In the 1980s, when life in New York City was an endless struggle to die of natural causes, Donald Trump thought he was on top of the world. It took the presidency for him to learn that he’d always been a citywide joke. It’s unfortunate that no one told him so back then, not even the true legends of New York: In 1983, when I worked for ABC Sports, I was with Howard Cosell as he interviewed Trump. When we left Trump Tower, Cosell said, “I’ve never met anyone luckier to be born rich.” To this day, Trump recalls Cosell fondly. If he only knew.
Now President Trump has chosen to leave New York for Florida: The New York Times reported last week that Trump had filed a “declaration of domicile” in September stating that Palm Beach will be his permanent residence.
Actually, chosen is the wrong word. “Fleeing” before he’s excommunicated is more like it. But still, in the annals of New York history, it’s important to acknowledge that Trump’s change of address marks the end of a totally insignificant era.
Clearing up the chaos of traffic and protests on Fifth Avenue that his presidency has caused will be the only impact his move has on the city. It’s not like he’s been paying much in the way of taxes. And the truth is, Trump, the lifelong New Yorker, was never a New Yorker. He was a tourist.
In his 70 years as a resident, his feet barely touched pavement. He probably still thinks the subway takes tokens. He probably never waited in line for a movie, got sick on street-fair Belgian waffles, or felt the thrill of beating everyone to a cab in the rain. He never had a vicious landlord or a predatory boss, and he sure as hell never had the ultimate New York experience of suffering in silence.
I grew up in Queens, just two miles and a few hundred income-tax brackets from Trump. As kids, both of us dreamed of living in Manhattan and being real New Yorkers. In the ’60s, one of us had parents who got us tickets for Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. In the ’70s, one of us took the Q17 bus and the F train to Madison Square Garden and paid off ushers to get into sold-out Knicks games. In the ’80s, one of us lived in a studio apartment, barely making rent while somehow going out to dinner every night, then hanging out at dive bars.
Which brings up another consideration: With all its public transportation, New York was always the one city perfect for drunkenness. Yet the only vice Trump never had was drinking.
He lived in the greatest city in the world and missed out on everything. The same will be true for Florida.
Trump will hole up at Mar-a-Lago—what are the odds he can translate the words Mar-a-Lago into English? Ten to one against?—where he’ll be sequestered from almost all things Floridian. The Category 5 hurricanes and rising ocean floods on perfectly sunny days won’t touch him. He won’t sit by the pool chatting about his grandkids; he won’t reconnect with people he knew in high school 60 years ago; and he won’t rush to make the early bird at the best burger joint in town only to see an elderly diner hike down his pants and give himself an injection before the appetizers arrive.
His only true Floridian experience will be golf with a small ring of devoted right-wing entertainers/athletes/televangelists only too happy to look away as Secret Service agents dutifully kick the president’s ball on the green.
If he happens to venture out in public, he’ll realize that he’s almost as despised in southern Florida as in New York, because hordes of his neighbors will be ex–New Yorkers. Even worse, they’ll be old ex–New Yorkers well beyond the point of keeping their opinions to themselves. Their attitude upon seeing him will be: To err is human, to forgive … asinine.
Trump isn’t given to self-reflection, but while milling around the grounds of Mar-a-Lago in a Palm Beach sweat, he might just have a grand epiphany about summer in New York, all year in Florida, and the rest of his life: It’s not the heat; it’s the humiliation.