Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Throwing his hat in the ring

Protection from the Midday heat. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Very warm. And muggy. Otherwise, a bright sunny day, yesterday in New York.

I’ve been thinking about this next subject for awhile because
I stay away from political stuff. I read it all the time, and think about it, of course, but there’s nothing to be gained by talking about it or debating. We Americans have by our nature very fixed ideas. That’s probably like all other countries of the world.

However, I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump a lot because of all that he’s done in his life to create what is a tycoon’s image (and lifestyle), and so I was surprised that he threw his hat in the Presidential ring. Yes, I know we’re all “political” in our own heads although I knew nothing about his interest in party politics, aside from the interest that we all have.
I don’t know Donald well but I do know him and his wife Melania who is not only a beautiful woman but a lovely person. I know his first wife Ivana also. I can say the same about her. I’ve known the Trumps for years in the way someone in my business knows the prominent.  For me, it's like the way one knows one’s neighbors – a friendly hello, and that’s about it.

Donald is inarguably a New York icon, a landmark. A big one, like his buildings. I remember when he was just a young man on the rise getting what for him was inordinate attention. That was the result of his doing, not an accident.
The Donald with Melania and Ivana.
Our great mutual friend Nikki Haskell has known Donald and Ivana since the early days of their marriage and their rise to celebrity. Nikki had a popular cable show here in New York in the late '70s and early '80s. The Trumps were friends of hers and frequent guests on camera. It could be said that Donald first honed his talent to amuse, to charm and to establish a public presence on Nikki’s show.

He was not a poor boy. His father Fred Trump was a major real estate owner in the city. Low public profile, but major, especially in the outer boroughs where he owned hundreds of residential and commercial real estate properties.
Donald with his father, Fred.
Donald Trump clearly had bigger ideas and went off on his own. He is his own marketer. Now, as we all know, that fame is one of his most valuable assets. On the tax form it goes under Goodwill. He created a public image that is an important part of his business. He is a brand, as they say nowadays and he keeps it Out There.

Off-camera and away from the mike, he’s a friendly fellow, a gentleman, a presence — imposing, standing tall and erect — a go-getter with a congenial disposition. What he’s like in business, in negotiating, I don’t know, but the evidence is in the results: he’s Donald Trump. There is no other. I’ve never seen his show (or shows) because I never watch television, but I understood the secret of their success: Donald. The Donald as Ivana long ago named him.

Donald and Melania, off-camera.
His name is a household word. One day several years ago, when walking down Fifth Avenue to go to lunch at Michael’s, I came upon a crowd of a couple hundred teenagers, standing with cameras ready (cellphones) on the sidewalk directly across the avenue from Tiffany and  the Trump Tower. There was nothing going on there, except for the pedestrians passing by, yet these kids were obviously waiting for something to happen.

So I stopped and asked a young girl what they were all looking at. “Donald Trump is coming out of that building!” she said breathlessly.

I thought: “That’s it?” I knew she was a tourist. Everyone knows Donald lives in that building; so what’s the big deal.

Then suddenly she turned away and jumping up and down, she shrieked, along with everyone else in the crowd: “There he is! There he is!”

I was amazed; the way you’d be amazed if a crowd started shrieking at the sight of a prominent neighbor of yours. Donald’s persona and his celebrity are two different things. Off-camera he’s an entirely natural fellow. Courteous, neighborly. I’ve seen him come out of that building numerous times – at that time of day – when I’m on the avenue on my way to Michael’s. He’s always got company with him, or being interviewed by a camera crew while he walked. He stands above most of them because of his height, but also because of his physical stature.
Donald, on camera, outside Trump Tower.
I know no more about his business life than what you read in the papers. I don’t know about his wealth although I know there is a lot to go around. Ivana became a wealthy woman on her divorce (and much wealthier from her investments afterwards). His children are all associated with his businesses in one way or another. His daughter Ivanka has the entrepreneurial flair of both her parents and the savvy about self-marketing and branding that comes with their territory. And the discipline – an important word in that family’s makeup.

Donald with Ivanka.
So when I heard or read that he was putting himself up as a candidate for the Presidency, I thought what many people probably thought – he’s about to grow that public image even more. That is his business after all, or a very important adjunct to it. But could he make it?

I thought he was joking at first. Sort of. I thought some of his “quotes” were divisive (like the business of the Mexicans), but I know that such “divisive” can be a very good device for getting attention from the media who love pull-quotes more than they love the facts themselves. For a lot of people, those quotes are all they read or listen to.

However, after weeks of reading about Donald Trump’s new adventure – something I’d never pictured him doing,  I must say that he has done something no one else has done or could do even if they wanted to.

