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Bring on the Clown

Learn about PR from the man whose hair, ego, and finances are all about puffery.

Donald Trump

CEO, the Trump Organization
New York City
October 24, 2004

It’s hard to tell if Donald Trump truly is a ruthless, self-serving billionaire with a weakness for Ottoman decor, or if he just plays one on TV. Either way, one thing’s certain: Nobody beats Trump at PR.

So it was that, at the behest of his front man Howard Rubenstein — the closest thing public relations has to Vito Corleone — Trump found time one recent Sunday to school 4,100 PR pros in the art of self-promotion at the Public Relations Society of America’s fall conference.

Accompanied by his now-standard royal trumpet fanfare, Trump trotted out his usual Darwinian script on how to make it big in business: Always hit back, only harder; don’t trust anyone, especially loved ones; and never underestimate the power of a good prenup.

But that’s not why Trump was addressing the flacking masses. He is himself the king of hype, with a genius for winning attention for Donald Trump and thus the Trump Empire. Why that is became clear in a streak of mean-spirited, profanity-laced, misogynistic asides that, true to form, melted everyone’s heart.

LESSON ONE: DISH DIRT, LIBERALLY.

Mid-riff on humility, of all things, Trump got big yucks for this digression: “I was walking down the street with a very young and beautiful woman named Marla. Did anyone ever hear of Marla? I have. Trust me, it cost me a fortune. It wasn’t worth it.” Trump isn’t above dissing himself, either, if it will score him a few points for color. “I think I get terrible press,” he observed. “If there’s half a sentence that says ‘his hair is terrible’ or ‘he looks like s — t,’ I take it very personally.”

LESSON TWO: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID.

Part of Trump’s PR power is his black-and-white view of the universe. He hews to a simple character narrative of brash-businessman-with-a-big-ego that makes even SpongeBob SquarePants appear complex. “All my life I’ve been successful,” he began. “All my life.” When it comes to business, Donald is always, always doing “great,” despite an occasionally contrary opinion from his accountants in Atlantic City.

LESSON THREE: THE EXPLETIVE IS MIGHTIER THAN THE IDEA.

Trump regaled the crowd with his savvy strategy for managing headlines when the media thought his real estate empire would collapse in the late 1980s. “I said to the press [long pause], ‘F — k you!’ “

LESSON FOUR: SEX SELLS. MENTION SEX. A LOT.

Trump knows that settling into a stable relationship would make his PR hits drop faster than the fat diamond he just gave new fiancee Melania Knauss. In the course of a 30-minute address, he managed to make at least 15 references to women and/or the woes of marriage.

The look, the ego, the swearing, the sex. Crass, sure — but in that way, brilliant. He nailed his message, and he won 4,100 fans. It was all part of Trump’s signature (and carefully copyrighted) strategy: not just style over substance, but style as substance. Sadly, it works like a charm.

Everyone, everywhere in this country and around the globe, knows of the high level of political acrimony in America — the right and the left are more viciously opposed than ever, as evidenced by the rude rhetoric heard on the street, in social and mass media, and right up to scathing Tweets from the U.S. President himself.

Add that acrimony to a weaponized America, in which a majority of countrymen are armed to the teeth, with few checks on who may purchase, own and carry guns, including military-type weaponry. We are a country with no will among elected politicians to restrict or repeal this mass weaponization of the public, despite one tragic incident after another.

What happens next? A Congressman in the line of succession to the Presidency is shot, along with several his teammates, by a heavily-armed radicalized civilian, while doing nothing more provocative than practicing for a Congressional baseball game between Republicans and Democrats.

This tragic incident will inevitably lead to increased security and separation from the public of elected officials. It will provoke increased political discord among opportunistic individuals and media. There will be a brief period in which some leaders call for reform.

But, the chances of this cruel incident leading to real and positive change, either in quelling the fruitless heat of political discord rampant across this land, or in prompting much-needed reform of our gun laws, remains predictably remote. Our political leadership and civilians are collectively our own worst enemies in both issues unless people of goodwill and common sense finally raise their voices and say “ENOUGH!”

