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The Making of Donald Trump: The Eighties
Part two of our series looking at the media's coverage of the man before the MAGA
In Sunday’s Culture Club post for paid subscribers, we took a look at how the media covered Donald Trump’s rise in 1970’s New York, as the flashy real-estate nepo-baby set out to make his name. Already, fifty years ago, the clues to Trump’s true nature were there: the lying, the bullying, the ego, the flair for self-promotion. But at the same time that critics like Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice were digging into his dirty deals, other writers were laundering his reputation. It’s a pattern that would continue for decades.
While the seventies ended with Barrett’s two-part investigation into Trump’s history of shady business dealings, the eighties began with Harold Blum of the New York Times hailing him as the most important developer of his generation. And for quite a while that seemed to be the consensus of the suspiciously credulous media. When I was growing up in New York in the 1980s, Trump was ubiquitous — a shameless mascot for a new Gilded Age. Looking back on it now, he was emblematic of something rotten in the Big Apple’s core, like an infernal mash-up of Lex Luthor, P. T. Barnum and Patrick Bateman.
Throughout, the media did its part to smooth his path. In a lot of ways, eighties saw Trump at his Trumpiest, when he really was the toast of the city — before the personal scandal and professional failure made him a laughing stock to anyone who was still paying attention. If the decade started with Trump on top of the world, it ended with one of the most egregious acts of his career (a high bar, to be sure.) On May 1, 1989, Trump took out a full-page advertisement in New York’s four largest newspapers, calling for the execution of the (since-vindicated) Central Park Five. If there had ever been any doubt that this was a truly soulless individual, the ad should have put it to rest.
By the nineties, Trump was still good for a tabloid headline, but his reputation as a successful developer had been shattered. Among his fellow New Yorkers — those who knew him best — the Trump show seemed blessedly over. But for those observers who, thanks to a fawning national media, only knew about his eighties successes, Trump never lost his shine.
As a taste of what you can expect to get as a paid subscriber to this newletter, we’re making this post available for free. As a time capsule, it’s both humorous (Ada Louise Huxtable writing to the Times to complain about Trump’s lies) and horrifying (that newspaper ad.) If there’s any light at the end of the tunnel it’s the fact that, by the end of the decade, the media seemed to catch on to the shell game Trump was playing. “The man demeans anything he touches,” wrote Murray Kempton in 1989, “which is any place where he can leave his name permanently engraved.”
Playing the Trump Card
by Owen Moritz
New York Daily News, August 3, 1980
Tall and blonde, a fastidious dresser, he married Canada's most successful model three years ago. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale performed the ceremony, and the couple has taken up residence in a large apartment off Central Park. Today, they maintain the requisite residences in Manhattan, Aspen and the Hamptons…
One of five children of Fred Trump, a successful builder of post-war middle-class homes and apartments, Trump was the only one to show any interest in real estate. And he learned all the lessons, starting out by graduating first in his class at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance.
“I gave Donald free rein,” says Fred Trump with pride. “He has great vision and everything he touches seems to turn to gold.”
The Empire and Ego of Donald Trump
By Marylin Bender
New York Times, August 7, 1983
He made his presence known on the island of Manhattan in the mid 70's, a brash Adonis from the outer boroughs bent on placing his imprint on the golden rock. Donald John Trump exhibited a flair for self-promotion, grandiose schemes — and, perhaps not surprisingly, for provoking fury along the way…
The essence of entrepreneurial capitalism, real estate is a business with a tradition of high-rolling megalomania, of master builders striving to erect monuments to their visions. It is also typically dynastic, with businesses being transmitted from fathers to sons and grandsons, and carried on by siblings. In New York, the names of Tishman, Lefrak, Rudin, Fisher, Zeckendorf come to mind.
And now there is Trump, a name that has in the last few years become an internationally recognized symbol of New York City as mecca for the world's super rich.
The USFL’s Trump Card
By Robert H. Boyle
Sports Illustrated, February 13, 1984
A 37-year-old multimillionaire developer who has deftly swung from one vine to another in the political jungle of New York real estate, Trump is used to getting what he wants. He has the buildings to prove it, such as the Grand Hyatt Hotel (which features a restaurant called Trumpet's) and the new Trump Tower, sheathed in bronze and glass, a structure combining stores, offices and condominiums, on Fifth Avenue next to Tiffany's. Affable and boyishly handsome, Trump and his blonde wife, Ivana, a Vienna-born former competitive skier and model who gave birth to their third child on Jan. 6, have recently been the golden couple of newspaper style pages. They dine at tanned goatskin tables in their own Manhattan condo overlooking Central Park, wear designer clothes and ski in Aspen, Gstaad and St. Moritz when not weekending at their Greenwich, Conn. estate. “Donald's brilliant,” says Ivana, an executive vice-president in charge of interior design for the family-owned Trump Organization. “As a lot of people say, whatever he touches turns to gold.”
