Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Trump breaks stuff: Remembering NYC before Trump Town

(Photo by Robin G. London/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

Trump could have us in the palm of his hand – and that’s a bad place to be

Theresa May could cause us to end up as the vassals of Donald Trump.

And that’s very bad because he doesn’t build. He tears down.

I know.

My first immigration was from my hometown of Chicago to New York City.

You don’t ‘move to’ New York. You ‘immigrate’ because it’s like no other place. It’s another world.

I lived there from the end of the 1970s until the mid-1980s when the place looked like the broken, beautiful wreck you can see in the movie The French Connection, or hear in the music of Patti Smith, the New York Dolls or Tom Verlaine.

In other words, it was a great place to be young there because things were cheap, and good, clean art could be made. But it was already becoming Donald Trump’s town. There were signs.

A lot of the buildings then on the Lower East Side were called ‘shooting galleries’ because they were places where people squatted so that they could mainline heroin and stay high all day in peace. On Saturday mornings, the junkies lined up for the ‘Candy Man’, forming orderly queues as if they were in front of a vegetable stall.

If you were as green as I was, nothing could prepare you for the Big Apple.

That was what was good about it.

But Donald Trump was beginning to make it into his own image: a kind of Borough of Queens version of Shangri-La.

Before he and like-minded men took a sledge hammer to the city’s soul there was Times Square: like the inside of Toulouse-Lautrec’s head, smudgy and seedy and glorious.

Chinatown and Little Italy (or ‘liddle Itly’ if you said it right, like a proper New York Italian), were big, sprawling neighbourhoods right up against one another like pub brawlers.

You could go to an Italian restaurant for cannelloni and then cross the street to have chicken-fried rice.

As far as I can recall, nobody bothered anybody.

Until Donald Trump and his ilk came along and gentrified everything.

‘These damn quiche and Perrier joints’, an old timer said to me as his existence started being erased by rich incomers, ‘they’re killin’ us around here. It’s Trump. Never worked a day in his life, and dodged the damn draft, too.’

The ‘us’ he was talking about were the men who slept rough. We called them ‘The Locals’.

You gave a ‘Local’ a dollar because you knew that it was better for him to be dossed down on the street corner than in the shelters, warehouse-like buildings where they festered at night.

Homeless guys would be rounded up and brought in, packed into yellow school buses. This round-up happened at about sunset, when the sun was melting into the Hudson River, many streets to the west. And the yellow of those school buses full of grown men gleamed.

Many of those guys were young, veterans of Vietnam who’d lost everything. They’d come to New York to dream, too. But it was becoming the City Of Trump.

I would walk every Saturday morning down to Battery Park to see Lady Liberty.

Most New Yorkers – probably even now – have never seen the Statue of Liberty up close. That’s because they were born in New York City, grew up there. She was familiar, even if they had never seen her.

You go to find those places when you’re an immigrant. When you’re dreaming.

Donald Trump, in the 1980s, was beginning to take it away.

So I thought it was time to visit Britain – London. It looked free and at the same time, open to the world.

Like New York City once did.

The place I came to was Islington, now considered by The Sun and the Daily Mail to be the Capital of the Elite. Just say the word Islington and Brexiteer heads spin like the little girl’s in The Exorcist.

Islington, for die-in-the-ditch Brexit Ultras, has become ‘The Centre Against Freedom.’ Which is funny because it also sheltered and nurtured free thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft. She built her girls’ school there, a place where young women could be free. She wrote her most famous work because of Islington in 1792: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It seemed to me the appropriate place to live as a refugee from Trump Town.

I shared a big house full of theatre folks and musicians from Cardiff and Aberystwyth, a house which must be worth millions now. There was a bookshop called ‘Sisterwrite’. One of my books was on its shelves.

I had taken the American Dream to Britain; to London; to Islington. And it fit just fine.

What I’d left behind was a mighty city pricing out its poor; its elderly; its foreign born; its artists. Leading the pack of those who – like the then mayor of NYC – thought that you had to have $40k (a fortune in the early ’80s) to live in New York City was Trump.

Even then he was asked if he’d like to be President. And he played the journalists who treasured access to him like fiddle.

He played on the American Dream. I found it again in London.

The EU will meet in late April to begin their part of Brexit. No doubt the subject of Trump and the lunatic malevolency – the real danger of his tenure in the White House – will be a major topic of discussion.

If the EU imposes tariffs as their first gambit in response to invoking Article 50; if they ask for £60 billion for this crazy divorce, where does the UK go? What do we do?

One MP floated the idea that the UK bring up the matter of the debt that Germany was forgiven after the Second World War and call it evens. This is how crazy Brexit cultists are.

When asked, during a Congressional hearing into Russian collusion in the Trump 2016 campaign. if Putin supported Brexit FBI director James Comey replied: ‘Yes.’ Putin supports Brexit.

This week has brought a sea-change in Washington – and Trump loses.

After the failure to destroy Obamacare he has become a lame-duck less than six months into his term.

The Republicans – politicians after all, unlike Trump – have said, in effect: ‘We’re taking our Party back now. Thanks, dude. Oh and you can have the run of the place, eat and drink what you want. Relax.’

And with Trump now also under investigation by the FBI for possible links that his campaign may have had with Russia, this Presidency has been holed below the waterline.

As I wrote earlier in this newspaper: ‘The stench of Trump is the smell that Europe doesn’t want.’

There is no question that Geert Wilders invoking Trump and his glove puppet Nigel Farage stopped him from becoming PM of The Netherlands. Marine LePen might be making a possibly fatal mistake too.

Everyone knows that the French vote with their hearts in the first round of the Presidential elections, and their heads in the second. Her equivalent of ‘Make American Great Again’ – ‘Pour le Peuple’ – could be tainted now for two reasons: One: the EU is the premier political project of post-war France, and the French know that.

And Two, the French, well, they don’t really like America. Americans? ‘Mais oui: the culture; the food’ … But America, the big, hulking empire? ‘Non!’ Trump literally embodies this.

In Italy, where a populist might actually win and win big – Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement – they’ve already finished off one Trump, Silvio Berlusconi.

Michel Barnier, chief EU negotiator has said that he will negotiate only in French, not English. Although his English is impeccable. ‘We will engage.’, he has said.

And who’s our friend, our buddy? The man who repeated the lie that GCHQ was ordered by President Obama to wire tap him. The FBI director and the Director of National Security have both said that this was impossible.

The NSA head implied that the very thought of something like that happening was an insult to the United Kingdom.

Indeed it was. But we’ve yet to hear Theresa May address it.

And what about the hardcore Brexiteers? Have any of the ‘patriots’ who are trying to stifle free speech on the BBC and elsewhere, spoken up?

This isn’t a paean to Islington. Just some facts in a fact-free Brexit Britain.

Another fact: The big noise in New York City as Trump was building Trump Tower at the end of the 1970s, was that he had destroyed some precious artefacts to make way for its glitzy façade.

When one of his associates was asked about it, the associate is said to have replied: ‘Hey, so Trump breaks stuff. That’s him.’

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.