Perry Brass: The Manly Pursuit of Desire: Trump’s America and The Man Who Would Be King

Cover of <strong>Donald Trump, The Man Who Would Be King</strong>, by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince.
Cover of Donald Trump, The Man Who Would Be King, by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince.

“He’s nothing but a big fat piece of shit,” Ivana Trump was quoted in Donald Trump, The Man Who Would Be King, Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince’s hefty account of Trump’s rise from spoiled, possibly attention-deficit-riddled rich boy to presidential candidate, that was published as the election was looming like King Kong approaching the Empire State Building.

She was not talking about the man who would soon-to-be her ex-, but Stephen Hyde, the man Donald had chosen to take Ivana’s place as the manager of Trump’s Atlantic City white elephant, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Hyde had come from the polished world of corporate hotel management, and was soon out of his depth with Donald J. Trump whose business and personal philosophy has been witnessed and described as “Love ‘em. Screw ‘em. Leave ‘em.”

This is actually a fascinating, well-written, compulsively readable book from the Blood Moon Productions team that usually focuses on gossip turned reality-TV about faded Hollywood celebrities. Basically, what comes from reading through its 766 pages is that if you are looking for some deeper message about Donald Trump, as in What is he really like? there’s none. The man is all appetite and ego with extremely little below that, which is probably the reason why he has been as successful as he is, as unbothered by the truth, and recognized as a true master of the Art of the Lie. (In Trumpland, truth is something you use sparingly like cayenne pepper.) Also, that he’s gotten where he has using that most alluring of all fashion accessories: Other People’s Money.

Deals, illusions, and lies are blood-deep in the Trump Line, going back to Frederick Trump who immigrated from Germany (not Sweden as the Trumps tried to assert during World War One and Two) in 1886 and who made much of his money off prostitution. (Frederick ran a series of successful restaurants in Seattle, WA, that catered to miners on their way up to the Alaskan gold fields; the restaurants all had upstairs rooms rented out by the hour to men charmed by the “hostesses” Frederick hired for his establishments.)

Fred Trump, Frederick’s son and Donald’s father, became the King of Queens after World War Two when this bedroom borough of New York went from being farmland to Trump City, all on the G.I. Bill’s dollar. Almost every nickel Fred Trump made originated as U.S. Government money: for someone who wants to shrink our “bloated” federal budget and “drain the swamp of the federal government,” his son has conveniently forgotten that his sizable head start in life came from the American taxpayer.

Donald himself started out as both a bullying hellion and a workaholic: two traits his father exhibited. As one of five kids, Donald was closest to Fred who basically pulverized the rest of his brood into submission, to such an extent that his more sensitive eldest son Fred, Jr. (Freddy) would die at age 42 of a heart attack brought on by alcoholism. Fred Senior decided that the sins of the father (counting himself out) would be visited upon the son: he disinherited Freddy’s own very sweet natured son, Frederick Trump III, although Donald, fearing bad publicity, made sure that Fred III’s own family did not go hungry.

Realizing that Donald’s temper needed tempering, Fred sent him up the Hudson to the New York Military Academy, known for its brutal hazing and bullying—but no rigorous academics—and where Donald, tall, athletic, and delighted that his own swaggering would now be not only accepted but celebrated, truly blossomed. He became one of the most popular kids in a school that would eventually disappear in 2015 under a mountain of debt. When Donald was asked to come to its rescue, he shrugged. The school had no future he said: he was done with it.

After NYMA, Donald went to Fordham—the only school that would let him in—then Wharton, the famous business school of the U. of Pennsylvania which did not offer him a degree. But truth was, he wasn’t interested in one: Trump’s feeling about academia and academics is simple. If you start out in life with all the right ingredients—pedigree (called wealthy parents), rapaciousness and nothing resembling a conscience, you will succeed. Trump is famous for admiring people who are unlettered, function poorly educationally, and are tobacco-spit “na’trul.”

He feels they are the only honest people left in the US, and are at least gullible enough to believe in him. This book is littered with examples of people who were willing to swallow Trump’s teaspoon of hope along with his bucketful of exaggeration, lies, and bullshit, and despite set backs (including four filings for bankruptcy) Donald J. gets away with it every time.

This brings me back to that basic question America has been asking since November 8. How did it happen? How did Trump end up president-elect and leader of the Free World?

Awful enough, too many people have understood why. They’ve been saying it—all you have to do is read that mouth piece of the “elite,” The New York Times, or the New Yorker, or The Economist, to figure it out.

But, here’s my take—and believe me, it’s not mine alone.