The Expanding Empire of Donald Trump
By William E. Geist
New York Times Magazine, April 8, 1984
All that is Donald Trump would seem to be embodied in this building. It is showy, even pretentious. Above the door are bronze letters two feet high that spell “Trump Tower.” Just inside, past the palace guards, are two three-foot bronze T's. Then comes the piano player and violinist, dressed in tuxedos. That's entertainment.
“I told Donald I hate all that stuff,” says Philip Johnson, “but people like the show. It is undeniably one of the most popular buildings in New York.” And these adornments would seem to be just the fuzzy pair of dice on the rear-view mirror of the Rolls-Royce. Architecture critics have hailed Trump Tower, Ada Louise Huxtable calling it “a dramatically handsome structure” and Paul Goldberger describing its interior as “warm, luxurious and even exhilarating.”
Donald Trump’s Tower
Ada Louise Huxtable, New York City
New York Times, May 6, 1984
I do not suppose that I can stop Mr. Trump from quoting me out of context — I think critics lost that battle a long time ago. I would be much happier, however, if he would remove the inappropriate quote from the Trump Tower atrium wall, and have, in fact, been meaning to ask him to do so. But I'll make a deal, since he likes them. He can keep it if he'll spare us the dungeons and dragons in his future projects. Leave Madison Avenue alone.
A Different Kind of Donald Trump Story
By Tony Schwartz
New York, February, 11, 1985
After his first column about Trump's rejected offer for the homeless, Schamberg got a letter from Charles Sternberg, head of the International Rescue Committee, asking if Schanberg thought Trump might make his vacant apartments available to Polish refugees who needed temporary housing. Schanberg suggested that Sternberg write Trump. Sternberg's two letters were not answered. Schanberg argued that Trump's silence proved he hadn't been sincere about his offer in the first place. Trump says he doesn't remember getting Sternberg's letters.
On Being a Billionare at 40
By William E. Geist
New York Times, June 14, 1986
At 40, Mr. Trump is trim with no gray hair and is one of the richest men in New York. People ask for his autograph on the street and try to touch him for good luck. His business empire, once estimated to be worth $2 billion, includes Trump Tower, with shops that pay as much as a million dollars a year in rent and condominiums that sell for as much as $10 million. Mr. Trump lives in one of the latter but also has a mansion in Greenwich, Conn…
A surprise birthday party — ”something along the lines of New York's Fourth of July celebration,” in the words of one — was planned for Mr. Trump, who scuttled it. Although Mr. Trump loves nothing more than seeing one of his buildings or his football players in the spotlight, he always seems uncomfortable when he is center stage.
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Trump Keeps Reputation, Buildings Rising
By Christopher Boyd
The Miami Herald, December 2, 1986
In person, Trump is soft-spoken and even-tempered. He seldom raises his voice, even when deriding his critics. Though he is quick to defend a controversial decision, Trump prefers to discuss the upbeat aspects of his life, his business and his past.
Trump doesn't smoke or drink alcohol and has a reputation as an honest and straightforward businessman. Success, one of his favorite words, comes directly from the lexicon of his minister and close friend, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale.
Although Trump hates posing for photographs, one wall of his office is peppered with framed magazine covers of his face. Trump favors dark blue, impeccably tailored business suits. His wife, Ivana, is responsible for the conservative apparel. Before meeting her, Trump preferred plum-colored suits with matching shoes.
Donald Trump: All Talk, No Votes
By William Bastone
Village Voice, June 23, 1987
Since he registered to vote, Trump has had more than 40 separate opportunities to vote on Election Day. These elections involved more than 150 offices and hundreds of candidates.
Trump, 41, registers to vote out of his father’s home on Midland Parkway, Jamaica, but he has not lived there for years. His drivers license also carries the Queens address, but the developer actually splits his time between his pied-a-terre in Trump Tower and his mansion Greenwich, Connecticut.
Trump Hints of Dreams Beyond Building
By Fox Butterfield,
New York Times, October 5, 1987
“I'm not running for anything,” he said.
“I love what I do,” he continued. “I've built the best private company in the world at a very early age. And we've got the biggest construction project in the history of New York coming up,” his bitterly disputed plan for Television City, a $5 billion complex along the Hudson River that would feature a 150-story tower, the tallest in the world, a new home for NBC, 8,000 cooperative apartments, a hotel and a shopping mall.
But, adds Mr. Trump with disarming immodesty, “I believe that if I did run for President, I'd win.”
Trump on Trump
New York, Nov 16, 1987
In January 1987, I got a letter from Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, that began, “It is a pleasure for me to relay some good news from Moscow.” It went on to say that the leading Soviet state agency for international tourism, Goscomintourist, had expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture to construct and manage a hotel in Moscow.
