Originally published on September 5, 2015 on San Francisco Chronicle
Donald Trump has been widely characterized as an obnoxious, self-aggrandizing, trash talker. What the media are reacting to and the voters are responding to is that Trump is a New Yorker.
Born in California, I moved to New York City right out of college. What I found was a heavy-handed, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners approach to every single goddam conversation. It was tough to keep up with these guys who would never give an inch. Arguments were taken seriously: Everything was contested, shredded and recast, point by point. I had to up my game. I wasn’t in L.A. anymore.
In New York, no one ever apologized, retreated or conceded points. In New York, you don’t lose the battle to win the war. You win by winning. Californians may be less argumentative or skilled at staying on top, but in California, argument wasn’t that important. How in-your-face you are doesn’t determine your identity. In New York, it’s what matters most.
Telling it like it is
I learned to respect and even emulate these lovable boors who hone a verbal edge that never stops and who are really proud that it never stops. Their demeanor wasn’t mean, just aggressive. There’s a cultural demand in New York that you don’t pussyfoot around. You say what you mean, stick up for it, and stay in overdrive — all the time. By necessity, I recognized the value in cultivating it.
Now America’s deciding the same thing. We want a New Yorker — somebody who’s not afraid to “tell it like it is” — to run the country. Of the two guys who’ve captured our imagination in the presidential race, Trump is from Queens and Bernie Sanders is from Brooklyn.
Trump is just like the guys I worked for when I lived in New York. Guys who ran stereo stores and apartment buildings, who talked big (and might bust your head) but were pussycats. These people have values, of some kind. They are (mostly) not criminals. They’re entertaining. They’re white, male, middle-aged, wear cologne and jewelry, and have bad hair. They live by a code that commingles a strong work ethic with an even stronger sense of pride in the City That Never Sleeps and, in Trump’s particular strain, with an unapologetic set of prejudices delivered with “what me worry” innocence.
If you ask any one of these men: What’s your opinion of a person or thing, they would answer in terms of how nice that person was or how good or bad their experience of it was. There’s no objective reality beyond how it affects you.
There’s this weird, aspirational culture that, before it became mainstream in America, sprang up in Trump’s New York. Its hallmarks, such as bling and purple crushed velour — are the trappings of phony royalty. It’s a crass and materialistic lifestyle, characterized by stretch limos and gold chains and objectification of women. It represents the cheapening of everything, and it’s as American as Trump and the Big Apple.
It magnifies the uber-cynicism that has swept the country and reveals itself in a society that makes fun of the weak, of anything touchy-feely, of any aspiration to come together and sing “Kumbaya.” Nobody mocks better than New Yorkers.
It’s not about how things can be done; it’s only about how things are done. Creativity and taking chances are for suckers. Values are appraised on adherence to the mythic past. Make America Great AGAIN!
And just like The Donald, New Yorkers are notoriously persnickety. They whine. They complain like hell. They interrupt. It’s not about sharing ideas, finding the middle ground. It’s about fighting to make your point and rubbing it in until you win. Every time.
A New Yorker on the world stage
So that’s why Trump’s dominating the right. He’s offering to be our CEO. He’ll get us good deals — screw the other guy. Trump’s message: Let New York drive, and we’ll run over losers. If Trump wins, our country will behave that way to the rest of the world.
President Obama’s nuanced sense of accommodation is precisely what Trump and his New York state of mind want to put an end to. Trump says: When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.
If we put Trump in the White House, America will be a New Yorker on the world stage. America will take zero guff, and cut everyone down to size. Of course there is the downside to that, even if we don’t start World War III. Our country’s immigration policies might be emulated elsewhere, invoking a dystopian future of haves and have-nots, of border walls and rusted barbed wire, of brutal wars for resources.
And the lizard brain of money worship and conflating love to sex and sex to money and life to winning will get crowned in a way we may never evolve beyond. Badda bing. Forget about it.
Lawrence Axil Comras of San Francisco is a software designer and serial entrepreneur. He runs the website Bernieman.com.