It was on Stern’s show ... that Donald Trump, then a playboy real estate mogul, called former Miss Universe turned Hillary Clinton supporter Alicia Machado an “eating machine.” It was on Stern’s show that Trump now infamously said he supported the Iraq War (“I guess so”) -- a recording that flatly disproves his countless claims he was against it. On Stern’s show, Trump also said it’s “hard to be a 10” if a woman is flat-chested and called the challenge of avoiding STDs his “personal Vietnam.”None of this was Trump's fault, according to Heffernan, because he had no alternative:
Trump ... was in personal and professional trouble, fishing for any publicity he could get, and in Stern, he found someone who was willing to put him on national radio, over and over -- some two dozen times in the ’90s and the aughts, according to counts by BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.So let's assume for the sake of argument that Trump had no idea the first time he went on Stern's show that he would be "cattle-prod[ded]" into "a burlesque" of "humiliation" by an interviewer with "a devilish talent" for "get[ting] people to publicly embrace their worst selves -- and say things they live to regret." I would have assumed he'd know all that if he'd heard the show once, but let's follow the argument where it leads. If Trump didn't know what he was getting into, that explains why he might go on the show once. If it was such an unbearable assault on his dignity, why did he go back "some two dozen times"?
This much-craved publicity, of course, came at price: Stern has long had a devilish talent for lulling guests into a false sense of security -- and then luring them into rhetorical traps. He casts his guests in a burlesque he scripts for them, and cattle-prods them into playing their parts, first fawning over them until they feel like celebrities, then bringing down the hammer of humiliation. He’s a diabolically domineering scene partner. No interviewer has ever been as adroit with treacherous leading questions in the vein of “When did you stop beating your wife?” Stern, in other words, gets people to publicly embrace their worst selves -- and say things they live to regret.
And why does a real estate mogul in financial trouble need shock-jock radio publicity? New York is full of real estate moguls, many of them far more successful than Trump. None of them seek this kind of publicity -- they're too busy actually developing and selling real estate. Why was this so necessary for Trump's career? (We can guess why it was so necessary for his ego.)
But Trump, Heffernan tells us, was desperate. So he had no choice!
Generally, [Stern's] guests in those days -- if not strippers and professional opera buffa types -- had to have been brought pretty low, so that a combination of psychological fragility and hunger for celebrity made them vulnerable to his mock camaraderie. That’s why it’s important to remember that Trump in the period of his appearances on the show was deeply in the red. By the time he was a regular, he had blown it all in Atlantic City, run out on his vendors, left his imperious first wife, Ivana, for the commoner Marla Maples, earned the yearlong silent treatment of his namesake son and reported a loss of nearly a billion dollars.So there was no alternative!
Stern took Trump’s calls, and even had him into the studio. He gave Trump free airtime, as would cable news much later. And so Trump became dependent on the shock jock. He even admitted at times to being addicted to Stern’s show, telling Stern during one episode that he was late to at least one “really important” meeting, because he couldn’t tear himself away from the broadcast.And he became "addicted" even though, in Heffernan's telling, he was being repeatedly taken advantage of and humiliated:
Stern, out of nowhere, with zero reference: “Why do people think it’s egotistical of you to say you could’ve gotten with Lady Di? You could’ve gotten her, right? You could’ve nailed her.”What a radio genius Stern was! It must have been so difficult to get Trump to talk that way. Trump is so thoughtful and considerate in other discussions of women!
“I think I could have,” Trump responds, uncertainly. But, with Stern’s nudging, he goes on to appraise the appearance of Diana -- skin, height, etc., as if she were a horse -- using the tone of sadistic connoisseurship he also used when talking about Machado. With this, Stern knows he’s got his checkmate. A fool’s mate, actually. Radio gold. Only a few sentences from Stern, and Trump has stooped to the show’s level of discussing every woman -- and a princess, no less, who had recently died tragically --as though she were a stripper.
Time for a victory lap, Stern-style. “Can I feel your ass, Donald? Can I feel your ass?” Stern says, to howls from his studio sidekicks. “Check you for your wallet.” Trump had indeed been pickpocketed of his dignity.Yes, and the dignity theft was so wrenchingly painful for Trump that he forced himself to go through it two dozen times.
Again and again Heffernan describes Trump as Stern's victim -- "Trump couldn’t figure a way out of this monkey trap," "Trump submitted even more fully to Stern," "Trump ... was not in the on the joke." After one appearance, Heffernan tells us, "the audience is left with the impression that Trump is more outside the realm of polite society than ever."
Oh, right -- Trump was so outside the realm of polite society that he got offered The Apprentice in 2004, right after he'd made those two dozen Stern appearances. He parlayed a semi-regular gig on a radio show enjoyed by many horndog media executives ino a lucrative TV career. What a humiliation!
This is preposterous. When Trump went on Stern's show over and over again, he was right where he belonged. He loved the attention. If what he said on the show is embarrassing to him now, that's because these days he's pretending to be something he isn't -- a man with serious goals who doesn't have contempt for the female half of the population. On the Stern show, he wasn't lulled into acting like a sexist pig and an ignoramus -- he is a sexist pig and an ignoramus. Shed no tears for him, Virginia.