I just finished plowing through Maggie Haberman’s 500-page book, Confidence Man, The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, which in parts reads almost like a daily diary – it’s really that detailed. Because I lived in New York City from 1981 through 1993, the years when Trump put his name on buildings all over Manhattan, most of what Haberman recounts is hardly new or news to me.
There was one detail which I found interesting, namely, a brief comment taken from a New York Times story in 2020 written by another reporter about how Giuliani ranted about losing the 1992 mayoralty election to David Dinkins be “they stole it from me.”
In this instance the ‘they’ were Black operatives who produced phony votes from Black neighborhoods in The Bronx and Queens.
So, Rudy was already floating the election ‘fraud’ deal in 1992?
Haberman puts this comment in the context of Trump seeing the world through what she describes as tribal conflict, with the word ‘tribal’ really meaning ‘race.’ What she doesn’t seem to understand, or maybe she would rather be polite, is that what this world view represents is simply the mental meanderings of a dumb schmuck.
In 1987, or maybe it was 1988, I bought a season’s seat for every Friday night home game played by the Yankees in their home park. At the time, I lived on the Upper East Side, so on certain Fridays I would leave my apartment around 6 PM, walk up Madison Avenue, walk across the 155th Street Bridge and get to the stadium in plenty of time for the game.
My seat was 10 or 11 rows up in the 3rd deck right behind home plate. A really great view of the ballpark. It was also an aisle seat. The three seats to my right were occupied by three guys who were maintenance workers for one of the big Wall Street firms downtown and lived in the same neighborhood where Trump had been born and raised in Queens.
They were nice guys, not educated and not terribly bright, but decent, hardworking men who really enjoyed the fact that they earned enough money to pay for their Yankee Stadium seats, along with a reserved parking space in the stadium’s garage.
These guys, White of course, were also obsessed about race. Steinbrenner had signed Dave Winfield to a ten-year, no-cut contract in 1980, and almost immediately decided that Winfield was getting overpaid. The fact that after 1985, the best the Yanks could do were 4th-place finishes for the remainder of the 1980’s only made things worse.
Jamaica Estates, the neighborhood where Trump was raised, and where my three Yankee Stadium buddies lived, may be the only neighborhood in the entire United States where the word ‘estates’ doesn’t mean a trailer park. The neighborhood isn’t all that fancy but when you’re inside it, you get the feeling that it’s a neighborhood apart.
The city’s ‘out there’ and you’re ‘in here.’ In New York City, phrases like ‘out there’ and ‘in here’ are code words for race.
The guys sitting with me at The Stadium talked about racial things all game long. They didn’t talk about race in a mean or nasty way, I never heard any of them use the n-word. But when Winfield came up to bat something in some way racial was said about him. Ditto when other Black players came up to the plate.
Were these guys racists? In a benign sort of way. They didn’t hate or dislike Blacks in any kind of active way. But they were aware of racial differences and probably felt less secure if Blacks were around.
Trump was different. During the 2016 campaign, he made a stop in the middle of nowhere in California and told a sparse crowd that he was being unfairly accused of being a racist when in fact, he had no issue with Blacks at all.
To prove that he was just as happy dealing with Blacks as with Whites, Trump looked around the audience for a Black guy who had come up to him at the beginning of the event and yelled out “Where’s my African-American?”
The remark drew some laughs from the crowd, so Trump repeated it several more times. To Blacks, this comment told them that Trump was Klan. And when the allegedly demented Joe Biden said during the 2020 campaign that “you ain’t Black if you vote for Trump,” he knew what he was talking about and Black Americans knew it too.
Most of the voters who pulled the GOP lever in 2016 and again in 2020 didn’t do it to reward Trump for being a hard-core racist who never gave a thought to hiding that attitude in either campaign.
But more than anything, it was this ugly racism that set Trump apart from every other national politician since George Wallace took a bullet during the 1972 Presidential campaign.
It may be true, as Maggie Haberman says, that Trump knows how to use media to “reorient an entire country to react to his moods and emotions.” But the bigger truth, which she treads lightly over throughout the book, is how a man raised in a lily-White social environment could continue to exercise the behavioral traits engendered by such an environment and still serve as President of the entire United States.