New York's late, great U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was, deservedly, famous for many things. He was a civil servant who thought and wrote with deep - and not always welcome -- insight about race in America; he was an elected official who also remained an intellectual; he was a Harvard professor and an ambassador to India; and he had a notoriously quick wit. Perhaps his most quoted aphorism is his remark that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."
Which leads me to Donald Trump.
The Trump phenomenon has been around now for many years. If you want to intellectualize Trump, you might call him a living meme or even a trope. But that's perhaps giving him too much credit. As a friend of mine who grew up on Long Island once said about a mutual acquaintance -- a hard-charging yet highly likable salesman -- from the same community, there are "a thousand" people like him out here. Trump is undoubtedly an American success story -- but he's basically just another kid from Queens who aspired to make it in/to Manhattan. And he did just this -- which certainly deserves recognition and credit.
And when you make it in/to Manhattan, you sometimes believe that you can put your name on everything, everywhere: buildings (taller is better), airplanes, reality TV shows, wine, clothing, and cologne. You can even modify your name, add an article, and rebrand yourself as The Donald. So now Donald Trump wants to emblazon his name on The White House (which, by the way, brings with it an even larger airplane).
Republican leaders and presidential candidates are trying to figure out Trump and how best to contain him. The GOP needs to court and win Hispanic voters. Trump's outrageous and inaccurate broadsides against Mexicans do not help. Trump's cheap attack on Senator John McCain's record as a prisoner of war and genuine American hero finally prompted the GOP establishment, along with Hillary Clinton, to confront Trump directly. Like many wildfires, Trump will ultimately contain himself and burn out on his own. The novelty will wear off. Even Ross Perot had his famous Aunt Sally in the basement or the attic -- but at least he could cite facts and figures and make coherent arguments about U.S. fiscal policy.
After listening to Trump's incendiary, ill-informed, and unapologetic remarks over several weeks, I realized that I've seen this movie before: Donald Trump is the consummate New York City cab driver in French cuffs.
This observation is by no means intended to disparage the thousands of licensed, hardworking New York cabbies. But it is a fact that many of them are known for their unvarnished and at times overly facile views of the world. They are a culture all to themselves, especially those native New Yorkers who bring to their talk-radio mindset an unforgettable accent that tourists from here and abroad often relish as a welcome and quintessential part of their New York "experience."
The New York cabbie can be fun, funny, entertaining, helpful, educational, irritating, and outrageous. A 2012 book by Graham Hodges is titled Taxi! A Social History of the New York City Cab Driver and carries an Amazon blurb that refers to the New York cabbie's "unique place in American culture" and notes that the drivers can often "counsel, console, and confound."
I say all of this with affection, because I knew one cabbie -- now retired -- who, through pure accident and never by pre-arranged scheduling, ferried me on roughly 30 trips between LaGuardia Airport and midtown Manhattan. (I'm convinced that this is a "Guinness" world record.) He was a typical "dese, dems, and dose" native, who shared with me on these rides loving details about his wife, her good job with a major union, his children, his vacations, his political views, and his "prostrate" issues. These were wonderful and entertaining experiences, but that doesn't mean Joe should be president.
The Trump experience, which comes now at the beginning of the 2016 presidential-primary ride, is likely to play out like the typical New York City cab ride. It will be short, colorful, perhaps confounding, not too costly, and, at the end, possibly remembered as entertaining. But it wasn't the Big Apple's main attraction. We will all go back to wherever we came from and resume our normal lives and routines.
As the Frank Sinatra song reminds us, New York is all about making it. The Donald has made it to Manhattan and even to some of the Outer Boroughs, including Atlantic City (although it is reported that his entertainment and gambling companies have sought bankruptcy protection on four occasions -- more often than, say, Greece). Now he's taking his New York cabbie schtick on the road, across the country. The first time you experience a New York cabbie, the ride can be highly entertaining, but most people would never hail a New York cab to get to Washington, DC. There are other, cheaper, more sensible, and intelligent ways to get there.
Charles Kolb served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy from 1990-1992 in the George H. W. Bush White House. He was president of the French-American Foundation - United States from 2012-2014 and president of the Committee for Economic Development from 1997-2012.