Place  /  Antecedent

How Gotham Gave Us Trump

Ever wonder how a lifelong urbanite can resent cities as much as Donald Trump does? First you have to understand ’70s and ’80s New York.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For Trump, as inhospitable as he found the city on the street, the parlors of high society were equally problematic—and he created a refuge. It was some 600 feet in the sky, where the faucets were gold, the baseboards were onyx and the paintings on the ceiling, he would claim, were comparable to the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. At the top of Trump Tower, biographer Tim O’Brien told me, he could live “at a remove from the city and its amazing bloodstream of ideas and people and culture”—“encased,” added fellow biographer Gwenda Blair, “within this bubble of serenity and privilege.”

Out his bronze-edged, floor-to-ceiling windows, Trump could see Central Park to the north and the Hudson River to the west. He could see south to the Empire State Building and the twin towers of the World Trade Center. He could see the tops of yellow cabs and the tiny people moving around on the sidewalks some 60 stories down. What he could not see, though, or hasn’t, is the transformation that has taken place, as New York morphed from what it was in the ’70s and ’80s into the cleaner, safer enclave for the smart and the rich that it is today. The trend has held throughout America as well, as rural and suburban areas started to sag while urban cores became hip engines of growth and innovation.

Cities changed. Trump did not.

How, at a moment when American cities are at a peak of wealth and success, can Trump argue so persistently against them? The answer starts with the New York that made him.