When it opened in 2010, the second-floor lounge at the Trump SoHo New York was decorated with a lavish collection of books bespeaking serious style credentials. Cocktail tables groaned with weighty monographs devoted to leading architects and designers. On the shelves, though, was something more rare: a complete run of Playboy, bound in luxe leather. If Donald Trump has a maestro in matters of taste, it’s surely his fellow teetotaler and sex fan Hugh Hefner, the pajama-clad, Pepsi-swilling progenitor of the lifestyle that so intoxicated boys of The Donald’s generation. Did creased editions of the magazine reside under the young Trump’s military-school mattress, as they did under those of every lad of conventional boomer proclivities? Even more important: Were the most distressed pages the centerfold, or J. Paul Getty’s 1961 column “How I Made My First Billion”?
Trump’s politics are, like Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy,” an impossible combination of liberalism, hedonism, bloviation, and misogyny. Both men have made world-class contributions to the objectification of women, whether via centerfolds; the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants; sleazy remarks; or the slimy prurience of their lecherous gazes. (My daughter is hot! Melania’s a 10!) But Trump does more: He objectifies—brands—everyone. Professional wrestling does for bulked-up guys what beauty pageants do for gals with the proverbial hourglass figure. And what could possibly be more objectifying than his ownership of jocks, whether Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie (who played for Trump’s New Jersey Generals in the short-lived United States Football League) or his erstwhile supporter, the rapist, ear-biting brute Mike Tyson?
Is it simply an inadvertent influence of the countercultural ’60s that his logo is tonsorial and his persona political? Much like Hitler’s mustache, Trump’s helmet of hair is his metonym. I don’t make this comparison lightly: While The Art of the Deal is no Mein Kampf, the media fixation, the facility for propaganda, and the grandiosity make for uncanny parallels. As Hitler (who also wanted to make his beleaguered country great again) put it, “The correct use of propaganda is a true art.” The Donald is even more unabashed: “I have always gotten much more publicity than anybody else.”
Because Trump’s main field of play is real estate, hence architecture, the coincidence of his rise and architecture’s own theoretical and practical fascination with branding is telling. For several decades, the intercourse between modern architecture and the mass media has been lively, and architecture’s own status as a form of media solidified. Playboy’s role here has been much marked. From the first, the magazine was thick with articles and images of modernist buildings and interiors: no end of Eames, Bertoia, Knoll, Wright, Mies, Bucky, Lautner, Safdie, Ant Farm, and many more. Beatriz (now Paul) Preciado points out in the marvelous Pornotopia that “in the late 1950s and ’60s, only one other article…managed to match the popularity of the Playmate nudes: the foldout of the second feature on the Playboy penthouse published in 1959.” Bachelor-pad pictorials were a staple throughout the 1960s, including such gems as an “Airy Eyrie in Malibu,” “A Baronial Bi-level for a Busy Bachelor,” “Exotica in Exurbia,” and “A New Haven Haven.”