Commentary

Still Foggy About Donald Trump? Read This

My most memorable near encounter with Donald Trump happened in the 1990s. I was attending a business meeting in a conference room of his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, when we were summoned to leave the building along with all the other hotel guests to assemble on the boardwalk.

At first, I thought it was a fire drill. Then I noticed a giant birthday cake surrounded by some of the casino’s staff. There was a thick fog rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean, and the scene had an eerie feel — then we were all asked to sing happy birthday to Donald Trump.

What made the scene really surrealistic is that Trump wasn’t actually there. He was en route to some bankruptcy court hearing.

I’m sharing this anecdote because it is the closest physical connection I have personally had to Trump, and aside from the authoritarian aspect of forcing business executives and hotel patrons to pay tribute to the man -- even when he wasn’t there -- the foggy ambiance of the experience nails Trump for me.

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It’s really hard to pin him down. Whether it is as a businessman, as a birthday celebrant, as a reality TV star, or as a presidential candidate. He is more about allusion than any fixed reality. He is, in fact, more of a brand than a product of any substance I have yet to see.

So when he began running for our highest office, my initial reaction was bemusement. I remember visiting my mother when the news of his candidacy broke and she said, “This is going to be a flash in the pan.” To which I replied: “Stay tuned. Trump is a great showman, and his campaign will build.”

For the next several months, I continued to be bemused, because as I told my mom, he is a great showman. He is the P.T. Barnum of our post-reality TV era.

But the real reason I was entertained was that I had spent much of my career covering presidential campaign seasons as a media reporter, and I had long ago grown bored and inured by the prefabricated nature of it.

So when Trump began to surface in a meaningful way, I saw it as an entertaining diversion. When he started resurrecting some of Reagan’s old campaign playbook -- the nostalgic appeal of making America great -- again! -- I thought, well, at least he’s got some good advisers on his team.

This could get interesting.

Then I started paying attention to what he was saying. I’m not sure when I shifted from his campaign being diversionary to genuinely alarming, but I think it’s time to shift gears and recognize this is no longer a joke.

I still find it hard to believe that Trump actually believes much of what he says, and the industry journalist inside me says it’s just part of the script for getting attention and building momentum. But there is some truth to the idea of the end justifying the means.

Especially when the means is just about being mean.

Being an authoritarian. Being what appears to be a hate-mongering neo-fascist. Normally, I don’t like to spew politics, but I believe Trump’s campaign has jumped the shark of campaign sloganeering and rhetoric. It has devolved into some morally repugnant rabble rousing that needs to stop.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about free speech, political opportunity and democratic processes. Right now, I’m just exercising mine -- for anyone who cares to hear it. I think it’s time we move past Donald Trump. He’s no joke. And, even if he is, I don’t want to find out what the punchline is.

15 comments about "Still Foggy About Donald Trump? Read This".
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  1. Robert McEvily from MediaPost, March 17, 2016 at 12:32 p.m.

    Did you get a piece of cake?

  2. David Reich from Reich Communications, Inc., March 17, 2016 at 12:59 p.m.

    Great piece, Joe.  Imagine the gall of him to evacuate the hotel for a birthday song.  I would have been furious if I were a paying guest.

    I agree with you... Trump is not joke, amusing as he may be.  He is dangerous and totally careless the way he flails about with inciting words.  If a riot does break out at the Republican convention, he should be charged with yelling "fire" in a theater. 

    Thanks, and regards.

  3. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, March 17, 2016 at 1:06 p.m.

    If the cake was like everything else labled Trump it must have been not very good.

  4. Ted Faraone from Faraone Communications, March 17, 2016 at 1:35 p.m.

    Agreed, Joe.  So far as I know, the last politician to foster a cult of personality in this country was Huey P. Long.  Franklin Roosevelt said the guy had the makings of an American Mussolini.  Frankly, his outlandish (and often unconstitutional) proposals are making America the laughing stock of the international community.  Let's hope that their fate is not to laugh now only to deal with the harrowning reality later.

  5. Jeanne Byington from J M Byington & Associates, Inc., March 17, 2016 at 1:59 p.m.

    Easy for me to claim now, but Trump never amused nor entertained me on his shows or in his new role as candidate. What alarms me is how he maintains and increases his fan base in spite of his disdain for them--or anyone. [I refer to his comment about shooting someone on 5th Avenue and his followers still wouldn't blink.] Giving the OK to interrupt guests at his hotel to celebrate his birthday was the first canary in the coalmine. How many dead birds will it take for millions to get what he's about?

