As we move into 2016 and approach the U.S. Presidential election’s primary and caucus season, the indomitable Donald Trump remains the most surprising candidate of all.
Why is he so surprising? It’s not because he happens to be the most engaging and entertaining candidate in the race. And it’s not because he happens to be the most bellicose and confrontational candidate in the race. It’s because he is simultaneously engaging and yet bellicose, entertaining and yet confrontational.
How can any one, let alone a billionaire businessman and U.S. Presidential candidate, exude both types of personality qualities simultaneously? Is it possible that he is truly a sympathetic figure, but that he has adopted a merciless persona for political purposes? Or vice versa?
The truth is that Trump has always exhibited both types of qualities in his public behavior. In fact, one can look back over the decades of his public career and find numerous periods of time when Trump has behaved in an extremely admirable manner in certain respects, and in an extremely shocking manner in other respects.
Consider the Wollman Rink in New York City’s Central Park, for instance. From the late 1940s through the 1970s, it hosted numerous musical and theatrical events for the general public each summer, and ice skating activities each winter. The city’s administration shut it temporarily for repairs and renovations in 1980, but when it proved incapable of completing the restoration project after six years of effort, Trump stepped in and completed it in a mere three months.
Pretty impressive, eh? But now let’s consider the architectural loss of the Bonwit Teller edifice. In 1980, the same year that the Wollman Rink closed for repairs, Trump purchased the Art Deco flagship building of the Bonwit Teller department store chain and demolished it to clear room for his eponymous 5th Avenue tower. Although he initially promised to preserve the building’s classic exterior wall sculptures for donation to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he then instructed his construction crew to jackhammer the art work to rubble.
How can someone work to preserve one Big Apple landmark while destroying another? Some critics claim that, in both cases, he was acting to further his own private interests. After all, Trump derives a financial benefit by splashing his name in bright red text in the upper left corner of the Wollman Rink’s web site. And the sudden destruction of the Bonwit Teller sculptures permitted him to construct his Tower more quickly and efficiently.
But it’s unfair to simply conclude that Trump’s Wollman and New York Tower projects were not motivated at all by the public interest. After all, Central Park in 1986 was a far more dangerous and uninviting place than it is today. Trump had no way of knowing that, in one generation, the Park itself (and its facilities, including the Wollman Rink) would evolve from a troubled public resource in a struggling city to a crown jewel in a wealthy global metropolis.
And likewise, from its initial opening during the 1980s, Trump Tower has always maintained its signature waterfall atrium plaza as a public meeting space. Its public use clearly prevents its rental to a private restaurant tenant that could easily pay significant rents for the location.
So now that we’re focused on the U.S. Presidential election campaigns, if you find yourself marveling at Trump’s dual personas and wondering whether one is genuine and the other is a mere act, you can put such suspicions aside. In reality, there has always been a duality to the man’s personality, and it is likely to influence his future behavior.