Watching the BBC last week, I heard U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron use the word “deal” several times in the span of a 30-second news spot, describing the status of striking a new European Union “deal.”
Is this the new word du jour now that the ultimate deal guy seems to be improving his odds every day of becoming the next President of the United States? Donald Trump’s bestselling book is “The Art of the Deal,” and his calling card has always been dealmaking.
Iconic internet figure Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, is fond of using the word “deal.” He often says, “here is the deal” or calls for a “fair deal” when talking about people, customers, veterans and others who do not always get a fair shake in life.
The etymology of the word is from Old English meaning to “divide, distribute, separate, share, bestow or dispense.” Fairness.
When we “deal a deck of cards,” we distribute them evenly among all of the players, insuring the games begins fairly.
In the 1930s, the New Deal was a slew of government programs that gave us Social Security, new labor laws, farm subsidies, tighter banking laws and the Federal Housing Administration. The plan was to redistribute wealth more fairly.
A real estate deal is about compromise on price, timing, terms and property improvements. It must be somewhat fair to all sides, or it won’t close.
That is why real estate professionals understand so well what it takes to make a deal. They live and breathe compromise, reasonableness and fairness every day.
On Wall Street, a “deal guy” raises money or sells companies. When they use the phrase “strike a deal,” they are heralding success getting all of the parties together.
In the country’s intransigent political environment, we cannot make a deal on anything important. Politicians are more motivated by the interests of those funding their campaigns than interested in compromising and making deals with those on the other side.
When your heels are dug in too deeply, you cannot cut a deal. Consequently, politicians succeed today by getting nothing done. Trump’s deal credentials might come in handy pushing through compromise on tough issues.
The best model of dealmaking was the relationship between President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil in the 1980s. No two partisans could have been further apart in their ideologies, but they shared a commitment to getting things done.
They fought it out during a critical period in our country’s history, but they found a way to make deals on Social Security, reforming the tax code, raising taxes seven times, toughening the rules on air and water quality and agreeing on a strategy to bring down the Soviet Union. All good deals require negotiation.
“While neither man embraced the other’s worldview, each respected the other’s right to hold it,” wrote O’Neil’s son Thomas in an op-ed several years ago in The New York Times.
Back to Trump — he has not shown us his dealmaking chops in this election. Instead, his bravado, hysterics and bluster have been more divisive than constructive.
In the generally liberal Huffington Post, every story about Trump ends with this paragraph: “Editor’s note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
In most deals, one or both parties often start with tough positioning, putting a stake in the ground about what they expect. Both sides build support for their position with their own stakeholders first.
Maybe this is what Trump is doing with the election, positioning now for his time in office later when he will tap his “art of the deal” tactics that made him wealthy. Yesterday about the proposed wall on the Mexican border, he said, “”Everything — by the way, it is negotiable. Things are negotiable.”
Often, his positioning is as shrill as an early morning Manhattan jackhammer outside your bedroom window. I bristled yesterday when Trump waffled about the KKK and about white supremacist David Duke in an interview on CNN. I started my journalism career writing about affordable housing and fair housing laws — taking a step backward on race would be a deal breaker for the country.
Time will tell whether this master of free attention will be a good deal, a raw deal or a deal that got away.
Footnote: The last time we had real estate dealmakers as U.S. Presidents were founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who loved their property holdings and made sure the U.S. Constitution protected them. That was a big deal.