Like most Americans I’ve been mesmerized by the story of Donald J. Trump aka The Donald. Real estate developer, entertainer, university founder, shirt and tie maker, birther-mythologist, pussy- grabber, casino failure, bankruptcy expert, and now the 45th President of the United States.
It’s been quite a journey for DJT. At the moment it’s the best TV viewing since The Sopranos. I don’t want to miss an episode – the media coverage, tweets, rants, gaffes, alternative facts and walk-backs that dominate the news cycle. Since election night 2016, I haven’t been able to tear myself away from the TV, radio, print, and social networks.
First thing in the morning I’m outside gathering up the dailies (New York and Seattle Times). Next, I sit down with my coffee to read the papers and listen to CBS This Morning and Morning Joe for the latest tweets, insults, and surrogate apologies. At 9 a.m., in my home office, I put CNN, MSNBC, or Fox on to play in the background. In the car I’m tuned to Morning Edition, All Things Considered, or Sirius XM’s POTUS channel. At bedtime it’s Colbert followed by James Corden. I can’t help it; I’m obsessed with the unfolding drama.
It’s surprising, but super saturation hasn’t diminished my curiosity. There is plenty of fear and loathing to go around. The man we regarded as a joke, the one who seemed to be running for student body president, is now the most powerful person in the world. And yet, there is so much we don’t know about him – especially what’s in his tax filings.
We know he doesn’t smoke, drink, or sleep, doesn’t read but watches TV obsessively, tweets compulsively, loves money and beautiful women, despises criticism and craves the adoration of others, but how did he pull off his unexpected victory? Does he have “super powers”? If he wasn’t the President of the United States we might think of him as a cartoon character. The Riddler? The Joker? A new Marvel Comics villain?
Given that larger than life persona, doesn’t he deserve a better identifier? “Trump” sounds so low class, like Frump. You’d think he would have changed it himself. Trump – rhymes with Dump, Bump, and, yes, Plump. Not very dignified. Is this the way a larger than life President should be identified?
I think he needs a new ID. From now on he’s going to be DJT. I think he’ll be flattered. DJT, presidential shorthand, like FDR or JFK. Wouldn’t it be “tremendous” or “amazing” to be known that way? It would be “huge.” He’d be like JFK, the much admired 35th President; the war hero with the quick wit, with wealth, prestige, Hollywood beauties, and a Harvard education. He’d be DJT, the kid from Jamaica, Queens, who made it to the golden penthouse on Fifth Avenue. DJT, with his Slovenian-model princess and his celebrated degree from the Wharton School of Finance.
But wait… Wharton isn’t taking my calls. What’s this mean? Where are The Donald’s records? Now I get it… DJT didn’t really commence that illustrious college career at Wharton. In fact, he didn’t technically end it there either. You see, after two years at Fordham, you heard right… after two years at Fordham… DJT transferred to Penn (home to Wharton School of Finance).
It’s complicated, as they say. Yes, DJT transferred to Penn after two years at Fordham and while at Penn he took some classes at the Wharton School of Finance but his degree, in 1968, is not an MBA from Wharton. No… like so many things Trumpian, the degree is not the shiny object he wants you to see (Wharton MBA), but a rather plebeian undergraduate degree from Penn. As Lloyd Bentsen might say, DJT is no JFK.
Always on the lookout for a creative analogy, I’ve been hunting for a figure of comparable notoriety to measure DJT against, someone as iconic in his time as DJT is today. If not JFK, then who? As a media creation, an entertainer, self-promoter, and outsider with no government experience he doesn’t match up with any historical figure I can think of, although the sex-drenched, bribe-ridden, media compromised, cabinet level whore-mongering of Italy’s recently deposed Silvio Berlusconi does resonate. But, Silvio’s scandals are singularly Italian.
No, I’ve come to think of DJT as a uniquely American phenomenon, and, as the country’s future unfolds before us, it occurred to me that it was more likely I’d find his counterpart in fiction rather than politics. Thinking that way, it wasn’t difficult for me to see DJT as the real life version of the most famous flawed character in American fiction – Jay Gatsby – the title character of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. He’s a fictional entrepreneur, living large in a world of self-promoting opulence, an imposter of “tremendous” proportions who is ultimately destroyed in the center of the fantasy he created for himself. DJT is the 21st century’s Jay Gatsby
It sounds odd, but I believe he’d be flattered to learn he is being compared to Gatsby. Although it’s well known he doesn’t read, I’m sure he knows the film versions of the novel. To see himself as Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio would undoubtedly stroke his unquenchable ego and his self-created image as a figure of unimaginable wealth.
Though different in some ways, the similarities between Gatsby and DJT are astonishing. Gatsby, like DJT, was larger than life. Fitzgerald painted the portrait of a “successful,” enigmatic, and immensely rich Long Island entrepreneur who lived flamboyantly in a palace-like mansion, on a fortune of questionable origin.
DJT is also from Long Island, born in Jamaica, Queens, not far in distance but light years from the aristocratic, old money township of East Egg (Great Neck) and it’s lesser relative, the nouveau riche enclave, West Egg (Port Washington).
Both men – more surface than substance – are engaged in a struggle for acceptance, validation, and love in the only way they know – through the accumulation of vast wealth and the impressions and power it bestows. The shaky real estate empire, trophy wife, gold leaf, and period crown moldings of Trump Tower and Mar al Lago are today’s nouveau riche corollaries of the rolling terraces and baroque balconies at the Long Island estate where the mysterious Gatsby, in his impeccable white suit, presided over glitzy weekend parties designed to impress his neighbors and elevate his social standing.
The press is consumed with DJT but, as they say, every day there’s a shiny new object to distract us from his lack of substance just as the lawn parties at West Egg hid all eyes from the mystery that was Gatsby. In this post-truth, alternative-fact, universe, how can we tell fact from fiction? Gatsby’s goal was to capture the love of Daisy Buchannan, the Louisville, Kentucky princess he fell in love with before going off to war. DJT already has his gold-encrusted throne room and his Slovenian princess; now it’s America he wants for his trophy case.
So, where does all this lead? How does it end?
The Great Gatsby did not end well. Gatsby was murdered in a botched case of revenge and mistaken identity, assasinated by a blue collar husband who mistakenly thought Gatsby was having an affair with and responsible for the death of his wife. It wasn’t his illegal activities or questionable morality that brought him down. It was an unpredictable “black swan” event that unfolded at one of his glitzy parties.
The Great Gatsby is tragic love story thought by some to be the “Great American Novel,” and DJT, no matter what you think of him may also be another tragic story of epic proportions. We know the ending of Fitzgerald’s novel, but the end of the DJT story has yet to be written. I don’t know what will bring down DJT, but I believe it will happen because we are a country of laws and “we the people” will not allow the country and its values to be hijacked by an imposter who doesn’t know or respect those people or laws.
Will it be the FBI’s revelations about clandestine connections to Russia? Will it be the Democrats mobilizing the disparate factions that fear him? DJT tells us he loves surprises but he may not like the one that’s in store for him – maybe it will be Rosie O’Donnell in Steve Bannon drag? Wouldn’t that be a surprise?
I’m inclined to believe the end won’t involve any of the shiny objects we are looking at now. Like the surprise that brought down Gatsby, it’s likely to be a “black swan” that rises out of the “swamp” he created. Most likely it will be that kind of surprise – like George Wilson’s murder of Jay Gatsby.
“He had come to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did now know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the public rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, that that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning–
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
(Nick Carraway, the narrator, reflecting on Gatsby’s dream at the end of the novel)