By Sydney H. Schanberg
First published in Newsday, September 11, 1987
Every time you look up, there he is — the world’s most successful public relations man. He’s in Moscow trying to talk the Communists into luxury-hotel capitalism. He has become the gambling king of the East Coast and is now reaching for a casino in Australia. He says he is John Cardinal O’Connor’s adviser on real estate, and according to one published account, gave the cardinal as a character reference on his application for a Nevada gaming license. He has issued a kind of press-release foreign policy, and a Republican operative in New Hampshire is trying to draft him for presidency.
That’s not even the quarter of it. He recently bought his own private Boeing 727 with two bedrooms and a sauna, after which he commissioned the world’s longest limousine. He continually makes big rolls on the stock market, manipulating certain prices higher, at which point he sells for impressive profits. For all his wealth, he manages to get big tax abatements on his luxury apartment projects in New York City. He feuds with the mayor and calls him a moron and worse. His autobiography, “Trump by Trump,” is due out this winter. And there’s got to be a sequel, because he’s only 41 years old.
The part I like best about Donald Trump is his deep and abiding concern for the homeless and the poor. He never misses an opportunity to tell us — in print, on radio and on television — how every upset he is about the working-class people who can’t afford decent apartments at the going rates and about those who end up completely shelterless, living on the streets. It’s terrible, he says, as he dedicates his latest condominium tower for the moneyed, with his name in giant letters on it.
And even last week, when he purchased full page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe calling for more “backbone” in America’s foreign policy, he took care to include an expression of his pain over the plight of the troubled among us. He said we ought to stop carrying wealthy nations like Japan and Saudi Arabia on our backs and instead make them pay us for defending them militarily in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. Then we could take these billions of dollars and use them to “help our farmers, our sick, our homeless.”
It cane as no surprise that Mayor Edward Koch, another public-relations virtuoso and thus a rival of Donald Trump’s for the world title, sneered at the foreign-policy ads and said that as a politics, Trump was “a flop” and “a schoolboy.” Trump responded by calling Koch a “jerk” and “a loser who will go down as the worst mayor in the history of the city.”
They’ve gone through this routine before, so it’s quite polished by now. In their last go-around, which had something to do with Trump’s grab for big tax abatements, the mayor called him “Piggy, Piggy, Piggy” and Trump purred back with “moron.” It’s not always easy to understand their splitting matches, given that they’re so much alike in their religion: Mirror Worship. Not only that, but Koch is just as verbal a champion of the downtrodden as is Trump — so that’s something else they have in common.
Nonetheless, yesterday brought a new chapter in the sandbox war. Trump, smarting over Koch’s barbs about his international views, volunteered some insults about Koch’s plans to visit Nicaragua as head of a fact-finding group. “How can our idiot mayor go to Nicaragua,” Trump asked, “when he can’t even run New York City? The man is totally incompetent…” and more of the same.
The only thing Trump left out this time (he must have been so overwrought he forgot) was a sentence about poor people.
After he got through reading his anti-Koch remarks to a New York Newsday reporter, he said, “I know you guys like this kind of stuff.” He’s right. That’s what makes him the master of public relations that he is.
He can deny all he wants any designs on the White House, but Trump has the kind of instincts that are perfect for the age we live in — the age of stage smoke and magic mirrors and imagery. He looks out and sees public-relations mayors and public-relations senators and a public-relations president. In short, he sees the kind of men we admire and elect these days and he naturally asks: Why not me?
For example, he offered us a couple of years ago his belief that he could do a better job at negotiating arms control with the Soviet Union than “the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past.” Blowing high-grade smoke, he added: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway.”
When Trump bought Resorts International’s casino and extensive properties in Atlantic City earlier this year, he said he felt a sense of social responsibility to the slum-ridden New Jersey casino city and was therefore going to build housing there for families with small pocketbooks. “With the vast land holdings we now have, we want to create some moderate and low-income housing on a private basis,” Trump said. “So far, nobody has been able to do it, but we have an opportunity now and we are making a commitment to do it.”
That was on March 19. On July 23, he amended his pledge. He said that Resorts had big financial pressures and “must straighten out its affairs” first. This meant, he said, that until he completes the costly Taj Mahal — a new casino that he has under construction, which will be the world’s largest — the low-income housing will have to wait.
The March commitment got substantial news coverage; the July pullback was hardly noticed.
In an age where smoke is everything, Donald Trump can blow it with the best of them.