President Trump & Mark Twain: Master Pilots on America's Great River

Mark Twain is known as a "great American author", but not enough Americans have firsthand knowledge of his best work. 

In this vanity, I hope to interest you in rediscovering this witty social critic and humorist.

I'm probably like you: I read a bit of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in grade school.  At the time, those American-slang "classics" didn't thrill me, and maybe it's because those books were not written for kids anyway.

Twain wrote for readers who have a few decades of life experiences behind them.  And when he did speak through the voice of a child (or animal), Twain was usually poking fun at — or deftly critiquing — adult stupidity, lies, prejudices, pride, and mischief.

A few months back I fell in love with many of Twain's short stories.  And I believe this is where his best treasures lie. 

What got me hooked was a terrific audio CD compilation I found at my local library: a 7-hour audio CD series entitled, The Mark Twain Audio Collection (Harper Collins).

Now working as a tech industry pundit, Twain's humor and storytelling style gives me great lessons in plain English talk and keeping readers engaged.


And Twain's writing skill reminds me of a living author whose political "haikus" I read everyday — President Donald J. Trump. 

Sure, staff writers are supporting President Trump's Twitter enterprise, but the off-the-cuff dexterity President Trump shows in answering tough journalist questions proves there's a "Very Stable Genius" communicator in the Oval Office.  And there's no doubt his Twitter page is driving momentous changes in America and the world.

 

So being a fan of both Twain and Trump, it's natural for me to notice parallels in the two men's lives and skillsets.  So I'm now going to highlight a few of those parallels in six categories:

  • Risk-Bearing Pilot
  • American Entrepreneur
  • Media TrailBlazer
  • NOTE: There's a lot to read here — and I've also furnished links to one-page samples of Twain's work.  So I suggest you bookmark his page.  Or, you can always find this story indexed in my FR profile.

       

    In my Navy days aboard a destroyer, when we arrived outside a port like Hong Kong or Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a boat would come alongside and drop off a pilot.

    The job of a nautical pilot is to steer a ship through the dangerous waters of an inner harbor.  Now a pilot may not know much English, but what the pilot does know — backwards, forwards, and sideways — is every peculiarity and hazard in the harbor.  And by custom, not even the captain of the ship can meddle with the pilot's steering commands inside that harbor.  

    Mark Twain famously became a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River.  After studying under an expert pilot for a few years, he served as a full pilot for two years till the Civil War arrived which brought steamboat commerce on the River to a near standstill.

    But though his years as a pilot were short, the risk-bearing responsibility and burden of learning the Great River — and keeping abreast of its constant physical changes — strongly molded Twain's character.  It made him utterly confident in his own abilities. 

    Some of the best parts of Life on the Mississippi are when Twain talks about the challenges of piloting:

      "One cannot easily realize what a tremendous thing it is to know every trivial detail of twelve hundred miles of river and know it with absolute exactness.  Imagine taking the longest street in New York as you travel up and down it, conning its features patiently until you know every house, window, door, lamp-post, and big and little sign by heart.

      You must know them so accurately that you can instantly name the one you are abreast of when you are set down at random in that street in the middle of an inky black night.  If you can do that, then you have a tolerable notion of the amount and exactness of a pilot's knowledge who carries the Mississippi River in his head.

      And then, if you will go on until you know every street crossing, the character, size, and position of the crossing-stones, and the varying depth of mud in each of those numberless places, you will have some idea of what the pilot must know in order to keep a Mississippi steamer out of trouble.

      Next, if you will take half of the signs in that long street, and change their places once a month, and still manage to know their new positions accurately on dark nights, and keep up with these repeated changes without making any mistakes, you will understand what is required of a pilot's peerless memory by the fickle Mississippi."



    The meticulous nature of steamboat piloting and being constantly mindful of the risks to the safety of passengers: that sounds a lot like the vigilance and smarts a builder and financer of skyscrapers must have.

    During the 2016 campaign, I chuckled whenever someone at CNN would say, "Trump is not really qualified to be President of the United States."  Hogwash.  No man has ever been better prepared for the Office than Donald J. Trump.  Throughout his entire career, Trump dealt with clever bankers, corrupt politicians, shady contractors, demanding customers, and people of many cultures.

    What's more, Donald J. Trump, as a businessman, carries on his back today the tremendous responsibility of safety to the people living and working in his buildings.  To succeed for decades at that job requires a high degree of mindfulness and managerial talent that very few men possess.

    A good President isn't measured by the number of bills signed or foreign dignitaries met.  He's measured like a pilot is -- on results, on the safe passage of passengers, and on steering clear of sunken wrecks that if carelessly run over could tear a steamboat to pieces.

    The life-and-death dangers a President is responsible for these days are tremendous: ISIS, domestic terrorists, MS-13 gangs, hurricane damage, and a Southern Border invasion supported by violent Mexican cartels. 

    America also requires careful piloting to restore the Republic from the major quality-of-life damage politicans have caused: corrupt city governments, foreign nations gutting our manufacturing base, plus the great regulatory and tax burdens that threaten the American Dream.

