How has Trump, who has become such a comedic presence at this point that even Mitt Romney felt a little embarrassed around him, managed to achieve such a position? By being completely shameless at every opportunity. For years, it has been considered gauche, new-money-ugly for the rich to blatantly stamp their name on everything they see, to self-promote at the expense of everything else, to constantly scream into every camera how rich and powerful they are. Trump has always gleefully flouted this, screaming “Trump” at everyone on earth for 30 years now: Trump Catering, Trump Vodka, or Trump the Fragrance (an actual thing that existed in 2004), along with whole swaths of Manhattan. If this compulsion seems gross and shameless to you now, imagine how it looked to the old-money real estate class in the mid-‘80s, when Trump began making his name. Remember, Trump was the son of a man who owned middle-class rental housing in the outer boroughs (and Trump nearly went bankrupt when he first went out on his own); Trump’s rampant self-aggrandizing must have been considered the ultimate in unrefined yokel bridge-and-tunnel behavior, exactly what the rich aren’t supposed to do.
But not anymore. The fact is: We are all Trumps now. Our entire culture is organized around the principle of one’s personal brand being more important than any other concern. (One would almost call it “Trumping.”) “No publicity is bad publicity,” the idea that if they’re talking about you, you’re doing something right—that has been the driving force behind Trump for three decades. And now it’s the driving force behind everything: We’ve all finally caught up to him. There’s a book full of selfies from a woman who has never had a job in her life…and not only is it a best seller, art critics love it! The entire structure of the business Internet—and the message behind every single airport capitalist manifesto—is about building The Brand Called You; social media allows us to quantify how many people are listening to us at any given second, and we have used this quantification to keep score. Regardless of your profession—real estate magnate, actor, journalist, politician, janitor—your ability to shamelessly self-promote is baked into the job description. Whatever you’re good at, that’s not enough: You need to make people look at you.