I guess I have to thank Donald Trump for my political awakenings twice in my life, 22 years apart. I tried to warn people but I suppose I didn’t speak loud enough.
I grew up in Jersey, halfway between New York City and Atlantic City. The newspapers that I read daily (sometimes 4 a day) and the news that I watched on tv were almost entirely from New York City. I got to read about John Gotti, Sammy “The Bull,” Big Paul Castalano, the Central Park Yuppie Killer and all the things that were big in the NY/NJ metropolitan area back in those days.
Back in the 80’s, he was everywhere in the news I watched and in the newspapers I read. Especially in the New York Post, which was (still is) a cross between legitimate news and gossip rag. The New York Post LOVED Donald Trump. He sold millions of copies for them, adorning its cover with almost predictable regularity. You couldn’t help but get caught up.
I will admit for the first time right here that I admired “The Don” for a minute. Back when I was still young enough to be impressed by that kind of thing and not yet aware of the long con game that was being perpetrated on us by trickle down economics.
That mild hero worship came to a screeching halt in 1989, when I took an impromptu trip late one night to Atlantic City. To Trump Taj Mahal.
I stood outside smoking a cigarette (my only vice at the time as I had stopped drinking and doing drugs a few months earlier which is a story for another time), looking up at this casino, sorta mesmerized by the lights. I was in awe at the fact that there was someone (pretty sure Hispanic) WAXING THE WALKWAY AND SIDEWALK in front of the place. All I could think was “Wow. That’s kinda cool.”
And then I turned around and my eyes adjusted to the darkness that was right across the street. As if I was standing on a stage looking to the dirt and chaos beyond the lights, backstage, at what the audience can’t see. The things they know are there but don’t like to think about because it ruins their illusion of the show.
Directly across the street from this blinding (albeit soon to be bankrupt) display of grandiosity, that was promised to bring about an economic boom to a seriously distressed city, was the evidence that the economic boom was not to be.
With the lights at my back, standing on a freshly washed sidewalk, I saw piles of GARBAGE. Tucked around and behind, clutching their meager possessions, were the sleeping homeless.
The reason I was in Atlantic City at 2 in the morning was because at 25, I had been sleeping in my truck, despite working double shifts for a year. I was there killing time between shifts.
At that moment, I realized that there would be no boom and that nothing was trickling down to the people who needed it most. This was a time when the political views of me and my longtime friends were beginning to diverge. This was a time when I realized that all the flash and promise was nothing but a show, lavishly produced and directed, but lacking substance.
Standing in front of Trump Taj Mahal, I had a political epiphany. And beginning with the 2016 presidential election, that moment in 1989 was brought front and center to my consciousness. I wondered what the show would be this time.
And what a show it is.