While waiting for the grifter Donald Trump to be hooted off the campaign trail, I have ignored my own guilt, as a sports columnist, in his public survival.
In his home town, where he was known the best, he was always a joke, a poseur, a piker, a pisher, as we say in New York. And I contributed to this by using him as a punch line for something gaudy, something trivial, something absurd.
Trump pops up in many columns I wrote over nearly three decades.
Football: I first became aware of Trump in the mid-‘70’s when I met his brother, Freddy, who had gone to grade school with friends of mine. (The Trumps lived in a tony area half a mile from my busy street.) Freddy talked with great respect about his younger brother, the builder.
I met Trump when he purchased the Generals, a football team in a startup league. He held press conferences in his glitzy hotels – free advertising – and signed expensive players like Doug Flutie, but with Trump’s apparently short attention span, details were always vague.
Figure Skating: Through a mutual friend, I got invited to an exhibition in the Garden, where I met the very bright Ivana Trump. The Donald wore a camel’s hair coat, and always stayed on the periphery of social conversation.
Baseball: When George Steinbrenner seemed to have burned out, or gotten himself suspended, I would suggest he sell the Yankees to Trump. I assumed Trump could afford it; now it appears he could not. Later I realized George was twice as smart and had more compassion and social conscience than Trump.
Tennis: Trump had a box at Ashe Stadium, right above the media section. For yooge matches, he would materialize up front, leaning on the railing, like the captain of a ship, but I noticed that his head and eyes never moved. He didn’t watch the ball. I realized he was preening, advertising himself. Or possibly it was a cardboard cutout, one inch thick.
Boxing: I am an abolitionist toward boxing. Let’s start with that. A boxer, Stephan Johnson, died after a fight in the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. A few days later, Trump took my call and I reported his tone as shaken, but his rationale for boxing was this:
“'You have to understand that we do not sanction the fights. That is done by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Commission. All we are is the venue -- and fighting is popular. Every fight sells out. We have other things like gymnastics; they don't sell out. All I know is, boxing sells out.''
So there you have it. It was easy to feel he was a lightweight, who built gaudy buildings and postured. I was always making jokes about Trump trying to build Brasilia on the edge of Manhattan. Now he is the darling of many religious folk and flag-waving patriots.
Rachel Maddow said after the debate the other night that most people would be nervous if somebody with Trump’s facial twitches sat down next to them on an airplane. What did we in New York do wrong in not taking him more seriously? Mea culpa.
* * *
Here are some old columns in which Trump is a convenient target.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)