No figure in the popular culture of today looms larger than Donald Trump. The world's most famous businessman is now the Republican Party's leading candidate for the presidency of the United States. But what motivates the bluster and bravado of the newly minted political front-runner who currently occupies every channel on our remote? In order to understand the Trump of the present, the filmmakers behind Trump: What's the Deal? offer us a blast from the past.
This feature documentary arrives under strained and unusual circumstances. Originally set to air on television in the early 1990's, the film failed to generate the support of its subject, who in turn used every trick at his disposal to successfully kill the project. Now, in concert with the unparalleled surging of Trump on the political stage, the film is finally seeing the light of day a full 25 years after it was first obscured from public view.
The film may be dated in its production values, but certainly not in its insights and revelations. In his business heyday during the 1980's, Trump was considered the people's billionaire, a brash but relatable embodiment of the American dream. The apex of this carefully crafted persona occurred on November 12, 1986 when he successfully spearheaded a project to restore the public ice skating rink in New York's Central Park. The media was his darling, and remained firmly committed to furthering the perception of Trump as a cozy benefactor of the common people.
That all changed when reports of extramarital affairs and shady business dealings entered the picture, and he found himself the subject of endless tabloid speculation. The film presents and supports many of these claims, including his alleged ties to underworld figures, defaults on massive debts, unfair payment practices amongst his workers, and poor management of the properties which carried his name.
In spite of these damning accusations of ill character, Trump: What's the Deal? highlights perhaps the most significant key to the tycoon's unprecedented success in both the business and political realm: salesmanship. Trump's greatest product is himself, and his greatest gift is in convincing the people that he's the product they want.