The purpose of this essay was to be able to negatively critique something that is widely popular with mainstream culture without getting bogged down in negativity. Hoping I achieved that. Comments encouraged.
I lived on Long Island in the 1980s—an hour or so away from New York City—when the Donald and Ivana Trump divorce scandal was huge news, a constantly unfolding story of a rich and powerful New Yorker who cheated on his wife and left her for a younger woman. Everyone was paying attention to the gossip, and the news media gleefully reported on every new development, including a commercial for some product in which Ivana claimed that “Gorgeous hair is the best revenge.”
Like many, I’d never heard of the Trumps before. But, after that, they stayed in the public eye with news of Trump’s marriage to Marla Maples, divorce from Marla Maples, his bankruptcy, financial comeback, next marriage, and more.
At one point there was a news story about “The Donald,” that didn’t seem to get as much attention, but I’ll never forget it (although the exact details are murky since it happened years ago). It involved Trump wanting to build a new hotel or casino or something. The land he wanted included the site of the home of an elderly woman. She had lived there all her life. That is, she lived there until Trump managed to have her ousted and quickly sent in the wrecking ball to take down her cherished residence. I have no idea whatever happened to her; in part because the media quickly forgot about her.
But that news story actually inspired a character and related anecdote in my book, “The Work of Life.” The character was a wealthy hotel owner who had lost touch with anything in the world, including the feelings of his family members. At one point, this wealthy man’s son gets pulled over for speeding by a police officer and this exchange takes place:
“Yeah, I’m sure that ticket’s chump change to you.” He shone the
light in my face.
“Do I know you?” I asked, squinting.
“Nope. But I knew Harrison Westchester. Well, I knew of him. He
didn’t bother to personally meet me or my mother when he took her house.
But he sent some lawyers. They were very nice at first—hardly
condescending at all. Maybe it’s because I had a gun. They tried to make
her an offer. When she refused, they went behind her back and figured out
a way to take it outright. Without paying her a dime.
“Good old Harrison Westchester wanted to expand his shopping
mall and get rid of the homes remaining in the neighborhood. My mother
grew up in that house. Her father built it and gave it to her after she got
married. She raised me and my sister there. When my father died, my
sister asked her to move in to her home. That was back before my sister
had a baby and there was still a spare room in her house. But my mother
wouldn’t leave. She said her whole entire life was within those two stories.
And, if you measure your life by the things you accumulate over the years,
she was right. She wanted to live there with all her memories and her
sewing machine and my father’s army clothes and my broken tricycle and
my sister’s prom dress until she took her last breath.”
I put both hands on the steering wheel and tried not to make any
sudden moves or do anything else that would give the trooper an excuse to
take out his anger on the wrong Westchester. I even kept my mouth closed
for fear that he might even take my tone the wrong way.
“You know where my mother is now? My sister and me put her up
in an apartment. The rent takes a nice, huge chunk out of my check each
week. We also split up most of the belongings being that there’s not
enough room for more than ten percent in mom’s new place. Half’s in my
sister’s attic. The other half is filling up my garage. I was working on
restoring a classic Mustang, but my wife made me sell it because she
didn’t want it sitting in the driveway.
“Mary, that’s my sister, and me don’t even think about getting rid
of any of it. Every now and then, Mom gets the need to see some item.
Last time it was one of those crystal balls that you shake up and it makes a
snowy scene while it plays music—and we had to go digging for it and
bring it to her. She’s not in good health anymore. She doesn’t go out.
“Which is probably a good thing because the changes would break
her heart. Last time I passed the old neighborhood, I went to see that
monstrosity your grandfather put up. There’s a snack bar where my
bedroom used to be.” He stopped talking for a minute and stared absently
at the cars whizzing past. “A fucking snack bar.”
With that, he dropped his flashlight to his side, walked off and
piled himself into the cruiser, slamming the door loudly.
Given that excerpt, I guess it’s not much of a surprise that it shocks me to know that many members of the public idolize Mr. Trump as a hero—often mistakenly describing him as a self-made man who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps (his father was reportedly a real estate tycoon so I don’t imagine it was that far of a climb).
To be sure, you can Google this orange-haired media whore and find numerous websites questioning many of his very questionable views and actions. And, of course, Trump has been booed on more than one occasion, including at a Lakers Game in 2007, a White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011, and at a WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Madison Square Garden this past April.
But that hasn’t stopped “The Apprentice,” from becoming a hit, airing on national television since 2004 and morphing into “Celebrity Apprentice.” And it hasn’t stopped celebrities and various politicians from wanting “The Donald” at their events. Nor has it stopped his book, “The Art of the Deal,” from selling over 3 million copies and staying on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks.
I’ve never analyzed it before, but I think what frightens me about the national obsession with Trump is threefold: 1) The attention he gets every time he opens his mouth to utter some outlandish political viewpoint or bash someone for holding an opposing opinion while many well-informed, rational voices are largely ignored. 2) The sense in our society that the rich practically have superpowers and that they gain our attention largely because we want to know how to get what they have. In that pursuit, some lose sight of how valuable snow globes and other small treasures and mementos in life really are. 3) The worry that we just don’t pick our heroes carefully enough; that a hero should be chosen, at least in part, for a value system that reflects the way we would want to be treated and the way we believe we should treat others, and not for a “win at all costs” philosophy.
Trump is money-obsessed, but he isn’t the root of all evil. At best, he has an interesting, quirky, outspoken persona that grabs people’s attention. At worst, well, I’m not sure. It depends on how much time you have to research the man’s life and how much of what you believe about accusations against him posted on the Internet and in other venues.
For Ivana, perhaps having “gorgeous hair,” (and millions of dollars) was the best revenge for being publicly humiliated and replaced with a new model by her famous ex-husband. But, I wonder what it might take to compensate others who haven’t been consoled with a good dye job and a suitcase full of thousand-dollar-bills. I also wonder why we seem to forgot those people so easily.