judgment and the values that guide his decision-making processes.

  • Roy Cohn, a lawyer known for his aggressive tactics

  • Felix Sater, a businessman with a criminal past

  • Roger Stone, a political consultant with a flair for the dramatic

These relationships, while beneficial in some respects, have also brought a considerable amount of scrutiny and criticism. The extent to which these associations have impacted Trump's career is a subject of ongoing debate.

Political Connections and Influence

Donald Trump's ascent to political prominence was not solely the result of his business acumen or celebrity status. His relationships with influential political figures played a pivotal role in his rise. These connections spanned across various levels of government and political parties, providing him with a network of support that would prove beneficial in his presidential campaign.

Influence in politics often comes from a web of relationships and mutual benefits. Trump's dealings with politicians have been characterized by a series of quid pro quo arrangements, where endorsements and support were exchanged for promises of favorable treatment and access.

  • Connections with local politicians facilitated real estate developments.

  • Relationships with state officials helped navigate regulatory challenges.

  • Ties to national figures boosted Trump's political credibility.

The Art of the Trump Brand

Branding Strategies and Media Mastery

Donald Trump's approach to branding is a testament to his understanding of the media landscape. His ability to dominate headlines and remain a constant figure in the public eye has been crucial to his brand's success. Trump's strategy hinges on the focus on top priorities, ensuring that his message is clear and consistent across all platforms.

  • Dominate rather than compete in business

  • Build a powerful personal brand

  • Maintain authenticity and engagement with the audience

The Role of 'The Apprentice' in Shaping Public Perception

'The Apprentice' played a pivotal role in crafting Donald Trump's image as a successful businessman and a decisive leader. The reality TV show, which first aired in 2004, provided Trump with a platform to display his business acumen and charisma to millions of viewers. The show's catchphrase, "You're fired," became synonymous with Trump's no-nonsense approach to business.

The program's influence extended beyond entertainment, as it significantly impacted how the public perceived Trump's capabilities. Here's a brief overview of the effects:

  • Elevated Trump's status as a household name

  • Reinforced his reputation as a successful entrepreneur

  • Portrayed him as a tough, results-oriented leader

The show's portrayal of Trump as a competent executive contributed to a persona that would later be leveraged in his political career. While the reality of his business dealings was more complex, the simplified and dramatized version of Trump on 'The Apprentice' resonated with many Americans.

Licensing Deals and the Expansion of the Trump Image

Donald Trump's brand has been a cornerstone of his business strategy, with licensing deals serving as a critical component in expanding his image beyond real estate. The Trump name became synonymous with luxury and success, a perception that was meticulously cultivated and monetized through various licensing agreements.

Trump's licensing strategy involved partnering with developers worldwide to emblazon his name on a multitude of projects, from hotels to golf courses. This approach allowed for the proliferation of the Trump brand without the need for substantial capital investment in the properties themselves.

  • Trump International Hotel and Tower, Toronto

  • Trump Tower, Manila

  • Trump Ocean Club, Panama

These deals often included management contracts, ensuring that the Trump Organization maintained a degree of control over the quality and the prestige associated with the brand. The success of this strategy is evident in the sheer number of properties bearing the Trump name, despite the controversies that sometimes surrounded these partnerships.

Trump's Political Ascent and Ideology

The Birther Movement and Political Visibility

Donald Trump's foray into political prominence can be significantly attributed to his vocal support of the Birther Movement, which questioned the legitimacy of President Barack Obama's birth certificate. This movement catapulted Trump into the political spotlight, providing a platform for his views and laying the groundwork for his future political ambitions.

  • Trump repeatedly demanded Obama's birth certificate.

  • He claimed that he had sent investigators to Hawaii.

  • His allegations received extensive media coverage.

The movement's impact on Trump's political rise was undeniable, as it tapped into a vein of skepticism and conspiracy that would later become a hallmark of his political style. It was a precursor to the type of rhetoric and strategy that would define his presidential campaign.

Campaign Tactics and Populist Messaging

Donald Trump's campaign tactics were marked by a masterful use of populist messaging, appealing to the common man and positioning himself as an outsider to the political establishment. His approach capitalized on the sentiments of disenfranchisement felt by many voters, promising to 'Make America Great Again'.

The effectiveness of Trump's campaign strategy was evident in his ability to garner extensive media coverage. He utilized social media platforms, particularly Twitter, to communicate directly with the electorate, bypassing traditional media filters.

  • Leveraged existing celebrity status

  • Emphasized strong leadership and decisive action

  • Exploited economic anxieties and immigration issues

Policy Positions and Presidential Ambitions

Donald Trump's policy positions have often been characterized by their populist appeal, aiming to resonate with a broad base of American voters. His presidential ambitions were clear early on, as he positioned himself as a candidate who could 'Make America Great Again', a slogan that became synonymous with his 2016 campaign.

