Sure, Trump is rich, but is he happy?
On the way to see Donald Trump, I stopped for gas at my neighborhood gas station and while the tank was filling, I had a talk with the owner, a solid citizen whose opinion I've trusted ever since last fall when he told me he thought George Bush was lying about Iran-Contra.
"Nah, I don't like the guy," he said of Trump. "Anybody's got that kind of money's had to step on a lot of people."
I agreed with that.
Then he said: "I shouldn't say anything though. I don't even know the guy."
I agreed with that too. Driving away, I thought about how it really is getting to be too easy to hate Donald Trump. Doonesbury hit Trump for his excessive bad taste. Bloom County hit him for his spiritual vacuity. This month, Spy Magazine does a wicked number on his wife. Surely the joke is getting old by now, even in New York.
I mean, what do we even know about the guy, the real guy? Only what we've read in the paper of his real estate dealings or latest acquisition or monument to himself. Only that he can afford to express his support of the death penalty in $85,000 worth of newspaper ads. Only that his name has come to stand for something: for being embarrassingly rich and unable to stop accumulating things.
In other words, Citizen Trump.
Yesterday, Trump: The Actual Person, appeared in East Longmeadow, Mass., as a rather engaging man in a navy blue suit, blue and white striped shirt, red tie, black shoes. He seemed altogether human. His gray hair was thinning. He had a bit of dandruff.
When he walked, his arms hung loosely by his sides and he hunched forward a bit. His clean-shaven face, scrubbed and shining with health, wore an expression of faint pain; he squints, as if he has smoke in his eyes. Probably he was just thinking. Probably he's always thinking.
His visit to the Milton Bradley toy factory was a media event arranged on the premise that he would witness the assembly line production of Trump: The Game, the promotional slogan of which is "It's not whether you win or lose, but whether you win]"
As I said, it's very easy to dislike the guy. But I was willing to give him a fair shot and I have to say there was much to like.
For instance, there was the way he moved so comfortably through the factory without any distancing henchmen; he cheerfully endured the incredible crush of cameramen, reporters and factory workers and the roar of heavy machinery and human voices.
It was nice that, when signing a stack of Trump game money for one worker, he bothered to ask if it was Carl with a C or a K. And it was sweet of him to kiss the cheek of Gracie Adams, who works in personnel and who loves his casinos. She told me her heart was going "chu-chu-chu-chu-chu-chu-chu" from the minute his helicopter arrived.
It was also nice of Trump to accept a letter written by a savvy local third-grader seeking creative financing for his school:
Dear Mr. Trump: The Holyoke school system is short on money. We need money because some teachers don't have a room in the school. Could you adopt a school in Holyoke please? Holoyoke is counting on you. P.S. Or give us some money. Trump slid it into his jacket pocket - "Okay. Fine. Good."
And when it came time to give a little speech, it was nice that he only once referred to himself by his own name, as in "all the proceeds that Donald Trump gets . . ." will go to charity. Needless to say, it's nice of him to give the money to charity.
But what I guess I really liked about Trump is that he put on no airs. He may own skyscrapers, the legendary Plaza Hotel, and the world's largest yacht, but he talks as plainly and directly as any eager-beaver upper-level manager you'd find anywhere in the world. He chatted with toy company executives as he walked along and, basically, his speech consists of phrases like, "Good job." "Okay, we'll work on it." And "Call the office."
Despite all the wheeling and dealing he's done, he didn't appear crafty or hardened by greed. I think it would have shown on his face, and to me he seemed, well, uncomplicated and honest.
He was unashamedly blunt about his pursuit of the bottom line. If he doesn't wind up owning the Eastern Shuttle, he said, well, he'll still come out of it with quite a pile of dough.
Which made me want to know something. "Mr. Trump," I heard myself asking, "we know you're very rich. But are you happy?"
He looked at me for a second and said, "I really think I am. I enjoy what I'm doing." Then, walking away, he added, "I don't have time not to be." And he gave me a look as if to say, that's the way to go, right?
On my way out the door, I found myself next to him again. There were not too many people around, so I told him about my conversation with the gas station man - what he had said about stepping on people to make money.
"I think he's right," said Trump. "I think the gas station man is right. I think I have stepped on a lot of people. And I've won. Isn't the world tired of losers? Isn't this country tired?"
A few minutes later, he was heading across the broad lawn to his helicopter - "Let's start those rotors]" - and I, knowing everything I needed to know about Donald Trump, walked back to my car.