How Trump Put Archie Bunker To Shame
I’m someone who has spent most of his life announcing himself in a certain way: I’m a New Yorker, from Queens. Southeast Queens to be exact. It’s been home & still is. These days however, it becomes a dicey proposition whenever I happen to bring it up in conversation with some folks. Mainly because of one person — the current President, Donald J. Trump.
His maneuvering into the highest political office in the land has been covered in scandal, dismay, and at times viewed as a blazing train wreck going off the cliff to all except that cross-section of the country that is his base. And with the recent and shameful display he put on in the gold-plated lobby of his Trump Tower defending neo-Nazis & white supremacists only last week, it can only get worse. I look on social media and see a multitude of folks who are appalled at this latest display. Some who VOTED for this Fanta-colored fascism now stepping back and saying “what have we done? This is awful!!”
News flash: those here in New York City? We’re looking at you sideways.
I’ve seen one or two pieces that have looked at Queens to try to glean some insight into Trump and his madness. I think that the only way one can understand how Trump got to where he is, is to understand one thing in particular:
He’s thoroughly ashamed of Queens. Of being from Queens. Of being from
a place that’s now a nightmare to him because of its remarkable diversity.
Why? Because he feels it’s beneath him.
His former neighborhood, Jamaica Estates, is highly familiar to me. My godfather & his family lived right on the main thoroughfare heading into the tony neighborhood, Midland Parkway. The old World War II memorial stands on a grassy divider as you make the right turn off of Hillside Avenue, and you find yourself immediately isolated from that commotion partially due to the droves of folks getting off at the last stop of the F train. Riding through Jamaica Estates is a still a trip; many of the homes run from cozy dwellings to mansions that could’ve stood in as set pieces in one of those MGM pictures from the 1950's. This was one of those neighborhoods that was home to many financiers & other well-off individuals.
My godfather having a home there was significant, as was he and another uncle establishing their law office a block or two away. They, like both sides of my family, hail from Jamaica in the West Indies. He was part of a new wave of those New Yorkers of color making Jamaica Estates home. In later years when I was getting into junior high, the place was home to rap stars like Big Daddy Kane, DJ Eric B & Run of RUN-DMC. But their arrival was a flag for those already there, & was somewhat synonymous with other trends in the city. It was something on the rise from the 1970's — Black people & other people of color were enjoying upward mobility and as a result, settled into these middle-class neighborhoods that were once closed off from them. As they did, some whites moved further (or fled)into Long Island, or Staten Island or other neighborhoods not as diverse. My own area was once mainly Irish & Italian-American — now its a firmly established community of people from
the Caribbean and those who trace their roots down south to states like
North Carolina, Virginia and Alabama. See, NYC gets held up a lot as an example of a true melting pot to the rest of the country and worldwide. This
isn’t a false premise. But the thing is, it glosses over a city history that’s been
rife with racial tension and issues.
Growing up, Donald Trump was always one of those figures that would get mentioned in adult conversations with a sneer or something similar. My main direct connection wouldn’t become clear until I was 12 years old. That year, five Black & Brown teens were arrested for the rape and assault of a white woman jogger in Central Park. Trump injected himself into the conversation in the ugliest of ways by taking out space in a newspaper to call for their public lynching. My parents were upset — and it was then I learned that Trump’s boorish bigotry wasn’t just spur of the moment. One of my mother’s friends had actually been someone involved in the U.S. government’s lawsuit against him and his father and their management company in 1973 for discrimination against Black housing applicants. Years later, as the five were
cleared & gained a settlement from New York City, Trump was incensed and
still proclaimed they were guilty.
Let’s be clear — Trump was a more vocal expression of a cross-section of those
in New York City who wanted to paint every person of color in the city as a
nuisance or menace. This was the same time period that Bernard Goetz was
lionized for shooting four would-be muggers who tried to rob him on the
subway. This was the same time period that saw racial unrest after tragic incidents in Crown Heights, Bensonhurst and Howard Beach. This was also
when the city saw racial tensions being played out in their government, with
Edward Koch losing to the first African-American to serve in the role, David
Dinkins. Dinkins would then be unseated by Rudy Giuliani after serving one
term. It was as if everything Archie Bunker was saying played out onto the
streets and the newspapers. There were a few that were white that felt that NYC wasn’t “pure” anymore because of the graffiti, the rise of hip-hop culture after the blackout of 1977 and having to endure near-bankruptcy.
Why Archie Bunker? Well, the bigoted patriarch from “All In The Family”
was also from Queens. For me, this was an important point — having someone
utter boorish sentiments from a part of the city not many were familiar
with had an effect of making people aghast at what he said and glad he
was proven wrong. Some could call it “bridge and tunnel” behavior and
in that light make others not notice the discrimination that lay in the more
lavish parts of Manhattan. The icy stares a person of color could get being
on certain blocks of the Upper East Side, or servers taking their sweet time
getting to you in restaurants. But the fictional character did find his way
and became more enlightened as the show went on and depicted him being
met head on by a world and the people who were in it that were moving
forward in better ways.