Trump's stance on immigration was one of the most polarizing aspects of his platform, advocating for strict border control and the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. His economic policies favored deregulation and tax cuts, with the promise of revitalizing American industries and job growth.

Foreign policy was another cornerstone of Trump's platform, with a focus on 'America First' principles. He expressed skepticism towards international agreements and institutions, advocating for renegotiated trade deals and more unilateral approaches to global challenges.

  • Populist appeal

  • Strict immigration policies

  • Economic deregulation and tax cuts

  • 'America First' foreign policy

Investigative Journalism and Its Impact

David Cay Johnston's Reporting Approach

David Cay Johnston's meticulous approach to investigative journalism is characterized by a deep dive into legal documents, financial records, and court proceedings. His work on Donald Trump is no exception, revealing a complex web of business dealings and relationships that have raised numerous ethical questions.

Johnston's commitment to uncovering the truth is evident in his relentless pursuit of the facts, often going beyond the surface to understand the intricacies of Trump's empire. This dedication has made him a pivotal figure in investigative journalism, particularly in the context of political figures.

  • Extensive review of public records

  • Interviews with key figures and experts

  • Analysis of financial transactions and tax returns

The Role of Investigative Journalism in Democracy

Investigative journalism serves as the backbone of a healthy democracy, ensuring transparency and holding those in power accountable. It acts as a watchdog, scrutinizing government actions, corporate dealings, and other societal power structures. The work of investigative journalists often leads to significant reforms and policy changes.

In the context of democracy, the role of investigative journalism cannot be overstated. It provides the public with the information necessary to make informed decisions, especially during elections. This form of journalism digs deeper than the surface, uncovering truths that may otherwise remain hidden.

  • Ensures transparency and accountability

  • Informs the public on critical issues

  • Leads to policy changes and reforms

  • Upholds the democratic process by exposing corruption and malpractice

Public Reaction and Influence on the 2016 Election

The release of 'The Making of Donald Trump' by David Cay Johnston played a significant role in shaping public opinion during the 2016 presidential campaign. Johnston's investigative work brought to light various aspects of Trump's past, including his business dealings and associations, which became talking points among voters and pundits alike.

The book's revelations resonated with a wide audience, sparking discussions on the integrity and qualifications of the presidential candidate. Despite the controversies, Trump's supporters remained steadfast, viewing the scrutiny as a biased attack by the media.

Public reaction to the book was polarized, reflecting the divided political climate of the time:

  • Some readers found the book to be an eye-opener, influencing their perception of Trump's suitability for office.

  • Others criticized the book for what they perceived as a one-sided portrayal, defending Trump's business acumen and leadership qualities.


In 'The Making of Donald Trump,' David Cay Johnston provides a comprehensive examination of the former president's life and career, revealing the intricate details of his business dealings, personal relationships, and political maneuvers. Johnston's investigative prowess offers readers a deep dive into the complex web of Trump's empire, highlighting both the successes and controversies that have defined his public persona. As we reflect on the key points discussed in the article, it becomes clear that Trump's story is not just about one man's rise to power, but also about the broader implications of wealth, influence, and media in American society. Whether one views Trump as a shrewd businessman or a polarizing figure, Johnston's book serves as a crucial resource for understanding the factors that have shaped his trajectory and the enduring impact of his legacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the key business ventures and controversies associated with Donald Trump?

Donald Trump's business ventures include his real estate empire and several bankruptcies, as well as the establishment of Trump University, which faced legal challenges. Additionally, he has faced allegations of fraud and involvement in questionable deals.

How does 'The Making of Donald Trump' portray Trump's relationships with questionable characters?

The book delves into Trump's connections with organized crime figures, his controversial mentors and associates, and how these relationships have influenced his political connections and power.

What strategies did Donald Trump use to build his brand?

Donald Trump employed branding strategies and media mastery, notably through his reality TV show 'The Apprentice,' which played a significant role in shaping public perception. He also expanded his brand through various licensing deals.

How did Donald Trump rise to political prominence?

Trump's rise to political prominence was aided by his involvement in the Birther Movement, his distinctive campaign tactics and populist messaging, and his clear policy positions that resonated with a segment of the electorate, ultimately leading to his presidential ambitions.

What is the significance of investigative journalism as presented in 'The Making of Donald Trump'?

The book highlights the importance of investigative journalism in democracy, showcasing David Cay Johnston's thorough reporting approach and how it can influence public opinion and political outcomes, as seen in the 2016 election.

How did the public react to the revelations in 'The Making of Donald Trump', and what was its impact on the 2016 election?

Public reactions to the book were mixed, with some readers alarmed by the revelations and others skeptical of its impact. The book's investigative findings contributed to the discourse surrounding Trump's candidacy and may have influenced voters' perceptions during the 2016 election.

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