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Originally Posted in the Sunday Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Dec. 5, 1999

Donald Trump is hoping to be the next president of the USA. No, reports Christopher Hitchens, it’s no joke Trump.

It’s a helluva name to kick off with. In order to escape the ”outer boroughs” of New York and break into Manhattan, Ralph Lauren had to give up being Ralph Lipschitz for reasons I needn’t elaborate. And he was poor, as had been old man Lipschitz, whereas Trump Snr was a biggish guy in the property business and could give his boys a start in life. His best legacy, though, was the name. Trump. A perfect logo for a casino boss. Trump. The ideal sound – of a plump fist coming down on a polished rosewood table – for a deal-maker and broker. Trump. A plausible tailfin name for a commuter airline. Trump. A convincing letterhead for a Wall Street buccaneer. Trump. A confidence-inspiring masthead for a skyscraper specialist or a nightclub king. But President Trump? By no means impossible, as a name for a statesman. (Especially when compared with Bush or Gore, both of which, as monikers if not as people, are open to ridicule.) Donald, though. Definitely a mistake. Quacking implications. Waddling problems. We only know of one Donald. And the man himself seems to feel the implicit absurdity, referring to himself with agonising results as ”The Donald” and, more recently and even more squirm-inducingly, ”The Trumpster”.

So, which is it to be? Trump or Donald? A lot hangs on the outcome of this stupid question. Because the man with many monikers in many ways embodies his country and because this election cycle is now so absurd, and so much up for grabs, it is unwise to exclude anything. In Miami this month, Trump addressed a crowd of Cuban exiles, promising them – as eight presidents and God knows how many candidates have done since 1960 – that, when elected, he would simply say ”Adios, amigo” to Fidel Castro. ”Viva Trump!” they chanted in return, which is not what everybody in New York automatically says when The Trumpster goes limo-ing by.

For all that, this would have seemed 10 times more comic just 10 years ago. I went to the opening of the Trump Tower in Manhattan in the early 1980s, a decade The Donald managed to symbolise, and I heard all the jokes about his ”edifice complex” that were circulating even as he stalked by, treating New York’s Governor Cuomo as a vassal lucky to have been invited. (Actually, I think there must be a kernel of truth to all the Freudian stuff. Everything Trump does, from yachts to airplanes, has to be ”the biggest ever”. It’s his favourite phrase. In his latest ”book”, richly entitled The America We Deserve, he describes himself as ”the American Dream – Supersized”.)

And then, a few years ago, I went to the club he ran in Palm Beach, which is the nearest I hope to get to seeing Citizen Kane at play. The ”club” was actually his extremely ostentatious conversion of one of America’s most exquisite private homes, the Mar a Lago mansion built by veteran hostess, Marjorie Merriweather Post. ”Mar a Lago” means ”From the Sea to the Lake”, and describes the fact the house is set on grounds stretching from the ocean to the inland waterway. It’s a jewel of a place, fitted out in baroque and Renaissance style, and Trump had made it into a resort with a membership subscription of $25,000. I forget who took me to this temple of cupidity, but I remember it was one of the times when the patron was on the premises. There he sat, resplendently insecure, while a slightly subdued Marla Maples impersonated the ideal hostess. His glance seemed to say, ”Is there anything I can get you?” Or, alternatively and with a slight shift in profile, ”Is there anything I haven’t got?” The effect was both laughable and terrifying. ”That’s right, baby, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” yells Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’s The Producers. One sometimes suspects, with one’s nose admittedly pressed to the window, for Trump, flaunting is the pleasure. For example, there’s recently been more attention given to his aversion to shaking hands, the ”flesh-pressing” element so essential to celebrity and campaigning. Trump is paranoid about germs and contact. A friend is quoted as saying it’s nonsense about him chomping his way through the supermodels. Without a prenuptial agreement and a doctor’s certificate, he hardly dares lay a glove on them, but to be seen with a trophy model, like the current incumbent, Slovenian Melania Knauss, is something else again. ”If I want a First Lady I can get one in 24 hours,” trumpets The Donald. ”The only difference between me and the other candidates is I’m more honest and my women are more beautiful.” My women – what does he think, when they hear this, the girls think? Why does he think they leave? What does he imagine they are, or were?

