Newspaper article International New York Times

Putting Trump on the Couch

Newspaper article International New York Times

Putting Trump on the Couch

Article excerpt

To see what motivates him, look at his lifelong fear of becoming a sucker.

As surprising as Donald J. Trump's political ascendance may be, it is not unprecedented. He is the latest in a long line of demagogues who have appeared throughout American history to point accusing fingers at blacks, foreigners, Masons, Jews, socialists, central bankers and others. What's more mysterious are the roots of his vast insecurity -- his compulsive need to trumpet his wealth, his smarts, his popularity. What is he compensating for?

When Hollywood wants us to understand a character, it gives us a Rosebud -- an event or an object, like the wooden sled in "Citizen Kane," that reflects the character's essence. Mr. Trump's Rosebud moment, I learned recently from a story on WNYC, happened one day in 1964, when he accompanied his father to the opening ceremony of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

As Mr. Trump recounted the story for Howard Blum in The New York Times in 1980: "The rain was coming down for hours ... but all I'm thinking about is that all these politicians who opposed the bridge are being applauded." Even as a wet-behind-the-ears kid, he wanted the reporter to understand, he couldn't abide the hypocrisy of big shots. "In a corner," he continued, "just standing there in the rain, is this man, this 85-year-old engineer who came from Sweden and designed this bridge, who poured his heart into it, and nobody even mentioned his name."

"I realized then and there," the budding real estate mogul and future Republican front-runner concluded, "that if you let people treat you how they want, you'll be made a fool. I realized then and there something I would never forget: I don't want to be made anybody's sucker."

Who was that sad sack in the corner? It's worth asking, because the Trump Rosebud moment reveals more than he perhaps realizes -- and not just about himself, but about the people who are swelling his poll numbers.

Othmar H. Ammann was born in Switzerland, not Sweden, in 1879, and came to the United States in 1904. He proposed, designed and oversaw the construction of the George Washington Bridge and was closely involved with others around the country, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco among them. As the chief engineer of the Port Authority of New York and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, he oversaw the building of the Lincoln Tunnel, the Outerbridge Crossing and the Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Triborough, Bayonne and Goethals Bridges.

Gay Talese's scene-painting in his front page New York Times account of the bridge opening is no less evocative, but it differs from Mr. Trump's in some key particulars. First, there's the matter of the weather and the general mood of the day ("the sun shone, the sky was cloudless; bands played, cannons echoed up and down the harbor, flags waved"). …

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