This is where Donald Trump and this fictional character differ greatly.
Norman Lear , the creator of “All In The Family” pointed this out last year.
What Trump has done successfully is what he has always done in the past —
charm and maneuver his way into getting what he wants. Think about it
for a moment. He’s in the position he is now because he took stock of what
riled a portion of the nation up, then crafted a method to gain their interest.
He seized on that in the ‘80’s, a prime figure in the glitzy days of Wall Street.
He even took on the NFL by buying into and strong-arming the other owners
of the now-defunct USFL. He managed to parlay his fame into being a pop
culture figure, from appearing in “Home Alone 2” and a Playboy video to
being name-dropped by rappers like Raekwon. Hell, he even sat in with them
on radio interviews. And he was a favored guest of shock jock Howard
Stern. All of this while undergoing some sordid business affairs with his
casino properties in Atlantic City, New Jersey and other deals. Trump, at the
heart of it all, is a straight-up con man. Always has been, and as many are
finding out, continues to be even as he is the commander-in-chief. Because
the thing about con men is, they get given the confidence to pull fast shit
on you by those who ignore others getting played. Consistently. Look at it
from this angle — he managed to get a base who used to look at New York
City as a code word for all the things they thought were un-American and
not wholesome to vote for him. Rudy Giuliani was viewed as “America’s
Mayor” after the 9/11 attacks and couldn’t wrangle enough votes. Trump managed to turn his base into suckers by making his base believe that old lie-that “others(meaning people of color and women)” didn’t deserve what they got over them. That these others think they’re better.
So, what does his being from Queens have to do with it? It’s been stated
before that he has viewed being from the borough as a hindrance to his
ambitions and used it as fuel to rise to the upper ranks of society. But it is
also a place where he let the darker parts of his personality flourish. Look
at the recent appalling display he put on last week, basically taking the
side of white nationalists and neo-Nazis. There’s so many who are now
boldly expressing their disdain and disgust — but where was that disdain
when he went on a rampage of birther-ism against then-POTUS Barack
Obama? Where was it when he declared Mexicans and other Latino
immigrants as “rapists”? Trump has always been like this. Some say it
could be something passed down by his father, Fred Trump who was
arrested at a brawl between members of the Ku Klux Klan and NYPD
officers in 1927. Queens, and the city on a whole was dealing with a
rabid influence of the German-American Bund, a group dedicated to
spreading Nazism in the country. So much so that they even held a rally
at Madison Square Garden in 1939. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Trump’s family was exposed to this — there was a significant enough outreach in Queens back then. And a hefty resistance thanks to Jewish people there and across the city. Groups such as this have never fully died down — they always retreat and regroup. It used to only be visible in published letters to the editor in the New York Daily News or whatever tabloid-like exploitative headline the New York Post dredged up. Now? Hell, you’ve got people bold enough to put Confederate flags in their windows in the Lower East Side. These are people on the subways with you. Waiting in line to grab their Starbucks. In a cubicle two down from yours. And they feel that YOU don’t belong there. It’s more subtle & expressed in different ways like gentrification.
But it never left. Think about how many hipsters that live in spots like
Williamsburg made their way to Charlottesville last weekend. Take into
account that there are 27 listed hate groups in and around New York City
The Jamaica Estates I know now & Southeast Queens for that matter is diverse in many respects. Hillside Avenue is predominately a mixture of folks from India, Guyana, Pakistan and other South Asian nations. Folks from Mexico & El Salvador have their blocks. Boricuas are still ever-present. And Black people are holding on in areas like Rosedale and South Jamaica. Hell, there’s even a casino at the Aqueduct racetrack that at one point pulled in more than all of the casinos in Atlantic City combined one year. (Trumps’ properties have been closed and sold off.)Even living here most of my life, it still amazes me to go throughout the borough and see the multi-faceted communities. But not
everyone likes these changes. For example, having a mayor like Bill de Blasio who has a Black woman for a wife has brought some of the older bigots and those younger out again, some who take to the editors page & talk radio. To that end, Queens is not to their liking because it has gotten so diverse in the past 50 years. They feel as if they have no place here, rather than embrace the betterment of their community including hard-working people. Old bigots fade, newer ones choose to speak from their patio decks in the shade. Donald Trump is their voice, magnified. It’s the voice of a breed not yet dying but desperate to crack the melting pot that the city — and the nation was meant to be. And like anyone who’s spent too much time at the casino, they forget that eventually the house always wins and they will be left with nothing after placing a losing bet. When you look at the White House, the chaos would lead the sensible to believe it ‘s already taking place.