Maggie is going to die tonight. Pregnant and rational, two qualities not usually associated with women, Maggie is the community-building leader on The Walking Dead. Negan used the phrase “right hand man” in the trailer for the upcoming premiere and she is the one who, in the words of Rick, “hammered out the deal” that helped their community survive before they met Negan and his gang, the Saviors. Maggie was emerging as a strong leader, one who could eventually replace Rick. The de facto hero Rick is an unstable, loose cannon who wreaks havoc on his community with outbursts both physical and emotional. And yet, even when it is against the rag tag community’s best interest, they continue to follow him. So, it is with Donald Trump and his supporters.
I knew “The Donald” in New York. So did my father. Trump is as emotionally erratic as Rick is and as much of a guy with a hero complex. Only Trump knows how to fix it. Only he can stop the turmoil by creating even more turmoil. Trump, like Rick, plows full steam ahead no matter what anyone tells him or how much destruction he causes.
When my dad was a young man, working as a loan officer for a local bank in Queens, Trump sent one of his college friends to the branch to take out a loan. Trump hadn’t made a name for himself yet. He had recently graduated from college and his father was still in charge and held all the purse strings. The person applying for the loan was not a U.S. citizen and had no collateral. Trump was the co-signer, another person with no real collateral. Five thousand dollars seems like nothing today, but this amount was a large sum in the mid-60s. Especially to a small bank branch in Queens that would have to pay it back if Trump’s friend defaulted on the loan. My father understood what Trump was attempting to do and denied the loan. His manager over road my father’s decision and sent the approved application to the main bank headquarters, but they bounced it back: REJECTED. The branch manager ignored their decision and the local branch became liable for the money. When my father told me the story, he said, “I told him that Donald was pulling a fast one, but he wouldn’t listen. I knew we’d never see a penny of that money again.” He was right. After nine months, not one cent had been repaid. When the branch attempted to contact Trump’s friend, Trump called the branch to curse out the bank manager and my father. According to my dad, Trump used a string of f-bombs and threatened them with having his father pull all of his money out of the bank—a number that was more than likely in the millions. My father told me this tale over a meal. That’s when I get most of my information about my parents’ young lives. Snuck in between the lasagna and fennel, before the cheesecake and oranges come out, I discover my parents actually do know the score, even when they ignore it.
The telling of this story was prompted by my own tale of Trump. I was working for a real estate attorney in Manhattan. One day, I picked up the phone, answered it professionally and politely as I always did, and I heard something I’d never heard before: “This is Donald Trump. I want to speak to your boss.” I thought it was a joke. The lawyer for whom I worked had a lot of big real estate clients, but never “The Donald.” I almost responded: “yeah, and I’m the Queen of England,” but something told me to believe the voice. I put him on hold and went down the hall where I found my boss strategizing some deal with another lawyer. I expected him to tell me to take a message. That’s what he always did. Instead, he ran down the hall—a man who only walked slowly—and picked up his phone. He had a series of five or six consultations with Trump over the course of a few weeks. The bill was small in comparison to most of his clients, less than $20K, but Donald didn’t pay it. When I asked my boss what to do, he said not to bother. “Why?” I asked. “He needs to pay his bills!” I didn’t yet know my father’s story. I was working on the assumption people paid their bills, especially people who were rich. My boss said, “he never pays his bills and you can’t ask him because then he bad mouths you. Just let it go.” When I told my father this story, he laughed and said, “he’s an ass and he never changes.” Then he told me the story about the bank loan.
Years later, after 9/11, my dad and I were walking the Atlantic City boardwalk. The Blue Angels were flying overhead and police in riot gear and armed with automatic weapons were lining the pier. In the background, Trump’s casinos were in various stages of ruin. My father railed against Trump. “He’s a greedy S.O.B. who doesn’t care about any body but himself.” My father knew about the bank loans and the bankruptcies and how Trump left Atlantic City in worse shape than he found it. He pointed out buildings that were recently vacated and shook his head. He couldn’t understand how someone like him could continue to garner support in business when it was so clear his only business plan was to declare bankruptcy when he got bored or bled the resources dry. We bonded over our disdain for a man who made money by putting others in pain. And yet…
Yes, there’s an “and yet.” A few months ago, my dad suggested he might vote for Trump. I was shocked. “How could you?” I asked. “After everything you know about him, dad. How could you? I don’t understand.” My dad shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe he’ll be able to do something,” was his only response. I haven’t had the courage to ask him more recently how he’s actually going to vote in light of Trump’s latest rants.
People like my dad, living on a pension, not quite making it, are afraid. That’s how someone like Rick gets to take charge past the time when his efficiency and effectiveness as a leader works. We’re not living in a zombie apocalypse, but the way those on The Walking Dead react to Rick or the Governor or Negan is not much different to how citizens respond to Trump. People think he has an idea, no matter how outrageous, and put their faith in the crazy idea in the hope it might work. They hope it might place them in a better position than they had before. They try to not to think about how it could ultimately destroy them. Like Rick, Trump is a guy who always gets a second and third and fourth and fifth chance. Maggie finally comes in to her power on The Walking Dead, and I’m not sure she gets to do more than feel her potential. That’s why I don’t think someone like Clinton, who has better credentials than perhaps any previous candidate in history, is still not a shoe-in to become the next U.S. president. Trump’s taking his name off of his hotels. He thinks he can hide the evidence of his misdeeds and bad business practices. But then again, he hasn’t had to hide any of his atrocious behavior during this election cycle—the badder he is, just like Rick in The Walking Dead, the more folks seem to take to him.