For Donald Trump, calling someone a loser is not merely an insult, and calling someone a winner is not merely a compliment. The division of the world into those who win and those who lose is of paramount philosophical importance to him, the clearest reflection of his deep, abiding faith that the world is a zero-sum game and you can only gain if someone else is failing.
This is evident after reading all 12 of Trump’s books on politics and business (leaving out Trump: The Best Golf Advice I Ever Received, alas), as Vox staffers did over the course of the previous two months.
Of course, trying to make too much sense of the books is a fool’s errand. They contradict each other frequently, and often contradict themselves — not unlike Trump’s campaign. One minute he’s telling readers to trust their gut; the next, he’s emphasizing the importance of thinking it through. In one book, 2011’s Time to Get Tough, he calls for a 20 percent tax on companies that outsource jobs on page 63, and then just two pages later — on page 65 — calls for a 15 percent tax.
But the books also suggest that Trump’s reputation for flip-flopping is a little unfair. On the core issues he cares about the most — international trade, immigration, foreign policy — he’s strikingly consistent. He’s always been anti-immigrant, always been protectionist, always been fiercely nationalistic on matters of war and peace.
More generally, he’s always believed in the fundamental zero-sum nature of the world. Whether he’s discussing real estate in New York, or his ’00s reality TV career, or his views on immigration and trade, he consistently views life as a succession of deals. Those deals are best thought of as fights over who gets what share of a fixed pot of resources. The idea of collaborating for mutual benefit rarely arises. Life is dealmaking, and dealmaking is about crushing your enemies.