Wrong About Trump, Twice
Two pieces, from 2007 and 2011, in which I do not predict the future....
[I am wrong a lot, but especially about Donald Trump. Here are two pieces, the first from the Los Angeles Times, which I wrote a week or so after Trump purchased a star on Hollywood Boulevard and the second after his brief feint at running for president in 2011.]
A STAR ON HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
DONALD TRUMP, who as far as I know is a lovely man and a gentle soul, is getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. I’m not sure exactly where — maybe in front of the Frolic Room? Gracing the Nails by Yuki? Marking the entrance to a “Free Personality Test”? But one thing is certain: He paid top dollar for it, wherever it is.
Trump does not do things halfway. I’m not exactly sure how these things are negotiated, but it’s fair to assume that Trump did not hesitate to lay out for the most luxurious, most exclusive star on the Boulevard in the best location — is there a better, more tenacious negotiator alive? Not for him the shabby, scuffed five points of a Mae Busch or a Cantinflas. Jamie Farr and Stu Erwin, say, may be the type to shrug and mumble, “In front of an adult novelty shop? Sure. Whatever. No biggie.” But the name Trump is synonymous with a certain style and pizazz.
I can hear him saying, as the deal points were being hammered out, “Do not approach me or the Trump Organization with any location less than 1,000% superb.” And you know what? I’ll bet they didn’t. With Trump’s purchase of a star of his own, he has taken it to, in his words, a whole ‘nother level.
Stars on Hollywood Boulevard are bought. You knew that, right? Oh, maybe a few years ago, back when Dorothy Kirsten and Otto Kruger were touched by the grace of The Walk, it was a strictly “Let’s honor so-and-so for their contribution to blah-blah-blah.” But these days, with the pavement cluttered and choked with stars for, among others, Heinie Conklin, Iron Eyes Cody, Godzilla and Rick Dees, it’s become a “how much you got?” type deal.
Luckily, the answer to that question is “lots.” And luckier still, Trump’s expenditure coincides with the sixth season of his hit TV show, “The Apprentice,” which just happens to be based in Los Angeles this time. Though the show is not quite the ratings juggernaut of a few years ago, it is still popular enough to merit his place on Hollywood Boulevard, among your Sigmund Lubins and your KC and the Sunshine Bands.
What Trump understands, of course, is real estate. And in real estate, the rule is, location, location, location. (For me, the rule is, “Do I qualify for the interest-only 40-year balloon?” But that’s what makes Trump Trump and me me.) And his new, permanent location, nestled in concrete, drenched in the glamour of Hollywood Boulevard somewhere between La Brea and Gower, keeping company with Helen Traubel, Mark and Brian and Creighton Hale, is a thing beyond real estate, beyond reality television, beyond the concept of luxurious hotel-style apartment living itself. All for $15,000, I think, to the Hollywood Historic Trust, and a promise to show up for the ceremony.
Where Trump walks, others follow. He won’t be the only canny operator to recognize the bottom-line benefits of owning a square of the Walk of Fame. Trump isn’t a man — he’s a symbol, he’s an icon, he’s a brand when you get right down to it. That’s what he’s selling, on his television shows, in his magnificent real estate properties, in his dynamic appearances at the Learning Annex.
The Trump brand embodies a glittery, golden world of ultra-premium class in the way that — just to pick a name out of the air — Quizno’s represents delicious toasted sandwiches. Or the way Jiffy Lube projects the effortless, fast-oil-change lifestyle. Is Quizno’s a “star” in the way that Flora Finch or Bill Burrud are? It depends on how hungry you are. So why not a star for Quizno’s, Jiffy Lube, Pepsi Light and Cool Ranch Doritos? Why should the Walk of Fame be restricted to Victor Schertzinger and Licia Albanese? Why Sessue Hayakawa but not Accenture?
Even now, one of Trump’s Walk of Fame neighbors is the Los Angeles Times, which suggests that for all the belt-tightening and staff layoffs, Tribune Co. has its priorities firmly in place. It’s odd to think of a newspaper as being a “star,” but I guess The Times is a star, in a “Sunset Boulevard"-ish kind of way. Corporate higher-ups were clearly aware, when processing their Walk of Fame invoice, that a presence on the boulevard is a priceless public-relations gem. Look what it did for Carleton Young.
