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How a bad New Yorker assignment in 1996 turned into deep background reading for us all


Trump And Me

By Mark Singer

Foreword by David Remnick

Tim Duggan Books

108 pages, $16

By Michael D. Langan

“Mark, you are a total loser! And your book (and writings) sucks!”

– Donald Trump to Mark Singer

David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker magazine, and Mark Singer, a writer who’s been with that magazine since 1974, have just pulled off a wonderfully readable and profitable joke on Donald Trump.

They’re charging 16 bucks for people to read a revisited portrait of Trump that was printed as one of many articles in one issue of the same weekly magazine that could be purchased for a buck on a trial readership in 1996.

Trump would love such a financial deal for a revised portrait, if it weren’t about him. Remnick and Singer have skewered and basted the Republican presidential candidate with his own words.

Some background: As a prospective reader, you could try the New Yorker magazine in 1996 for a dollar a week. That was the year Mark Singer wrote this portrait of Trump at the request of his editor, Tina Brown, a tough taskmaster.

Singer didn’t want to write it.

He explains that in the fall of that year he had just spent four years writing a book that should have taken a year and a half, and was not available as a result to do many articles for the magazine. Brown had a special sense of what Singer owed her. He writes, “So our understanding is that in Tina’s office, in her desk, there is a special drawer. In that drawer is a jar. In that jar are my testicles.”

Basically Brown called Singer on the phone and conscripted him: “Trump! Donald Trump! I’ve just had breakfast with him at the Plaza. You’re going to write a profile of him. You’re absolutely going to love him. He’s totally full of (it). You’ll love him! I’ve told him he’ll love you. You’re doing it!”

Never one to misunderstand an imperative where his salary is involved, Singer writes, “Which indicates that I am doing it. This takes several months. I go places with Trump, his ways of doing business, the nuts and bolts, the smoke and mirrors. Early on, we reach our own working understanding: I tacitly accede to his assumption that I am his tool.”

“Trump And Me” begins with some up-to-date scene-setting: “Trump entered the presidential race – in a press conference attended by paid actors, in which he slandered Mexican immigrants – and has become the unrestrained id at the center of one of the most bizarre and alarming elections in American history.”

Not to put too fine a point upon it, Remnick refers in his Foreword to Trump as a “man of rampaging ego … and a neediness greater than that of an infant … demeaning half the human race on ‘The Howard Stern Show,’ and who later went on the radio to refer to his former wife this way, “Nice (colloquial word for breasts), no brains.”

Remnick explains that Trump’s vulgarity has been unstoppable and without limit for the last 20 years. He quotes the Republican candidate for president, Trump, as saying about the press earlier, “It doesn’t really matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of …”

In the end, Singer explains, he found himself fascinated by this man “who had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul … and the transfixing of an electorate with the ultimate feat of performance art – a mass political movement only loosely tethered to reality.”

Needless to say, this is not most people’s ultimate luxury. That it can be achieved at all is testament to the decline in rationality of the American public. They have accepted the bread and circus of insult as a substitute for prosperity and dignity.

Americans haven’t come by this decline precipitously. It’s taken years of loss: jobs, families and one’s personal dignity to show up in the lined faces of Americans. Pity; because Trump, “the Trumpster” as he calls himself, is not really there for America to possess even if it wished. Why? Because, in Singer’s portrait, there’s no there there.

As Singer writes, for Trump, “he is foremost a performance artist. Appearance is never not, at some level, artifice.”

Anything else of interest in “Trump And Me”?

• A few Trump physical and character habits: Trump drinks a gallon of Diet Coke a day, simulates intimacy, flies the flag, never budges from the premise that the universe revolves around him, and, above all, stays in character.

• About Trump’s honesty: Alair Townsend, a former deputy mayor in the Koch mayoral administration, once quipped, “I wouldn’t believe Donald Trump if his tongue were notarized.”

• The “comeback” Trump, according to Singer, is the same Trump of the ’80s. He has not changed. He’s “the hyperbole addict, the narcissist, the perpetual 17-year-old, who lives in the zero-sum world of winners and “total losers” and “complete scumbags,” etc.

• Here is the way Trump appears in his presidential campaign: “In the end, there was only Trump, in the flesh, as it were, a bloated bloviator in a navy suit and bright primary-colored necktie, with a laboriously tended pumpkin-pink coif that grew nowhere in nature.” All was artifice. … Each whistle-stop growing larger with “bladder-testing stamina.”

• What Trump says to crowds: Always a stump speech of rambling self-aggrandizement and tough-talk sound bites: bigness, greatness, getting screwed, getting even, China, Mexico, the system’s rigged, losing, winning, head-spinning, an endless infomercial about putative riches and fantastic fabulousness – flowing in intermittently filtered free association.

• Pity his Republican pretenders to the nomination, whom Singer refers to as a “woefully ineffectual bunch, who were reduced to alternating incredulity and strangulated dudgeon.”

• The press enabled Trump, and he played them like suckers at a sideshow, Singer says. If you had some shame you would have looked away, Singer says. Given his own experiences about Trump, he did not.

In the end, Singer asks himself in a reprise of the earlier article if Trump himself believes any of his rants. Short answer: No.

Singer’s farmlike analysis: Trump’s “truthful hyperbole, a la Trump, is not mere oxymoron. Politely, it’s total horse … leveraged into an artfully fabricated, hermetic, alternate reality.”

Trump certainly wouldn’t agree with this perception.

Trump puts his honesty forward this way: “Maybe truthful to a fault” is how he humbly describes himself to a crowd in North Carolina.

A final word from Singer from “Trump and Me.” The author writes, “It is deeply unfair to say that Trump lies all the time. I would never suggest that he lies when he’s asleep.”

Beyond this book there are, of course, criticisms to make of Hillary Clinton.

So, ladies and gentlemen, do your homework and pick your candidate for president.

Michael D. Langan is a longtime reviewer of books for The Buffalo News.

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