Is this an educatable moment leading to constructive social change, or will this odd confluence of political acrimony and negligent gun laws drive even more wedges between the people and their leadership? We must do more than hope.

OK, what’s going on? Young Reality Winner is not given bail for leaking actual proof that the Russians were messing with our election, while Comey hearings are described as non-conclusive regarding Russian meddling in our elections. She is a hero of the American people for having the courage to break laws to prove what our government says are only allegations. We are not getting the truth from our own government and not even from the news media. And people wonder why many are losing faith in the government and media? We the people are being “handled” by arrogant bastards who think they know what is best for us. Enough!

Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s son, made his last public appearance on the occasion of the dedication of America’s monument to his father in Washington, D.C. He was 78. Todd would die four years later. You can read about his fascinating life in my essay, “Dodging The Shadow of Greatness,” at http://www.chilit.org. (go to “papers online by author”, and look under ‘E’.)

On this day in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. The monument was first proposed in 1867, but construction didn’t begin until 1914; the cornerstone was set in 1915. Architect Henry Bacon designed it to resemble the Parthenon, believing that a defender of democracy should be memorialized in a building that pays homage to the birthplace of democracy. The monument has 36 marble columns, one for each state in the union at the time of Lincoln’s assassination. On the south wall is inscribed the Gettysburg Address, and on the north, his second inaugural address. There’s a persistent myth that one of the words in the inaugural address is misspelled, but it’s not true. Stonemasons did accidentally carve an “E” where they meant to carve an “F,” but it was filled in immediately and no evidence remains.

The marble and granite chosen for the monument came from Massachusetts, Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, and Alabama. Bacon intended to show the divided nation coming together to build something of lasting significance.

Sculptor Daniel Chester French studied photographs of Lincoln for years; his Lincoln appears somber, even care-worn, one hand closed in a fist and the other in a more relaxed position. Though it’s commonly thought that the sculpture’s hands are forming the American Sign Language letters “A” and “L,” the National Park Service reports that this was French’s way to show Lincoln’s strength and compassion. There’s also a rumor that the profile of Robert E. Lee – or Ulysses S. Grant, or Jefferson Davis – can be seen in the locks of the sculpture’s hair, but the National Parks Service insists that these are merely wayward strands.

The monument was dedicated in front of an audience of more than 50,000 people. Even though Lincoln was known as the Great Emancipator, the audience was segregated; keynote speaker Robert Moton, president of the Tuskegee Institute and an African-American, was not permitted to sit on the speakers’ platform. Just over 40 years later, on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Martin Luther King Jr. would give his “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of an audience of 200,000.

Yesterday, Vicki and I attended a life celebration for the friends and associates of Al Golin, a legendary Chicago PR man who has recently died. It was a warm opportunity to reminisce about Al, and to see, for the first time in a long time, and perhaps for the last in some cases, many of the people whom I’ve been associated with for the past 40-some years since I went to work with Al on the McDonald’s PR account in 1974. Together, we helped serve hamburgers and french fries to millions of people, brought some good and happiness into many lives, while living out our own stories among friends. Al’s family stood by him, as did we all, one more time, just yesterday.

J. Edgar Hoover was named acting director of the FBI on this date in 1924, beginning a term that would span nearly 50 years, and establish the United States Department of Justice as we know it today.

Hoover was born to two government civil servants in Washington, D.C., in 1895. He took a job with the Library of Congress right out of high school and took night classes to earn his law degree. He graduated in 1917 and joined the Justice Department. He rose through the ranks quickly and was soon appointed leader of the General Intelligence Division. He was the driving force behind the “Palmer Raids” of 1919 – a series of raids conducted without search warrants that led to the arrest of hundreds of suspected radicals.