     

    Now a pilot's never-ending alertness to danger often has a long range influence on the way he sees the world.

    In Chapter 9 of Life on the Mississippi, Twain explains how becoming a skillful pilot caused him to no longer notice the great splendor of the River he enjoyed as a youth.

       
    Donald J. Trump is a Class A Entrepreneur.  He parlayed a million dollar loan from his Dad to build a multi-billion dollar private company.  Though Trump struggled mightily to save his company in the recession of the early 90's, he made a spectacular comeback — to the point where his Organization today is financially solid and self-funded, and thus not controlled by banks, venture capitalists, or Wall Street.

    Leveraging that financial self-reliance, Trump built his American dream.  With great pride in workmanship, he led his Organization to pioneer its future.  How? . . . by working hard and constantly tinkering with business ideas to discover what works and what creates new value — then putting those winning ideas into practice. 

    Trump explained his mission in what I call his Farewell to Real Estate speech, given at the October 2016 opening of Trump International Hotel in Washington:

      "My job is to look at undeveloped spaces and imagine what they could be.  Today is a metaphor for what we can accomplish for this country.

      This [Old Post Office] building is a historic landmark, a true American original.  It had all the ingredients of greatness, but it had been neglected and left to deteriorate for many, many decades.  It sat there so beautiful and was left to deteriorate for many, many decades.

      It had the foundation of success: all of the elements were here.  Our job was to restore its former glory, honor its heritage, but also to imagine a brand new and exciting vision for the future.  To create a new place for people and families to come together and a magnificent place at that."


    Mark Twain loved the independent life he carved out for himself via lectures and book sales, but he was not financially savvy. In particular, he went heavily in depth investing in a new typesetting machine that never became a commercial success.

    Fortunately Twain warded off bankrupty by getting back on the lecture circuit and also made money from writing General Grant's autobiography.  In a few years he fully paid off his creditors.

    But we must still consider Twain a successful self-employed entrepreneur who still called his own shots as a publisher/writer, world traveler, and successful family caretaker.

    Twain talked about his love for the independent work life he enjoyed as a river pilot in the book Life on the Mississippi.

     


       
    The new media Donald J. Trump pioneered as entrepreneur, politician, and President is pretty extraordinary:
    • His The Art of the Deal, written in the 1980s, remains one of bestselling business books of all time.  Instead of copying the boring business textbook model, Trump broke new ground by simply telling his own interesting life story in business, detailing his challenges, successes — even a few failures.

    • In the NBC reality TV show Apprentice, Trump created a ingenious way to dramatize business strategy, achievement, teamwork and office politics — and turned it into a top-rated show for 15 years.  Trump was not only the show's star, but he also owned 50% of the show's profits.

    • Even the Trump Rally improves quite a bit on the political stump speech.   A Trump Rally is a MAGA conversation and audience-participation event, complete with "Build that Wall!" chants, red hats, and Trump showering politicans and fellow deplorables with his praise.  Another trademark: Trump's dramatic entrances and Trump Jet arrivals at airline hangers.

    • And don't forget Governing the Country via Social Media?  His RealDonaldTrump Twitter feed allows the President to bypass the news media filter and take his message directly to We the People.  It's become a powerful way to spotlight MAGA success stories and criticize opponents/people/institutions who are harming the Republic.

    • Last but not least, President Trump has even directed the creation of World Peace Media.  I refer to the 4 minute movie-trailer-styled video he showed North Korea's King Jong-un in Singapore.  The video powerfully presents the argument for North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal and open its doors to economic properity.

    Media was limited in Twain's day: movies, television, and radio hadn't been invented yet.  But he blazed new trails with the media outlets available to him:

    • Entertaining Lectures and speeches were Twain's main money-makers.  And the national publicity gained by his lecture tours paved the way for his book sales.  When a San Francisco newspaper paid him to write a series of newspaper stories on the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Twain turned those stories into 92 paid lectures in cities and towns from New York to California.
    • Twain had an American working man's heart.  He wrote his stories for Everyday "Deplorable" Readers, explaining his method in the opener to his Autobiography:

        "This autobiography of mine does not select from my life its showy episodes, but deals mainly in the common experiences which go to make up the life of the average human being, because these episodes are of a sort which he is familiar with in his own life, and in which he sees his own life reflected and set down in print."

    • Twain popularized the Foreign Travel Guide book category as he travelled the world and wrote about local customs, history, and experiences in his books Tramp Abroad and Innocents Abroad.
    • Another innovation of his was Speaking Through Animals, imagining what animals are thinking and saying, then putting that into words.  Two famous tales of this genre are What Stumped the Blue Jays and Tom Quartz, the Mining Cat.

    • Finally there are the Clever Plots he employs in many of his short stories.  One of the best examples is The Million Pound Bank Note: a young American businessman, by accident, finds himself in London in ragged clothes, hungry, and with no money in his pockets.  Then two rich English gentlemen set him loose on the city for 30 days with a banknote worth one million pounds.  But he can neither cash nor deposit the banknote in a bank because he'll be arrested.

