Donald Trump – for those of you who don’t know- will be the next president of the United States.
That’s right: Donald Trump the businessman, the “real estate mogul”, the reality TV star, the brand.
Donald Trump of Trump Wine, Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Tower and many many Trump-branded casinos and golf courses.
Donald Trump the self-important, self-aggrandising rich boy.
Donald Trump the proud adulterer and frequent sleaze, Donald Trump of the tiny hands and weird hair, Donald Trump of the 80s, the 90s, the 00s and soon to be Donald Trump of the White House.
Donald Trump, the poor man’s stereotype of a billionaire.
Donald Trump the fake tanner and non-drinker.
Donald Trump the Twitter troll.
Donald Trump, referred to by himself as The Donald.
Donald Trump the Trump.
First, let’s look at his name. The first word is the name of no one else (I can think of) other than a cartoon duck famed for always having his trousers off, while the second word is British slang for an escape of gas outta the anus. His name is ridiculous, his hair is ridiculous, his speech is ridiculous and the fact that he is technically the most popular man in America is ridiculous.
Then again, maybe it isn’t. Because although Donald Trump comes across as a lying, chauvinistic, fool in Mark Singer’s book, Trump & Me, he never stops being compelling. Trump here is never boring, and he’s an easy figure to pleasantly engage with from the distance of a 100 page essay.
Singer writes well about Trump (a combination of gentle wit and direct access), but it is the man himself, rather than the writing, which takes centre stage here. Whether you want to hate him or fellate him, Trump is an unignorable figure who EVERYONE in the world has an opinion on. Singer’s opinion is informed, his details are informative and this recently-expanded essay from 1997 is horrendously relevant now, especially after Trump’s (for me, inevitable) victory back in November.
Let’s get a little deeper.
Mark Singer is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and in 1996 he was commissioned to write an essay on Donald Trump. He spent several months shadowing the man, attending business and social occasions with him, travelling with him and – on many occasions – staying in his hotels. The long form essay he produced was published in the Summer of 1997, and enraged Trump. Using nothing but personal impressions, reams of direct quotations and facts acquired from other sources1, Singer produced a pretty damping profile of The Donald.
Singer shows us – rather than tells us – that Trump is by turns bitchy, narcissistic and without an inner life. Trump exaggerates the value of his assets (often by billions of dollars), denies things that are provably true and regularly resorts to the kind of objectifying “locker room talk” about women that he is now rather infamed2 for. In short, Trump is how you expect him to be – slithering between charm and cruelty, a man whose language is full of absolutes and judgements, who makes a point of being kind to people who he knows are no threat to his success (which is how he won the election), whilst ruthlessly fucking over anyone who he feels has fucked him over. He says stupid and contradictory things, he bullshits like every traditional salesman, but he also fills a room with his presence and is an instantly recognisable figure who’s extremely well-connected.
We laugh with Singer as Trump presents a copy of The Art of the Deal to a Russian politician, but we don’t laugh at the fact that he’s having that meeting. We laugh as Trump washes his hands after pressing too much flesh with strangers, but we don’t laugh when he stops his limo to go and chat to the parking attendants in the garage of his latest skyscraper. For everything embarrassing that Trump does (embarrassing by “our” standards – Singer is very much presuming an audience that sees casual misogyny as unacceptable), he does something impressive. He brags about and shows off his possessions and his properties in a crass manner, but although we laugh at the descriptions of his gauche interior design, as snobbishly as we may guffaw into our fancy wines while chucking at this beautifully packaged non-fiction paperback, Trump is successful, Trump is rich beyond our wildest dreams and Trump behaves like most of us probably would if we’d been born with his advantages.
This is the crux of Trump’s popularity and the reason why half of America fucking love the guy: he does exactly what he wants, 100% of the time, and he’s not just HAPPY, he’s not just RICH, he doesn’t just get to live in luxury and bang loads of models or whatever, he gets to do that and chat to the parking attendants, and be civil to waiters and complimentary to tradesmen. Trump behaves like a dick towards people who don’t like him, but he’s charming to far more people than he needs to be for personal, financial, gain. Trump doesn’t care about looking spiteful, doesn’t care about pursuing a grudge against Singer and other journalists who’ve written negative articles about him. I’d’ve read twice as many words about Trump before getting bored, and I’m a whingey liberal. Trump is compelling; however you feel about Donald Trump, he’s FUN to read about and FUN to watch. It may be that all his many failings will make him a terrible leader on the international stage, but his documented interest in being friendly to poor people has already won him an election and may well cause him some success.
I don’t think I was meant to read Trump & Me and come away more positive about Trump’s presidency, but this essay was repackaged and reprinted in the Summer, before his presidency was a guaranteed thing. Singer makes it clear that Trump is not a nice man, that he is self-serving and proud, that he is short-tempered and slow to forget a slur. But some of these things may actually be useful in a President. Would foreign powers be allowed to get away with crossing a “red line” on Trump’s watch? Probably not.
Trump’s presidency is happening, so what I’m saying here is not that I like him or his ideas and ideology, but an exercise in positive thinking about something bad that’s already happened. It’s important to point out that his recorded attitudes towards women is fucking atrocious, and needs to be addressed. But, as a white man for whom Trump’s presidency will mostly just be something that happens on the news, I’m interested, I’m intrigued, and I’m ready to see it happen.
Happy New Year. Let’s get ready for something different…
1. Looking back at that sentence, I don’t know what else I’d expect a journalist to use other than these three tools. ↩
2. If “infame” works as a verb in the way “infamous” does. It doesn’t, though, does it? And the word I’m looking for is “notorious”. ↩