Atlantic City as a metaphor for a damaged country

A worn plank of wood, leaving only the letters « MP » visible on the facade of a building being demolished. These are the last visible signs of Donald Trump’s presence in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

In the aftermath of the presidential election, the gambling capital of the eastern United States continued its slow “detrumpization” last Sunday, ahead of the rest of the country, but still marked by the harmful legacy of the years when the billionaire was built there through lies, abuse, exploitation and bankruptcy.

« Donald Trump is the shame of the city », summarized Nancy, the athletic fifties, after stopping his race on the boardwalk to contemplate the remains of the 30 floors of Trump Plaza that dozens of workers have been preparing for a few weeks for its blasting. Expected date of the implosion: January 29, nine days after the entry into office of the president-elect, Joe Biden. “A lot of people hate him here. All he has done for the city is abuse influences in order to create an image for himself. And he left without paying the bills. I worry to see the country in the same state after his four years in power. « 

Around her, the early morning has just spit out disappointed players, a young girl still intoxicated, lost homeless people, asleep in the middle of soiled paper bags on the benches, in front of disused businesses. Under the autumn sun that looks like summer, the promenade along the ocean reveals above all the face of a damaged city which, since the 90s, has struggled to recover. A shabby urban fabric that even the rare small families, retired couples on bicycles or long-distance runners are unable to illuminate.

« Trump is just a sad PT Barnum, » drops Jim Cramer, former union adviser to the city’s casino workers. A reference to the famous American entertainment entrepreneur, promoter of urban legends and a circus that bore his name. “Here, he mostly made an illusion to feed his ego. His supporters claim he is awesome. I say he’s a fool. « 

Shenanigans in the city

The recent history of Atlantic City is closely linked to that of the future former American president who, in 1984, opened his Trump Plaza there, 60,000 square feet of slot machines, restaurants, hotel rooms at the glory of enrichment by chance. « He made millions of dollars with the wrestling and boxing fights he organized there, » said Cole Hannond, an employee of a nearby casino, naming Mike Tyson and Hulk Hogan. But few people took advantage of it here. « 

Its Taj Mahal a little further on the promenade was inaugurated in 1990, presented by its owner as the « eighth wonder of the world ». The billion dollar monster has now become the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, following bankruptcy in 2014. The « willful and repeated » violations of federal money laundering laws have earned its owner, before he becomes president, a fine of 10 million dollars in 2015, the highest given by the government to a casino.

Here, he has mostly done in the illusion to feed his ego. His supporters claim he is awesome. I say he’s a fool.

« Trump, a businessman? That’s rubbish, Jim Cramer sneers. He succeeded in bankrupting three casinos in this city. With the amount of money flowing through these establishments, you really have to be incompetent. « 

“It has above all put thousands of employees out of work,” adds Nancy, before resuming his race on the promenade. Not to mention all the small workers, plumbers, plasterers, electricians who built and maintained its hotels and who have never been paid. Many have gone bankrupt themselves. « 

Despite this roadmap, on the Atlantic City boardwalk, there are still people to support it. “It wasn’t entirely his fault,” said Mike Saroka, who has come from New York to spend the weekend in the city. Competition from other casinos was strong. And the climate here does not attract people all year round like in Las Vegas ”.

« I dream of seeing him come back here, » said Nick Bulew, marketing agent for a city casino. It was the Democrats who destroyed what he built here. Because they didn’t like to see him make money. And these same Democrats will now do the same for the country by destroying what it has built. « 

« His organization has had more than 100 major real estate projects around the world, » says Michael Busler, professor of finance at Stockton University in Atlantic City and keen observer of the casino world. But we are only talking about the four of them who failed and filed for bankruptcy, he explains in an interview. The entire Atlantic City gaming market has suffered from increased competition and inadequate marketing, for which Trump was not responsible. From 2006 through 2016, total gaming revenue declined from just over $ 5 billion annually to $ 2.6 billion annually, a decline of almost 50%. « 

Blame others

Nevertheless, for historian Bryant Simon, of the public policy laboratory at Temple University in Philadelphia, to know Donald Trump well, « you have to understand what he did in Atlantic City, » he explained to To have to. He made Atlantic City his own. He promised to make the city great again, to make it something bigger than Vegas. His misreading of the market, bad trading decisions and poor negotiating skills did not allow him to deliver on his promises. So what did he do? He blamed Atlantic City, then asked for favors from the State and the City to finance his losses ”.

Worse, after his bankruptcies, “he never took responsibility for his failures. People have surely warned him about the state of the gambling market and the debt structure of his companies, but in his own way Trump has not listened. He didn’t care about the consequences, ”he adds. This adventure revealed another trait of his character from elsewhere: Trump demands loyalty from those around him, but he is not faithful ”.

In the city, for years, it has been the northwesterly wind that recalls the legacy of the billionaire by dropping debris from his tattered Trump Plaza on the promenade. « A horror in the city », for the mayor of Atlantic City, Marty Small, who in the local press last September, was delighted to have finally arrived at the long-awaited point of its erasure from the landscape. In 2014, Donald Trump brought proceedings against the new owner of the building, billionaire Carl Icahn, to remove his illustrious surname from the facades.

« We have an opportunity to do it right now, » said the elected. It took tenacity to demolish this building. I will apply the same to get a good development here which will attract families, and not just players. « 

“Built Back Better”, to rebuild better, in short, like the program that President-designate Joe Biden has set for himself to follow up on the Trump years across the country.

On Twitter, former Democratic Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill shared a video of an Atlantic City resident calling for the election of Joe Biden in front of the Trump Plaza structure packed for demolition a few weeks ago. . “There is something poetic about thinking that Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza could implode a week after President Biden took power,” she joked.

But since last Saturday, and the announcement of the winner of the election, poetry in Atlantic City is now approaching its first, and rare, fragment.

This report was funded with support from the Transat International Journalism Fund –The duty.

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