There are some other differences between Trump and the rest of the pack. He has a database of six million potential voters, drawn from the records of his Atlantic City casinos. He has name recognition. He can claim to have had a life outside politics. He is the only candidate calling for a tax increase, a huge one-time levy on the rich to clear the national debt. Populist window-dressing, but eye-catching and easy to understand. When it comes to ideas, or issues, it’s the typical agenda of the tycoon with the short attention span. On foreign policy – throw out Castro and threaten to bomb North Korea. On domestic matters – grand, arm-waving Ross Perot-type gestures. Since he’s only seeking the nomination of the Reform party, which acts as a magnet for every malcontent in the US, he doesn’t look out of place, or even unusually eccentric. His inner-party rivals are a bald-headed professional wrestler, formerly known as The Body, and Pat Buchanan, who is now widely seen as nostalgic for the Third Reich. (Trump’s chief political adviser is Roger J Stone, who cut his teeth as one of Nixon’s Watergate tricksters so it’s not as if The Donald candidacy represents a break with the old Washington gang.)

The element of narcissism and fantasy, coupled with the all-too-true saying that in the United States, anyone can be president, means that for a bored and restless celebrity a run for the White House is the Everest, the summit of the ”go for it” mentality. Let the elitist liberals smirk if they dare. Their best hope is Warren Beatty, whose chief claim is he probably has done to the flower of American womanhood what Trump – and Clinton, for that matter – only wish they could have done.

The other element is that of ”the come-back kid”. Americans like it if their flamboyant tycoons have suffered. After his skyline-cluttering success 15 years ago, ”Trump” became a synonym for ”broke”. Here again, the names kick in. Back in the days of New York’s seeming insolvency in 1974, Trump had hired Louise M Sunshine (no, really), the one-time chair of then-Governor Carey’s finance committee. From then on, he appeared to have an uncanny nose for vacant properties in the Big City. The Convention Centre on the site of the old Pennsylvania Station, the Commodore Hotel – you name it. And big tax-breaks were forthcoming for anyone who took an interest in the Big Apple.

Not until after a decade did Congress close the tax loophole through which Trump quite legally drove a coach and four horses. The resulting implosion of the property market bubble meant he was left holding a fistful of bad debts. It was his good luck the banks had lent him so much they couldn’t afford to let him fail. Still, he had to give up management control of the Plaza Hotel in New York, had to ground Trump airlines, had to wave off his gigantic yacht and give up his executive jet. He also had to switch wives – convincingly pleading poverty to the power-skiing Czech Ivana, who has probably never forgiven herself for falling for the ploy. Riches to rags and back again – or ”failing upwards”, as it is sometimes known on Madison Avenue – is a narrative with great box-office appeal. Since he essentially rescued himself by going bare-knuckled into the casino and slot-machine business, Trump also took the opportunity to remodel himself as a man of the people. A friend of the blue-collar punter. It helps, with an act like this, to be immune to shame or embarrassment. A New York Daily News reporter believed and printed The Donald’s story that he’d collected $20 million by wagering a million on the underdog in the Mike Tyson bout with Evander Holyfield. The rival New York Post asked the Las Vegas bookies if any such bet had been placed. Er, no it hadn’t. But it’s also a good bet more people heard and believed the original story than ever caught up with the correction. Of such feats are populist reputations made.

Or megalomaniac reputations. Trump has gold fixtures in his lavatories, as if he’s never read any jokes about people who do that, he has French Impressionist pictures on his airplane and can name the price but not the painter, he ”owns” the Miss Universe, Miss America and Miss Teen America pageants. When he was with Maples, he encouraged her to go on stage on Broadway and appear in The Will Rogers Follies. She was petrified. He was thrilled. Recall the scene in Citizen Kane when the tycoon loses it and builds an opera house for his under-talented mistress? And Trump has a security and bodyguard chief, built like a fridge by all accounts, who actually goes by the name of Matt Calamari. A caricaturist would be fired for inventing something so obvious. Where does the act or the dream end and when does the daylight kick in?

You could ask the residents of the buildings in New York who will lose their own daylight as another vast and pointless Trump building heads skyward. (The latest will dwarf the United Nations.) Or you could ask the frazzled underlings or demoralised exes. The best guess has to be that here’s a man who hates to be alone, who needs approval and reinforcement, who talks a better game than he plays, who is crude, hyperactive, emotional and optimistic.

To his fans, he is America, as to many people was William Randolph Hearst before his appetites and attitudes consumed him. There was grandeur in that case. In this instance The Donald trumps The Trumpster most of the time, and can’t dispel the atmosphere of farce.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.

Born in New York City, in 1946, Donald Trump is America’s most notorious property developer. He was the son of an NY real estate mogul, whose Trump Organization he took over. He expanded its holdings and built increasingly grandiose buildings including the Trump Tower, New York (1982) and Atlantic City casinos. His high-profile political deal-making and enthusiastic self-promotion made him a 1980s celebrity who suffered a spectacular crash into near- bankruptcy in 1990.

Originally posted by Reddit user DeterminedStupor.

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