Profile: Donald Trump

The man they call “the Donald” is furious. “Some jerk just wrote a book about me,” he says.

The man they call "the Donald" is furious. "Some jerk just wrote a book about me," he says.

"It's the worst pile of garbage I've ever seen full of lies by a highly questionable and, some people say, disgraced reporter named Tim O'Brien."

Trump is riled by Trump Nation's claim that he had an affair with Mike Tyson's "lantern-jawed" ex-wife, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. But what has really got his "knickers in a twist" are the book's revelations about his personal wealth. Far from being the billionaire of legend, O'Brien (quoting anonymous sources with "direct knowledge" of Trump's finances) alleges he's worth a measly $150m-$250m. Worse, most of that money was made by his father.

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Wealth inflation

"Does it matter what Trump is worth?" asks the Donald, defiantly. "I'm still going to eat the same pudding."

But, as O'Brien points out in The New York Times, Trump's oft-cited status as a billionaire, as enshrined on the "Rosetta Stone" of the Forbes 400 rich list, is central not just to his identity, but also to his business success. "Part of his mojo is to add zeros to his bank account so he can get big loans."

The charge against Forbes, which recently put Trump's wealth at $1.2bn (his own estimation is nearer $6bn), is that the magazine has colluded in the process. Right from the start, says O'Brien, Trump's "propensity for inflation" was matched by Forbes' "aversion to hiring the sizable staff" needed to check the facts. And "the more often Forbes mentioned him, the more credible Donald's claim to vast wealth became".

The biggest and the best

It's not just about money, says The Washington Post. Trump has a near-pathological craving to be envied. "Everything in Trumpworld is fabulous, or in first place, or better looking, or richer, or taller, or it has bigger breasts."

This compulsion for pre-eminence is down to nurture and nature. Trump's father, Fred, the son of a German immigrant Klondike entrepreneur, was also a showman developer who built a $200m property empire in Queens and the Bronx. After graduating from the Wharton School of Finance, Trump Junior arrived in Manhattan in the late 1970s with $200,000 "and the dream of making the island his personal Monopoly board", says Scotland on Sunday.

He succeeded spectacularly, emblazoning his name on buildings and businesses, including the ultimate "look-at-me" landmark, Trump Tower. By 1989, Forbes put his wealth at $1.7bn.

Trump resurgent

Within a year, Icarus had crashed to earth. The property crash left Trump with debts running to billions, and the great sell-off began. Trump, who was simultaneously brokering an expensive divorce settlement with his first wife, Ivana, escaped bankruptcy but was relegated to mere manager of the properties he once owned.

But the Donald retained a genius for self-promotion, writing a series of books such as Trump: The Art of the Comeback. In reality, it was the markets who rode to his rescue, says O'Brien. "In a tribute to the sucker-born-every-minute theorem", Trump took two of his casinos public in 1995-1996, using the proceeds to unload huge amounts of debt.

During their high-water mark in 1996, shares in Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts Trump's "private stockpile of ready cash" traded at $35.50. By 2004, when the group staggered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy with nearly $2bn in debt, they were worth just 40 cents.

Trump is America

You might assume that a debacle on this scale would have led to a "public display of humility", says The Independent. Forget it. Trump insists that no more than 2% of his wealth was tied up in the casino business.

This is disputable. True, his development business has been booming, but once you subtract the mortgages, loans and joint-venture interests, what's left? The truth is that outsiders have never got to the bottom of Trump's finances.

Thanks to The Apprentice, "the Trumpster's" billionaire public profile has never been higher, says The Washington Post. But he is saddled with a paradox: "people who know least about business admire him most, and those who know the most admire him least". This irks the man who is always complaining his achievements are overshadowed by the soap opera of his life.

But ultimately, he's a man for the times. As the journalist Chris Byron wrote in 2000, Trump is "a creation of limitless possibilities, ever reinventing itself, bold, noisy, juvenile, shallow, obsessed with material gain". Donald Trump, in fact, "is America".

Trumpisms: the wisdom of "the Donald"

"A little more moderation would be good. Of course, my life hasn't exactly been one of moderation".

"All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me consciously or unconsciously. That's to be expected."

"Show me someone without an ego and I'll show you a loser."

"As long as you are going to think anyway, think big."

"Sometimes, your best investments are the ones you don't make."

"Anyone who thinks my story is anywhere near over is sadly mistaken."