On July 4, I flew with Ivana, her assistant Lisa Calandra, and Norma to Moscow. It was an extraordinary experience. We toured a half-dozen potential sites for a hotel, including several near Red Square. We stayed in Lenin's suite at the National Hotel, and I was impressed with the ambition of the Soviet officials to make a deal.
Ace of Trump
By Michael Kilian
Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1987
A mutual friend — a woman who's known Trump some 10 years — advised that an interviewer would come away surprised, which is to say, liking him. She was right. Trump is not a man with whom to sit around discussing the philosophy of Albert Camus or watch a Bears game in a corner tavern. Either one he would doubtless consider a waste of his billion-dollar time. But he is interested in telling people what he knows about subjects he's interested in, and he's keenly interested in learning what others know about subjects that interest him.
And he is a good guy. The late Nelson Rockefeller and presidential candidate Pierre Du Pont IV are remembered as back-slapping pols who strove for the common touch but nevertheless relied upon scurrying aides to put on their suit jackets for them. Trump puts on his own coat.
Democrats come courting Trump
By Phil Gailey
Tampa Bay Times, November 19, 1987
Donald Trump is tired of seeing the United States being treated like Rodney Dangerfield, getting no respect and “being kicked around” by allies such as Japan and Saudi Arabia. He said these countries have become "the world's greatest money machines” because the United States has to pick up the tab for their defense…
Donald Trump is tired of seeing the United States being used as a “whipping post” by Iran, which he described as “a horrible, horrible country.” He suggested that the United States should attack Iran “and take over some of their oil.”
Donald Trump, whose personal fortune is estimated at $3-billion, said he is tired of hearing politicians say higher taxes are the answer to federal budget deficit. His solution is to tax “these countries that are ripping us off left and right” and use the money to pay off the deficit.
Stalking the Plaza
By William H. Meyers
New York Times Magazine, September 25, 1988
Donald Trump charges up a staircase, kicks open a fire door and greets the blinding summer sun. Surrounded by heavyset bodyguards wearing gold-plated “T's” in their lapels, he stands 18 stories above Fifth Avenue on the roof of the Plaza Hotel.
Trump is on a flying inspection tour of his latest acquisition, searching for ways to squeeze more profit out of the hotel. He spies a painters' workshop, and his eyes light up as he envisions the dusty rooms transformed into a set of deluxe duplexes: “Move a few walls, clean the skylights, install new elevators. What a freak-out!” There he stands in his blue pin-stripe suit and pink silk tie, the 42-year-old builder from Queens who became, in the space of a dozen years, the impresario of Manhattan real estate.
Nation to Trump: We Need You
Spy, January-February, 1988
One in 25 Americans wishes Donald Trump were running for president; not too many of those, we like to think, said that just so they could pull up chairs to hoot and hiss. Look at these impressive figures Trump can build on (and how he can build!):
7% of the 25-to-34-year-olds polled felt acutely the lack of a Trump candidacy;
in terms of level of education, the voters who most favored a Trump candidacy — with a 9% rating — were those whose minds remain uncluttered by any learning beyond junior high school;
10% of blacks polled were sorry he isn't a candidate; even in the South, fully 5% of those polled wished he were running.
These are the kinds of figures that foretell November landslides — especially when they're cited after the fact. And with Trump's equivalent of a campaign autobiography littering the country's book supermarkets, who can deny the probability of a growing snowball of support crisscrossing the nation? One last thing: this is one candidate who will not let you down. After all, we already have Donald Trump's personal guarantee that if he did run for president, he would win.
The Top 20 Most Important New Yorkers
By Liz Smith
New York, April 25, 1988
Trump has been described as the high-rolling entrepreneur of all time, half matinee idol, half riverboat gambler. He is young, energetic, egocentric, good-looking, successful, arrogant, vain, and rich. The have-nots envy but admire him; the brainy ones who criticize everything look down on him and hope to revel in what they consider his inevitable clash with fate. The elitists of business, power, and society observe him with caution and mild alarm. He is too big, too important, too potentially powerful for them to offend, yet he is forever shocking them by calling a spade a spade, using the M word, or the S word with slashes — $Moneys!
Jealousy and spite play another part in making Trump this city's biggest target. He'll go on being that bull's-eye for quite some time, because he hasn't “gotten it” yet — the “it” being a necessity for artful dodging, for pretending that one is charitable in the extreme, generous to a fault, and always developing one's gold-plated sense of “social consciousness,” forever yammering about “giving something back to the community.”
Flashy Symbol of an Acquisitive Age
By Otto Friedrich
Time, January 16, 1989
“I have an absolute strategy, but it's an innate strategy and not definable,” he says. “When you start studying yourself too deeply, you start seeing things that maybe you don't want to see. And if there's a rhyme and reason, people can figure you out, and once they can figure you out, you're in big trouble.”