      The Million Pound Banknote's 8,500 words contain multiple themes: rags-to-riches, boy-gets-girl, sudden-celebrity — and lots of humor and surprises.  The story also pokes light-hearted fun at English society — from an American's perspective.  But Twain, having lived in England for some time, wrote it in a way that endeared the story to the English people who adopted Twain as their own celebrity.

       
    In his 2017 Inaugural Address, President Trump courageously told the truth, that our Nation's government is a fraud:
      "For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost.  Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.  Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed."

    And every day since, President Trump has tirelessly told the truth about dishonest Fake News, traitorous witch hunts, violence and fraud on our Southern Border, and globalist policies that harm America's interests.

    President Trump is a one-man wrecking ball to Political Correctness: a key element of his strategy is simply exposing the Truth that politicians, special interest groups, and crony capitalists have been been hiding for their own benefit.

    Fortunately he's an Equal Opportunity Critic and Cheerleader.  It doesn't matter what your race, gender, religion or politics are, if you're doing something good for America, you'll hear words of praise.  If you're out to drag America down, you'll hear some pushback.

    Twain was also a friend of Truth.  Reading Life on the Mississippi you get exactly what the book title advertises: an interesting discussion of the customs, attitudes, commerce, and ways of the people who lived along the Mississippi River in the 1800s. 

    This is not your average history textbook that focuses on wars, politicians, and macro-economic trends.  Rather, Twain's stories are micro-history — history explained by understanding the lives of everyday people, often more fun to read anyway. 

    Twain's books and stories expose human nature or the Irreducible Element of Rascality in man — and Twain was too much of a rascal himself to ignore talking about it.  A great example of this "rascality" is his description of the Steamboat Apprentice Engineer.

     

    As a rule, Twain doesn't tell the unvarnished truth to his readers directly, but lets his characters reveal it through their actions.  However, one great exception to this practice is a passage in his Autobiography entitled, The Character of Man.  Interestingly, Twain had his Autobiography published only after his death, enabling him to pour out his true feelings in that text.

       
    Perhaps America has never produced a more skillful "publicity hound" than Donald J. Trump.  In fact, his masterful ability to get press as a New York real estate mogul eventually allowed Trump to diversity into new trades: best selling book writer/publisher, golf courses, licensing the Trump name on commercial properties, The Apprentice TV show, and more.

    Of course, the billions of dollars in free publicity he earned during the 2016 Presidential campaign — and continues to earn today as President — is amazing.

    Publicity also played a big role in Mark Twain's career.  After the Civil War when his steamboat pilot days were over, Mark Twain traveled West and briefly held a job as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco (1864).  Though he came to hate the druggery of city reporter work, that experience led him to break new ground as a writer of humorous stories.

    Visiting a California Gold Rush town called Angel Camp, he conceived the outrageous tale of a country bumpkin who loved betting on animal contests: horse races, dog fights, and frog jumping bouts.  He submitted the story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County to an editor in New York.  When published, it became a sensation, paving the way for new opportunities.


    Next, Twain got an reporter's assignment to visit the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and write a series of stories about the Islands, its culture and people.  And this experience enabled Twain to become a national lecturer. 

    Twain soon created a virtuous circle of writing short stories, then dramatizing them in paid lectures.  This publicity then led to his writing books, including travel guides that were simply commentary on his international travels.

    He got his first break on the lecture circuit in New York City where he placed a clever advertisement in the paper on his "Lecture on the Sandwich Islands".  Read the humorous ad and an enlarged photo of the Hawaiian belle at right.

     

       
    One of President Trump's key goals has been to root out injustice.  Chief among his concerns is to get Washington leaders to stop lining their own pockets and start caring about We the People.

    From the beginning, he's worked closely with law enforcement to break up criminal gangs like MS-13.  He's now in a terrific fight against the Mexican cartels who commit an estimated 150,000 murders at our Southern Border each year.

    President Trump continues to call out politicians for their corruption and foolish polities that do grave injustice to small business and private job creation, especially the inner cities.

    Mark Twain also had a strong mind to fight injustice, and he fought using his skill as a writer to put a spotlight on humanity's corruption and sins.

    He lived through a period of American history when slavery was an accepted social custom.  And after the Civil War, Twain wrote a short story titled, A True Story, Word for Word as I Heard It

    The story is a moving first-person account by a former black slave woman who was outwardly cheerful, but harbored a deep sense of injustice when her young son was taken away from her, and sold to another family.

    Another powerful story about injustice is A Dog's Tale.  What's special here is the story is told through the voice of the dog who narrates about his life. 
    The story begins humorously, but the mood suddenly changes when a near calamity strikes at the dog's human family home.  The ending is sad, but a powerful message for animal rights.  

    Incidentally, Twain was a big fan of cats and once wrote: "When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade without further introduction."