Corrupt oligarchs who spend half a century in politics — living on public money and enjoying privileges at public expense — naturally feel animosity toward people who create things of value. The animosity in such cases amounts to a manifestation of the career politician’s suppressed guilt.
At a Labor Day rally in Philadelphia on Monday, career politician and current President Joe Biden tried to depict himself as a more accomplished builder than his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who made a fortune in real estate.
“Guess what? Guess what? The great real estate builder, the last guy here, he didn’t build a damn thing,” Biden told members of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 union.
When career politicians talk about “building,” of course they mean pork-addled infrastructure bills that spend other people’s money.
“Under my predecessor, ‘Infrastructure Week’ became a punchline,” Biden continued. “On my watch, infrastructure [means] a decade and it’s a headline.”
This is how career politicians think. Signing a bill branded as “infrastructure” makes one a builder. In fact, readers no doubt detect echoes of former President Barack Obama’s notorious “you didn’t build that” quip.
Biden’s obvious silliness notwithstanding, this seems an appropriate time to remind ourselves of everything Trump did build.
Reviewing more than 40 years of New York City history, it would not be a stretch to conclude that Trump did more to revitalize the rotting Big Apple than anyone in recent memory.
In 1984, The New York Times Magazine published a revealing feature article entitled, “The Expanding Empire of Donald Trump.” Today, it reads as a time capsule filled with nostalgia-inducing tidbits from a bygone era.
At the time, however, it depicted then-37-year-old Trump as the tycoon destined to save New York City.
The story’s author, William E. Geist, followed Trump through a busy workday.
At a breakfast forum featuring powerful men such as then-Mayor Ed Koch and then-New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the gathered luminaries treated Trump as “the man of the hour.”
A post-breakfast appointment with prominent architects explained why.
“Trump is mad and wonderful,” architect Philip Johnson said. “Other developers come in with sober faces, carrying their market-research studies,” but the fearless Trump delivered 77-year-old Johnson his “most exciting project” ever.
By early 1984, the first tenants had moved into the $125 million Trump Plaza luxury apartment building. Meanwhile, condominium owners, offices and stores had settled into the $200 million Trump Tower complex, opened in 1983.
Blanche Sprague, in charge of sales at Trump Plaza, described the magic in the Trump name.
“I don’t think you understand,” she said. “When I walk down the street with Donald, people come up and just touch him, hoping that his good fortune will rub off.”
Geist called this “outright Trump worship,” rooted in both hope and results. Indeed, many New Yorkers regarded Trump as “‘a real-estate genius’ who has helped lead the city out of the darkness of the mid-1970’s into a new era of glamour and excitement.”
Therein lay the source of the emerging Trump legend. The now-billionaire real-estate developer did not simply make a fortune. He led New York City “out of the darkness.”
For instance, in the mid-1970s Trump made his first Manhattan real estate deal when he purchased the Commodore Hotel on East 42nd Street. At that time, Geist wrote, “even the Chrysler Building across the street was in foreclosure.”
“I saw all those people coming out of Grand Central Terminal, and I said to myself, ‘How bad can this be?'” Trump recalled.
After substantial renovations, the building re-opened as the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
Contemporaries were amazed.
“Donald Trump is the Michael Jackson of real estate,” Irving Fischer of HRH Construction said.
More than 30 years later, another New York newspaper took stock of Trump’s legacy.
According to the Post, Trump at one time rated as “New York’s most important and bravest real-estate developer.”
In an era when the “metropolis was reeling” due to “street crime, AIDS, corporate flight and physical decay,” Trump “rode to the rescue.”
Most importantly, Trump’s “projects lifted all boats around them.”
The Post then presented a list of eight different “game-changing Manhattan monuments and their legacies” — all owing their existence to Trump.
The Grand Hyatt Hotel on East 42nd Street, for instance, “arrested the street’s tailspin and set the stage for Grand Central Terminal’s restoration in the 1990s.”
Likewise, Trump Tower embodied Trump’s vision for a revitalized Fifth Avenue. And this vision was “vindicated years later when the avenue recaptured its old glory.”
Meanwhile, Trump Plaza on Third Avenue “inspired four more similarly configured towers on the avenue and lent some badly needed class to uptown east of Lexington Avenue.”
Trump’s post-1984 projects also had wide-ranging impacts.
In 1986, for instance, Trump rebuilt the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park. This helped “restore ruined sections of the crime-ridden park” and drew “families and kids to the heart of the park’s ‘postcard’ southern end.”
Then, in the mid ’90s, Trump International Hotel and Tower became the “first project to reclaim Columbus Circle from the vagrants.”
On balance, therefore, it appears that Trump built many “damn things” in his day.
Better yet, Trump’s creations did more than earn him his fortune. They helped rescue New York City. Indeed, as the Post noted, they “lifted all boats around them.”
Good luck finding an infrastructure bill that accomplished half as much.
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