One man who knows Trump well does see a rhyme and reason. Trump is a brilliant dealmaker with almost no sense of his own emotions or his own (identity, this man says. He is a kind of black hole in space, which cannot be filled no matter what Trump does. Looking toward the future, this associate foresees Trump building bigger and bigger projects in his attempts to fill the hole but finally ending, like Howard Hughes, a multibillionaire living all alone in one room.
His Many Detractors Are Selling Trump Short
By Jerry Schwartz
Associated Press, February 19, 1989
Donald Trump can buy hotels, he can buy football teams, he can buy casinos and airlines. But he can't buy respect.
Spy magazine calls him a “short-fingered vulgarian.” Cartoonist Berke Breathed takes Trump's brain and installs it in the skull of Bill the Cat, the foul feline of “Bloom County.” A Daily News columnist writes that when she needs cheering up, she watches “Donald Trump do something silly.”
The Stand Up New York comedy club devoted a night to ridiculing Trump. For two hours, comics drew laughter with readings from “Trump: The Art of the Deal” and took their own potshots — suggesting, for example, that he bought a Parisian Landmark and renamed it the #Arc de Trump.
The 43-year-old billionaire does not believe he deserves this tidal wave of derision, which rises along with his success and prominence.
Trump: ‘The People's Billionaire’
By Glenn Paskin
Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1989
By 8 each morning, Donald Trump is behind his Brazilian rosewood desk on the 26th floor of the bronze-coated jewel of his empire, Trump Tower, his 6-foot-2 frame decked out in his daily uniform: a navy blue $1,950 Brioni suit, $350 red-striped shirt and $95 tie, all from Napoleon, the Trump Tower clothier 23 floors below.
Up for four hours already, now trailed by a corps of five secretaries and protected by two armed security men posted outside the door, he navigates through dizzying whirlwind of work: advising brokers to hold at this or that price; screening party invitations hold at this or that price; screening party invitations (“37 since Monday,” he sighs); finalizing figures for some envisioned high-rise; reviewing artist renderings of his latest toys, the Eastern Shuttle fleet; chatting with George Bush about the national debt; counseling an ever-troubled Mike Tyson, firming up weekend plans with Don Johnson; arranging to lend a helicopter to Fergie...
BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!
Ad by Donald J. Trump
New York Times, Daily News. New York Post, Newsday, May 1, 1989
Many New York families — White, Black, Hispanic and Asian — have had to give up the pleasure of a leisurely stroll in the Park at dusk, the Saturday visit to the playground with their families, the bike ride at dawn, or just sitting on their stoops — given them up as hostages to a world ruled by the law of the streets, as roving bands of wild criminals roam our neighborhoods, dispensing their own vicious brand of twisted hatred on whomever they encounter. At what point did we cross the line from the fine and noble pursuit of genuine civil liberties to the reckless and dangerously permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh at her family's anguish? And why do they laugh? They laugh because they know that soon, very soon, they will be returned to the streets to rape and maim and kill once again — and yet face no great personal risk to themselves.
Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers.
They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.
Hate-Mongering Isn't ‘Honest Debate’
By Sydney H. Schanberg
Newsday, May 9, 1989
It used to be, in communities that considered themselves civilized, that when somebody scrawled hate messages on buildings or took out hate ads in the local newspapers, they either got arrested or ostracized. People would be offended, ashamed, outraged.
Not in New York. In New York — where the ruling class considers itself urbane, cosmopolitan and large-minded — hate peddlers are apparently good company. Donald Trump has proved that.
A week ago, on Monday, May 1, Trump took out full-page ads in New York City's newspapers calling upon all of us “to hate.” Oh yes, he was careful to say in the ads that the people he wanted us “to hate” were the “roving bands of wild criminals [who] roam our neighborhoods.” His ads were in response to the terrible group rape and beating of a young woman in Central Park on the night of April 19, and Trump was counting on the feelings of shock and even vengeance in the community to give his message a friendly reception. He also knew that all the young men accused of the crime were black or Hispanic.
The Proof That Trump Is a Self-Made Man
By Murray Kempton
Newsday, June 4, 1989
To boast of hating used to be an embarrassment for the worst of people. I knew the Birmingham police commissioner who jailed Fred Shuttlesworth again and again. He was always a mean man and now and then a vicious one, but he went to his grave denying that he had ever hated anyone. Time was when people who sent hate letters had the shame to keep themselves anonymous.
But Donald Trump dresses his hatred up as though it were a peacock's feathers. In any polity entitled to think itself civilized, persons with due regard for their breeding would rise up and leave the room politely but definitely whenever the Donald Trumps entered it. Instead, this perfectly matched pair of the vulgar is fawned upon wherever it condescends to lower the company. We are assured that God does not make trash, which thought disposes of the impression that Donald Trump is not altogether a self-made man.