  6. Ronald Kurtz from Mr., March 17, 2016 at 2:47 p.m.

    Trump is like a combination of P.T. Barnum and Houdini. He is the media's Frankenstein. The media gave him unwarranted exposure because he was good for ratings and the media failed to challenge his actions and pronouncements because they did not want to be cut off from access to him. In other words, the business interests of the media outweighed their role as a source of objective information for the public. 

  7. John Motavalli from Freelance, March 17, 2016 at 3:47 p.m.

    I can lay claim to this distinction. In 1988, I was listening to a radio talkshow, don't recall which station. The host was playing up the idea of Trump as President; there was a boomlet that year. I called, and harangued the host, saying it was ludicrous. "Since when did Trump EVER do anything for anyone but himself? I asked. I should add that I interviewed him once at Adweek, so I know the subject. Nothing has changed in almost 30 years. He is not more qualified than he was then, he has gone right along self-aggrandizing since 1988. But suddenly he's Presidential timber? Why?

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 17, 2016 at 4 p.m.

    Spoofing. It is called spoofing. And everyone who has, giving and will give him a pass is being spoofed. We will all pay for this.

  9. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, March 17, 2016 at 5:55 p.m.

    The reason we have a list of insane despots that we can compare Trump to is that they all uncovered enough equally insane supporters to put them into power, and often legally. If my recollection of modern history is accurate, none of those tyrants had anything approaching a majority of the total electorate, but just enough to squeeze by. 

    That being said, the people who truly scare me are those who may decide not to vote at all if "their" candidate isn't nominated to run against Trump. IMO, that sort of twisted decision is only slightly less insane than supporting Il Donald outright.

  10. Joanna Breen from Flying Leap Media, March 17, 2016 at 7:51 p.m.

    Great piece, Joe.  Imagine, America: just like comrades in North Korea, we will be required to publicly celebrate the dear leader's birthday.  

    I too appreciated the belly laugh Trump delivered just about every week last fall with his preposterous declarations. I let myself be soothed by the concensus among pundits that he wouldn't survive as a candidate once actual voting began. And along with every other sane American, news of Trump's victory in New Hampshire sent a chill down my spine. Dread, thy name is Kim Jong Donald.  This isn't funny anymore. 





  11. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, March 18, 2016 at 11:10 a.m.

    Trump is not saying anything much different now than he said in his 1988 interview with Oprah. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZpMJeynBeg

    It has just taken him a while to wait for a large segment of American voters to really dislike both parties of the government, enough to vote for a flamboyant outsider.

  12. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 18, 2016 at 11:26 p.m.

    Great piece, Joe. While we're opening up: I interviewed Trump over the phone for a piece I was doing about Ivana. I called his office and was told by his assistant that he was on the Trump plane and couldn't be reached. Two minutes later, my phone rang. It was Donald Trump. I told him I was writing about Ivana's new QVC Jewelry line. He said, "well, first of all, I taught her everything she knows." This must have been around 1994, and I thought he was joking, so I laughed. He was not. He went on for another 20 minutes of so, explaining how she would have been nothing without him. You are right-- nothing has changed, except that his pathological needs are being fed by the crowds. 

  13. Don Seaman from Ruby Red Advertising, March 21, 2016 at 12:21 p.m.

    Joe -

    Reading your take on media always gets my mind going and makes me a wee bit smarter about the industry. But it's when you interject on politics on the Red, White, and Blog, that's when your good work really influences the Greater Good.

    Fantastic piece. Like many others, I have serious reservations about our electing a Brand in Chief with clear sociopathic and megalomaniacal tendencies. The repurcussions of America gladly handing over the reins - as well as the nuclear football - over to such a self-promoting, LCD-placating bully is truly frightening. And the threat is all too real.

    But unlike the New Jersey Generals, the impact made by the real US Generals under his command would last far longer, and wouldn't just be a blip on his Wikipedia page, along with his laundry list of other business failures.

    Not that those are relevant anymore, now that there's that wall to build.

  14. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 21, 2016 at 4:22 p.m.

    I shared an elevator ride with Donald about 20 years ago in Manhattan. He was accompanied and surrounded by about five very young men in suits who said nothing. Donald also wore a suit and his trademark white shirt and he, too, remained quiet. As I recall, Donald's hair seemed more real than it now appears on TV ---but maybe, that was because he was a lot younger, or, perhaps, it was the lighting. I do recall noting that his tie didn't really go well with the white shirt but then again, I stopped wearing ties after leaving the agency business so what do I know about ties.

  15. Don Seaman from Ruby Red Advertising, March 21, 2016 at 5:15 p.m.

    Aren't all those "Trump Brand" ties in the discount rack now, Ed? Or have they found a resurgence with the "angry disenfranchised voter who will wear whatever Donald Trump tells them to to make America great again" mob/constituency?

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