The first time I ever heard of Donald J. Trump was while working for my father in the fall of 1984. It was in the context of having to work for our money with my dad from August until December that year. Not to mention, Walter Mondale’s sad and forlorn presidential run, Jesse Jackson’s “Hymietown” sound bite, and my Mets making themselves relevant again with Strawberry and Gooden. So many Friday evenings, Saturday and Sunday mornings in that part of the year, me and my brother Darren spent on the 2 Subway going to the Upper West Side to clean co-ops and condos, offices and hallways with so many industrial cleaning and buffing machines. And usually, my father was either drinking, hung over, or jonesin’ for a drink during these nearly weekly weekend job duties for nearly four months.
My father would often name drop as part of his constant yammering about “The City,” and how he was “a big shot doctor an’ lawyer” working carpet cleaning machines on the eighteen floor of a co-op off 68th and Broadway or 77th and Columbus. For two weekends, we worked the Upper East Side off the 86th Street Subway stop. It was during those weekends on the blocks between White Manhattan and Spanish Harlem that I learned who really ran the city.
“You know who really run dis city? Milstein,” my father said, as if I had asked him about New York’s movers and shakers. I remained silent as I worked the buffing machine in an office building lobby.
“But dere ‘nother one comin’ up. That Donal’ Trump a good bid-ness man dere! Yep, yep!,” my father continued while waging his right index finger in admiration.
I didn’t think much of the comment at that moment, because it was part of my dad’s typical “Lo’ at dis po’ ass muddafucka! I make fitty million dollas a week!” delusional diatribes. But soon after, I remembered seeing something about Trump and his first wife Ivana in the Daily News. It was probably related to one of his business deals, either for the eventual Trump Tower, the hotel deal near Grand Central, or his fight with Koch over being snubbed out of the work for the new Jacob Javitz Convention Center. I thought nothing of the man beyond the truth for people like me, people who tended to be repulsed by narcissistic self-aggrandizers seeking attention and praise.
But in those Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous times, it was obvious Trump believed in host Robin Leach’s closing words. “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.” The man always talked about making deals, making money, and living as if he were a single man with an insatiable libido and without kids. More than once, in listening to this unseemly rich man, I thought, “Sounds just like Jimme.”
To think that an eventual US president would have the same ways of viewing the world as an inebriated man in his mid-forties is beyond troubling. At the very least, it makes me wonder what kind of drugs 45 has snorted over the years. But it also is proof of the pervasiveness of American narcissism. That a Black man with a seventh-grade education — not to mention, an alcoholic with a $30,000-a-year job — could see himself as a “big shot” in the same way as 45 sees himself as a “successful businessman” with at least four bankruptcies, a $200 million trust fund and a $1-million loan courtesy of his dad to his credit. It points to a society that seethes with an egocentric penchant for money, riches, and power to lord over others. It points to a people who self-loathe so much that jealousy can be normalized, that using precious psychological, emotional, spiritual, and even material resources to one-up themselves over unnamed others whom they see as their lessers is an everyday thing.
Luckily, my father sobered up about whom he had been, his narcissism, the many slights he absorbed as a late-era Black migrant in New York, the many jealousies he harbored, and his own self-hatred. And that was all before he stopped drinking at the end of 1997. That doesn’t mean that my father now qualifies for sainthood. But he is at least in touch with who he is, and the need to be a better person every day.
45, though, hasn’t grown a single self-reflective neuron in the past thirty-three years. Matter of fact, as evidenced with so many verbal explosions over Charlottesville and “Rus-shur,” 45 may have destroyed at least five billion neurons since Ivanka was a toddler. America, to its collective detriment, has a 71-year-old less psychologically able to be president than my father would’ve been during the worst of his alcoholic times. What makes this unsurprising, sad, and anger-inducing, is that the US has had at least a half-dozen other presidents who also shouldn’t have been trusted to sit next to my dad and remain civil at the same “Shamrock Bar” on East 241st Street, where he frequently gave away his paychecks.
So America, 45 is “a shame and a pitiful,” as my father would say. A shame to the US and the world stage, and a pitiful mess for anyone to watch in action.