Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"Trump is a Man Of Our Times: Infamous Billionaire More Than a Celebrity; He’s a Postmodern Hero"

by Joseph Chaney
Contributor, Washington Square News
[CataBlast! would like to thank Joseph Chaney and Washington Square News for allowing us to reprint this article.]

Like many rich and powerful people, Donald Trump is a divisive figure, both highly worshipped and deeply despised. He is also chronically misunderstood. Trump-lovers often characterize the man as a refreshing throwback to some lost, golden era. That's incorrect. Trump is a man of our time. He is quintessentially postmodern.

Trump recently spoke to more than 400 Stern master's students, who hung onto the man's every word as if he were Plato himself. He advised them to "be paranoid," "get even," "always have a prenuptial agreement," and, of course, "think big," which in Trump-speak really means "figure out how to get your name in the newspaper."

Trump's mega-celebrity status, of course, is a major factor in his appeal. But many people are famous, and fame alone, we hope, isn't enough to garner an invitation to our prestigious university. Steven Florio, vice chairman of Advance Magazine Group and professor of NYU's "Leadership in the Communications Industry" class, agrees. That's why he invited Trump to speak not as a celebrity but as a leader, as a man whose real power stems from his faithful commitment to the timeless morality of the profit motive.

How silly. One look at Trump's enterprises and it is clear that moral imperatives - the civilizing effects of good service, the progressive logic of development - are secondary considerations. Trump's primary aim is self-promotion. That's why, unlike many developers, he relentlessly plasters his moniker on all of his properties. He keeps his comb over in the belief that the idea of himself, not his actual person, is his greatest asset.

Like any true postmodern, Trump doesn't force his actions into association with a master narrative greater than himself. Everything - the glittering "T" logo, the scandalous love affairs, the exaggerated egotism - is a performance. He's an actor more than anything else, making billions by being authentically inauthentic.

Even words aren't immune from Trump's postmodern schemes. He recently tried to patent the expression "You're fired."

"There is something very succinct and very beautiful about the words," Trump said. Deconstructionists should be ecstatic. Trump, too, knows the signifier is more important than the signified.

If Florio wanted to hire a businessperson who stands for leadership in the classical sense, there were certainly bigger and better people to choose from. Take Bill Gates, for example. Take Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google. A glittering capital "G" doesn't pop on your screen every time you open Windows. And even in the wake of the fantastically lucrative Google IPO, Brin and Page still remain humbly faceless.

That's because, unlike Trump, these men are actually of the old school. They deal in high technology, but they are inspired by Enlightenment ideals. They believe that the proof is actually in the pudding, and that proof is demonstrated by a product's usefulness. That is, they believe in something greater than themselves - the idea of progress.

They nurtured their talents in obscurity and emerged to invent things, for money, to be sure, but also to improve the world. What is more, they keep inventing, even though the megabucks have already rolled in. Like many others busy inventing new tools or searching for cures to seemingly incurable diseases, these men truly stand for the moral imperatives of the profit motive.

Trump keeps inventing, too, but not out of love for anything external to himself. In 2000, he flirted with the presidency with no political credentials and no interest in politics. Then he switched gears for a reality TV show in which he is king and adults willingly whore themselves to achieve proximity to his power. In late September he nationally launched Trump World, a magazine dedicated to - you guessed it - himself.

"We're going to bring to life Trump's passions, his business pursuits and his search for excellence when it comes to dining and travel," editor and publisher Michael Jacobson told the Village Voice. Here's the postmodern part: Excellence isn't in the things themselves. Trump labels things excellent and that's what they become. We're back to signifiers and signified.

If we are going to admire Trump, we should at least be able to accurately characterize the subject of our admiration. Trump is more P. Diddy than John D. Rockefeller. He wears nice suits, indeed, but to revere him as an old school hero is grossly inaccurate, and it only contributes to the indulgent chaos of our post-everything era.

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