When he receives his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Trump will no doubt look up and down the sparkling Boulevard with satisfaction. He, like Agnes Ayers, Wendell Niles and Ryan Seacrest, has made it. But he also will be bringing some pixie dust of his own to the famed Boulevard. He will be touching it with the Trump brand. And he will be opening up another profit center for the Hollywood Historic Trust.
And also: Rosie O’Donnell doesn’t have one yet.
Some celebrities have side businesses, like restaurants or cosmetic lines. Some appear in Japanese commercials, some on the Home Shopping network. But no celebrity is more efficient and effective as monetizing his or her name than the man who put the sell in celebrity, Donald J. Trump.
Trump has it all: a television show, his own chocolates, helicopters, buildings, bottled water, resorts, a clothing line, a home furnishings collection, hotels, casinos, and, oddly, his own brand of tea. (You don't think of Trump as a tea drinker, do you?)
Donald J. Trump is an unembarrassable self-love machine. A relentless name stamper. A roaring glutton for credit and praise. In other words, Donald J. Trump possesses, along with his resorts and his chocolates, everything it takes to be President of the United States.
Whatever you can say about Donald J. Trump—he's a malignant narcissist; he's a serial fantasist; he's a bad credit risk; he's a shameless self-promoter—you can also say about almost every single member of the United States Senate. What is the Senate, after all, but a 100-member collection of Trumpy egos, Trumpy bluster, and Trumpy hairdos? And whatever you can say about Donald J. Trump—he's childishly needful of attention; he's hilariously ignorant of world affairs; he's awfully free-spending when it's someone else's money—you can also say about most of the men who have served as President of the United States.
What none of those mini-Trumps had, though, is the maxi-Trump's instinct for public attention. Trump is a practitioner of the Me Everywhere school of marketing—the goal of which is to be always in the spotlight, always in the news, and to use that attention as leverage in his Trump-name licensing deals. Lending his name to a resort development fetches a higher price if his television show is popular (it is), and his television show's popularity helps plump up book sales, which in turn gets him media attention which drives up his presidential buzz, which makes his show more popular and his name more valuable, which sells (presumably) more Trump Vegas condos and boxes of Trump tea.
In this perfectly efficient system, no amount of attention or notoriety is ever really harmful—not the past financial trouble, not the Dairy Queen twist of hair of his head. Nothing is ever shameful or embarrassing. Every shred of media attention gets used to drive a higher price for some piece of the Trump Universe. On good days, I guess, it helps him make better deals with creditors and shareholders. On less good days, it probably just moves some chocolate. Either way, Trump is making money.
The sophisticated crowd may be appalled at his grasping tackiness, but Trump knows what they don't—"tacky" is a word that no longer has any meaning in America in 2011. In fact, "tacky" may never have meant anything—America, after all, was built partly by blowhards and foghorns like Donald J. Trump. What is unspeakably low-rent on Tuesday—the Real Housewives, tattoos, the word "anyways"—becomes acceptably normal by Thursday. The folks at NPR and the New Yorker don't know that. Trump does.
We have no way of knowing if he's really running for president or just trying to sell some home furnishings. And I'd submit that he doesn't know, either, for sure. It may make financial sense, down the line, to actually make a run for it and spend some time monetizing the Oval Office. On the other hand, it's a time consuming and inefficient use of the Trump name, which goes so effortlessly on buildings and men's suits and gold bar-shaped chocolates.
They come in three flavors, by the way. Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, and my favorite, Deluxe Nut.
Deluxe Nut. Which I think might make a wonderful Secret Service code name, should it come to that.
You called it, he did it! Biggest brand on the planet, in a way...
Now that I’m older and need to get more exercise on a regular basis, I walk more. Therefore, I’ve started to listen to more podcasts on the walks. To hear from both sides, I listen to both conservative and progressive podcasts (with the latter consisting of Rachel Maddow, Hacks on Tap, Pod Save America, etc.).
For the last few months, the progressive podcasts have focussed on the terribleness of Donald Trump almost exclusively. Every podcast reviews just how he personified evil incarnate. I don’t understand why this is happening. Republicans didn’t like Obama, but I don’t remember Ben Shapiro or the Ruthless boys whining endlessly about Obama’s mistakes after Trump became president.
What is so magical about Trump to Democrats? Why are they still banging the drum about him well after he’s out of office?