Taking Down the Robert E. Lee…

Everything about this afternoon’s presser was insane: the stagecraft—coming off the elevator to a waiting podium, the Cabinet Secretaries standing uncomfortably beside him (that animatronic Steven Mnuchin they trotted out needs work, though; he did not seem very lifelike at all), his snarling interactions with the press, his insistence that Saturday’s statement about Charlottesville was “fine” (the way he said it, he sounded like someone trying to convince the pawnbroker that the ring they’re selling is 24-caret gold), to his putting statues of Generals Robert E. Lee and George Washington on the same pedestal (I tweeted a short history lesson to him) and calling some Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists “nice people”), to his walk-off through the lobby was nuts. But for a man who claims he likes to wait before making a state so he knows it’s true told quite a few whoppers. One of them was about something I took personally at the time.

While introducing his new, streamlined process for approving large infrastructure projects (they’ll still have to be reviewed by the EPA, he assures us, although given this NYTimes story about Scott Pruitt, that doesn’t really count for much), he remarked that, as a builder, he knows from over-regulation. Why, he had to deal with regulations to build Tr**p Tower. And that’s the issue.

Before that platinum-plated memorial to one man’s bad taste was erected, the corner of Fifth and 57th was the home of Bonwit Teller, a department store that catered to the carriage trade. The store was built in the late 1920s, and the facade included lovely Art Deco bas reliefs. While I was growing up, my mother’s mother, Sylvia Rothenberg worked there in what was then called the “foundations” department (if you were a woman of a certain class and age, it was a good bet you were fitted for your bra by my Nana). We used to visit her there, and I was always fascinated by those reliefs (it didn’t hurt that they depicted scantily clad ladies).

When Il Douché bought the property, to get the various tax abatements and, yes, regulatory approvals, he agreed to preserve the reliefs, and the gilded latticework over the main entrance. The Museum of Modern Art wanted them for their collection. As did the New York Historical Society. But when it came time to demolish the building, the wrecking ball destroyed them. Asked why, John Barron (one of the aliases he used to speak to the press) said his people told him they were “without artistic merit.” The longer the story remained in the news, the cost to remove them went up. First it was $32,000, then $500,000, and finally, he gave up on the cost, and blamed it on safety issues.

It’s now a (sadly) too familiar story: Tr**p makes a promise, breaks it, using the excuse that some people  told him something, lying about the cost, then making up another excuse entirely. Anyone who really believes he’s going to make a “pivot” is simply lying to themselves. Being a conniving liar who makes promises without any intent to keep them is who he is, and is not going to change.

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About Steven Mirkin

Steven Mirkin’s diverse career has taken him from politics to pop culture to high art, offering him a front row seat to some of the most fascinating events and personalities of our time: writing speeches, fundraising appeals and campaign materials for Ed Koch, John Heinz and independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson; chronicling the punk/new wave scenes in New York and London; interviewing musicians such as Elton John, John Lydon and Buck Owens; profiling modern masters Julian Schnabel, Paul Schrader and Jonathan Safran Foer; and writing for TV shows including 21, The Chamber, Let's Make A Deal, and Rock Star: INXS. He currently edits Obitmagazine.com. View all posts by Steven Mirkin

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