He has got the attention of the American people by calling out the would-be candidates for what they represent to the American people.  There is great disagreement with his opinions, but he’s given this campaign a freshness that it has not had in decades. There are messages all over the place. It’s not just about the candidates, now it’s about the Main Attraction: the American people.
I don’t know if he could/would win or if he would/could start a third party, or what his plan is. With Donald Trump it always looks like it’s off-the-cuff. He has that manner about him. He has built an enormous public image of credibility because of that manner. It’s not unlikely that he might like to have a go at being President. Many successful men often remark that they would do thus and such if they were ... Perhaps Donald has that in mind. Whether he could win is something I am not capable of predicting.

But what he has done with this foray into the hustings of American political life is to put the focus on the real-ness of all those candidates out there. Over the years of technological development, political candidates have taken on a patina of sophisticated campaigning. And indeed, they now spend billions on creating public images.

We see them on a screen all the time, digital images intended to flatter the individual, make them look “good” or “real” while they deliver their stock promises and words of practiced empathy for the plight of the public.
It’s a slick, quick, flashy world they’re traveling in with their entourages of “security” and black SUVs with blackened windows and escorts with twirling red and blue lights flashing to move the rest of us out of the way to let them pass. That’s a lot of who American politicians have become to the American people: over-there, just out of reach.

We’re used to the fake. That’s the nature of the technology of the world. It began with Mr. Edison and his light bulb, Mr. Bell and his phone, and Mr. Ford and his car. This, right now, is where it has taken us. We are used to the illusion of reality provided by the technology. We blend the real into the unreal and it is often difficult to perceive the truth in what we see and what we’re told.

Donald Trump’s bringing all the candidates and the voters back home with his words, observations and comments about what they look like to us. His ace is: what you see IS what you get. Makes him mighty believable; a rare gift.
Meanwhile, last Wednesday evening, Ann Nitze, briefly back from Aspen, hosted her annual festive summer gathering for cocktails and a light supper for close friends to celebrate her beautiful new terrace in New York. Enjoying the lovely summer evening under the wisteria-covered white pergola and green umbrellas were friends visiting the city en route to summer watering holes and New Yorkers in town between summer travels.
Ann's living room ...
And terrace off the living room.
Everyone's favorite chef, Stephen Attoe of Swifty's, was there to help create a magical New York summer evening for guests who mingled between pale pink-covered tables beneath twinkling lights on the terrace. Guests included Laurie Tisch, Baroness Bich, Ilona and Alan Quasha, Suzi Cordish, Kathy Rayner, Suzanne Kohlberg, Elbrun and Peter Kimmelman, Zibby Tozer, Catherine Cahill and Bill Bernhard, Inmaculada Habsburg, Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, Muna Rihani Al-Nasser, Max von Auersperg, Tony Bechara, Paul Beirne, Evelyn Tompkins, David Beer, CeCe and Lee Black, Barbara and Donald Tober, Mary McFadden, Patricia Kluge and William Moses, Jana Jaffe and Ian Wardropper, Director of the Frick Collection.
Ann Nitze and Max von Auersperg
Sarah and George King
Sarah McNear and Ian Wardropper
Encarnita Quinlan, Paul Bierne, and Catherine Cahill
Donald and Catherine Heald
Zibby Tozer and Suzi Cordish
Ann Nitze, Susan Gutfreund, and Raul Suarez
Suzanne Kohlberg
Nihal Saad and Muna Rihani Al Nasser
Sarah McNear
Barbara Tober, Inmaculada Habsburg, and Zibby Tozer
Ann Nitze and Laurie Tisch
Tony Bechara and Catherine Cahill
David Beer, Victoria Wyman, and Ty Girioux
Mary McFadden, Victoria Wyman, and Elbrun Kimmelman
Prince Dimitri Of Yugoslavia, Evelyn Tompkins, Inmaculada Habsburg, and Max von Auersperg
Elbrun Kimmelman, Donald Tober, Kathy Rayner, Robert Quinlan, and Kathleen Hearst
Richard Miller, Joel Bell, and Marife Hernandez
Zibby Tozer, Margo Langenberg, Victoria Wyman, and Baroness Bich
Henry Neville, Shayne Doty, Rena Neville, and Jason Herrick
Evelyn Tompkins, Terry Fitzgerald, and Lisa McCarthy
Joan Hardy Clark and Alberto Barral
Suzi Cordish, CeCe Black, Lee Black, and Encarnita Quinlan
Ilona Quasha, Shayne Doty, Alan Quasha, Jason Herrick, Baroness Bich, and Tony Bechara