First, we now have 536 billionaires in the US. This is the highest number in the world; the next highest is in China, 251, then England, 120, where a large number of Russians have settled. So we have this huge concentration of wealth, often based on technology and the extreme manipulation of data and resources (another word for the stock market) in the hands of a small number of people. This is the greatest concentration in the history of the US. It makes the Gilded Age look democratic.

From this concentration of bucks, folks—like Donald Trump’s army—still expect they are going to get some crumbs. Sorry. There is no such thing as a trickle-down economy. It’s a complete lie, or as David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s economic advisor, called it: “Voodoo economics.”

However, no matter, the Big Banks love Big Money.

Banking is now a game of handling huge amounts of wealth, and having it come in neat packages from the super rich is useful. Since America has almost no government safety net at all—as witnessed by our number of homeless, uninsured, or no-retirement-income people—making money from money is vital. Money cannot sleep. It’s got to work hard all the time because without it, you’re out in the cold. It has to keep being re-invested. Americans are also now addicted to technological change, and that requires huge amounts of capital—back again to the billionaires.

The road to Donald Trump was paved beautifully by Ronald Reagan and his followers. Their acolytes and inheritors are now found in places like Breitbart News whose alumnus Steve Bannon has become Trump’s chief of staff. Reagan’s feeling was that appearances are everything, any form of independent intellect is suspect, and “It’s morning now in America,” as long as you don’t see any starving farmers.

We are now living with the results of about 30 years of an aggressive corporate feudalism that uses a form of narcissistic consumerist capitalism to keep going. In other words, the economy has to keep expanding and moving, because what’s under it—a crumbling infrastructure, the barely functioning transportation, education and health systems—is close to nothing. The only system that truly functions is inherited wealth, courted by FIRE (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) something that people like Trump, who was once schooled by Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy’s own personal lawyer, understands perfectly.

Public schools in the U.S. are barely working. Most kids who graduate at a public high school are reading at what would have been in the year of my high school graduation, 1964, a fifth grade level. Instead we have a constant public culture of “self esteem” which means that any attempt to introduce educational rigor in the US will be labeled as “elitist.” Without this rigor actually thinking for yourself becomes difficult. Instead what kids do is mirror “pop” culture which in itself reaffirms narcissism—the idea that you are at the center of everything and other people “don’t count”—and its evil flip side, bullying.

The only relief from this comes from religion, which now takes on a magnitude that I, growing up in the Deep South in the 1950s and early 1960s, never imagined. A larger number of people in the US currently disbelieve in the theory of evolution than when I was in high school. Religion has become the only identity most people have: jobs disappear overnight—even those of professionals like doctors, college profs, etc. People move constantly for work, and identities that come from parenthood and family: poof. Gone. Religion now offers the only sanctuary, and even intimacy with yourself and others.

A master huckster and salesman like Donald Trump is superb at using it. The idea that Christian fundamentalists would embrace a thrice-married fornicator who’s made millions off gambling and, OK, prostitution—well, welcome to the Brave New World.

What people wanted in this election was not piety nor morals—none of Trump’s followers gave a crap whose pussy he grabbed—but fast solutions. Their money, their future, their jobs are disappearing. And our Donald, The Man Who Would Be King, told them exactly what he was going to do to bring them back. Kick out the Mexicans and Muslims, build a wall, knock the crap out of whatever safety net is still in place (can anyone spell the “End of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid”?), knock out ISIS by surprise (yeah!), tear up the Paris Accord (there goes the air and the weather) and the treaty with Iran, and make sure coal miners still have jobs, even if he knows coal is a 100% losing proposition.

He’s a master showman, and he’s found the perfect audience, one that has been taught to believe in itself by Trump University—even if that great self we all need to believe in barely has a leg left to stand on.

“Would you like fries with your order, Mr. Trump?”

“Of course! Fuck you! Only goddamn elitists don’t like fries. I’m a billionaire, but I’m just one of you. Remember that!”

As another great American showman taught us: There is a fool born every minute, and we are in the midst of a tsunami of them.

“Give Mr. Trump a bucket of fries. And his order is free.”

Award-winning writer and gender-rights pioneer, Perry Brass has published 19 books, including poetry, novels, short fiction, science fiction, and bestselling advice books (How to Survive Your Own Gay Life, The Manly Art of Seduction, The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love). A member of New York’s radical Gay Liberation Front, In 1972, with two friends, he co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic, the first clinic specifically for gay men on the East Coast, that is still operating as the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. His work deals with issues of sexual freedom, personal authenticity, lgbt health, and a visionary attitude toward all human sexuality coming from a core involvement with human values and equality.

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