Donald Trump does not, so far, seem to be enjoying the presidency very much. Newly sworn in and still shining from victory, the commander-in-chief spent his first week in office lumbering bitterly from grievance to grievance, even before his travel ban started to unravel over the weekend—carping about media coverage, quibbling over TV ratings, spiraling into obsession about the size of his inauguration crowd.
The spectacle mystified even some of the savviest political observers. As one former Obama White House official put it to me, “You just won the biggest trophy in the world—who cares how many people were standing there to watch you get it?”
But the president’s behavior begins to make more sense once you understand the stories he’s long told himself—about his roots, his rise, and, especially, his “haters.” That he is easily provoked and perpetually aggrieved is not a revelation, of course. But Trump harbors a very specific kind of class anxiety that’s rooted in the topography of his native New York City.
Though he was born into a wealthy family, partaking of the various perks and privileges afforded to millionaires’ offspring, Trump grew up in Queens—a pleasant but unfashionable borough whose residents were sometimes dismissed by snooty Manhattanites as “bridge-and-tunnel people.” From a young age, he was acutely aware of the cultural, and physical, chasm that separated himself from the city’s aristocracy. In several interviews and speeches over the years, he has recalled gazing anxiously across the East River toward Manhattan, desperate to make a name for himself among the New York elite.