He made no secret of his ambition to run the Bureau of Investigation, as it was known then. President Calvin Coolidge named him acting director in May 1924, and he was formally named director by the end of the year. He made it his mission to separate the bureau from politics, and fired anyone who was, in his view, a political appointee. He made it more difficult to become an agent – candidates must pass rigorous interviews, background checks, and physical tests, and at one point it was said to be harder to get into the Bureau of Investigation than it was to get into an Ivy League college. Hoover also established forensic evidence labs. He took on gangsters and organized crime in the 1930s, arguing that because gangsters crossed state lines, they could and should be apprehended by federal agents, rather than state and local law enforcement, whose resources were often inadequate to the task.

Hoover also made it the mission of the bureau to root out suspected subversives and communists during the Cold War. To get around the restrictions placed by the Supreme Court on the agency’s investigations, he formed the Counter Intelligence Program. COINTELPRO went after any groups that Hoover considered subversive, including the KKK, the Black Panthers, and the Civil Rights Movement. He criticized a free breakfast program for urban poor children that was run by the Black Panthers, saying it was a recruitment tool for the organization and called the program “potentially the greatest threat to efforts . to neutralize the BPP and what it stands for.” He ordered illegal wiretaps, searches, and even burglaries to compile files on many parties, including Martin Luther King Jr., whom Hoover “the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation.” He also kept immense files on Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley. When Charlie Chaplin – whose FBI file was almost 2,000 pages long – left the United States for a promotional tour in Europe in 1952, Hoover revoked his re-entry permit. Hoover also pushed to have John Lennon’s immigrant visa revoked; he had a huge file on Lennon that was kept under wraps until just a few years ago, and when it was released, it turned out that most of the information it contained was already common knowledge. A memo in the file reads: “Lennon has encouraged the belief that he holds revolutionary views, not only by means of his formal interviews with Marxists, but by the content of some of his songs and other publications.”

No president was willing to fire Hoover, or even ask him to retire, even when he passed the government’s mandatory retirement age of 70. Lyndon Johnson was quoted as saying, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” Hoover died in office in 1972, at the age of 77.

Given today’s announcement of the sudden firing of FBI chief James Comey, one can reasonably wonder why senior intelligence and investigative leaders are being removed (ne: “purged” by President Trump? Is the President covering something up, or otherwise removing those who are or might investigate and potentially prosecute him and members of his administration? Smells a little like a Watergate in the offing?

“Our country needs a good “shutdown” in September to fix mess!”

YES he did.

What?

Small, resentful, peevish, demeaning, taking his political frustrations out on the American people.

This is the act of an American President?

Light projection project planned for Merchandise Mart
Merchandise Mart

Elyssa CherneyContact Reporter
Chicago Tribune
One of the most iconic buildings along the Chicago River will soon become the city’s largest art canvas.

Starting in 2018, images will be projected on the Merchandise Mart’s nearly 3-acre river-facing wall, Merchandise Mart and city officials announced Sunday. The art installation is being designed to illuminate the Chicago River.

Publicizing the privately funded plan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the project reflects the city’s commitments to investing more in public art and increasing access to the recently extended 1.25-mile Riverwalk.

“The redevelopment of Chicago’s riverfront is vital to our ongoing efforts to attract 55 million visitors annually to the City of Chicago by 2020, creating new jobs and injecting millions of dollars into our local economy,” Emanuel said in a news release.

The Merchandise Mart is 25 stories tall and stretches across two blocks, according to Myron Maurer, chief operating officer of Vornado Realty Trust, which owns the building. In addition to the river, the building is bounded by Kinzie, North Orleans and North Wells streets.

A company drafted to take up the project has done similar work for the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the Empire State Building in New York City and other landmarks across the world.

A+I architects and creative studio Obscura Digital, the firms working on the project, are studying the feasibility of accomplishing the feat. City officials say the project also aligns with their mission of increasing public art, which in 2017 will draw $1.5 million in city funding.

echerney@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ElyssaCherney

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune

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LOGOHave a meeting of the Chicago Literary Club to chair tonight in town, so snow storm or not, taking the train in from Harvard to the Ogilvie Transportation Center for the night’s festivities. Wish me luck!

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