Donald Trump used to be a sex symbol. We're sorry for making your genitals just wither up like that, but it's true. Sure, today, he looks like a plastic surgeon's medical waste brought to life by an evil flesh sorcerer, but in the '80s and '90s, he ... well, he had money. Playgirl ran a "Sleep With Donald Trump" contest that decreed "He's rich, almost single and yours for the asking," he was used as shorthand for "powerful New Yorker" in Sex and the City, and he popped up elsewhere in pop culture as Man Who Has Sex a Lot Because He is Rich. Sure, that image was manufactured (some lucky Playgirl readers won a silkscreened pillow and a copy of his latest book), but the Trump name meant fame and gossip rather than embarrassing policy failures.
Picturing Trump in the throes of passion is like picturing a flailing tube of Pillsbury dough attached to a dying pig, but it wasn't entirely outside the realm of belief to release a 2012 erotic novel, Trump Tower, credited to Trump's gold (plated) sieve of a mind. You may recall mention of this during the 2016 election, but as it was immediately buried under thousands of more relevant stories, we thought now would be an excellent time to catch up on our reading. Think of it as Cracked's very own October Surprise, in that I'm surprised I'm doing this to myself.
Written by author Jeffrey Robinson, possibly while having a gun held to his head, Trump Tower was the by-product of Trump's attempt to create a soap opera. The premise is that the Tower is occupied by the rich, famous, and horny, and Trump rules over them all like a bronzed God. To set the tone, within four pages, the building's manager has to help a naked supermodel who's been handcuffed to her bed in a bondage encounter gone awry.
In 2016, Trump Tower was trotted out amid 500 other ineffectual scandals to suggest that, stop us if you've heard this one, Trump has issues with women. Given that most of its women are introduced along the lines of, "She had huge tits, and oh yeah, her name was Jessica," there's something to that. But, four years removed from all the "Ha, look at this stupid thing with Trump's name on it! Surely a man this awful will never be President! It's 2016, and we can go to crowded bars and sneeze on our friends, baby!" headlines, Trump Tower is really a look at an alternate reality where Trump eschewed politics to become a bitchy gossip columnist instead.
While the women in Trump Tower are described by cup size, the men are introduced alongside their net worth, reputation, and most embarrassing secrets. In a flashback, an elderly Frank Sinatra visits a Trump property to make his impending death feel like a welcome alternative and, in an incident worthy of TMZ, he assaults a honeymooning man who asks for a photo. The real Sinatra disliked Trump, but never mind that; a young manager smooths things over by lavishing free goodies on the offended couple. He then butters up Sinatra until he buys the bride a diamond brooch and the manager $30,000 cufflinks for his troubles. Trump then personally gives the manager a promotion because no one, in Trump's world, wants anything but sex, shiny baubles, and Trump's approval.
That's a worldview so simple it seems to have been forgotten in desperate attempts to suggest that Trump is playing an ingenious game of chess by getting impeached, or that he finally brought a level of decorum to his office by not ejaculating on an American flag in the middle of a statement on natural disasters. In 2016, Trump Tower was reported to be sexist erotica and, given that a bisexual woman says, "I love you, too, so much so that there are times when I wish you had real balls," that was a fair criticism. But it's really a soap opera, 400 pages of interminable gossip and namedropping and petty drama. Every generic character is rich, embroiled in the kind of crisis that only their wealth can create, and thrilled to be living in Trump Tower. What more is good in life?
The plot is just a series of running vignettes that feel ready for TV, from one man's vague business negotiations to the comic relief of a horny rock star dealing with a pet ocelot gone rogue. I'm not saying the interlocking saga is bloated, but there are 18 mentions of people having showers. An employee caught having sex on the job is presumed interesting because he did it on the Celebrity Apprentice boardroom table, male characters are presumed interesting because their careers involve mentioning the NASDAQ, and even paperwork is supposed to hold our attention because it keeps the great Trump Engine running.
Trump himself barely appears in Trump Tower, although there are countless allusions to his supposed business acumen, celebrity friendships, incredible properties, and general awesome genius. But his rare dalliances into the mortal realm have an impact, like when a single text message closes the novel by squashing a power struggle. And when a character reflects on the stars who have lived in Trump Tower, including Michael Jackson, Johnny Carson, and Fay Wray, (the book neglects to mention Baby Doc's apartment), she also thinks of Trump himself, as though owning the building makes him as interesting and important as the people who live in it.
Trump was unusually fond of Trump Tower, spending over a decade trying to bring it to life as a TV drama in the vein of his beloved Dallas. Despite blaring "THE SEXIEST NOVEL OF THE DECADE" at you from its phallic cover, it flopped (and apparently brought Robinson's career to a stuttering halt). On Amazon, it has just a handful of reviews, compared to thousands for Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, Trump's rambling 2015 political treatise that itself feels like a relic from a distant age given that it makes passing mention to wild ideas like improving public transportation instead of governing through whiny tweets.
So while this is all just a footnote in Trump's story now, it's a telling one. The amount of effort that Trump put into bringing this soap opera to life far surpasses the effort he's put into running a country, and it was just one plank in a broader soap and reality empire he dreamed of building. Helming a bunch of trashy television, where the only consequences befell people too rich or fictional to be hurt, feels like his dream career. Hell, based on his alleged tax returns, it was the only career he had any acumen for. But instead, he became President, a job he doesn't even appear to enjoy because he has to do more than deal contemptuous zingers from on high while everyone talks about how great he is.
No one in Trump Tower does anything unless they get something in return, even if that something is the declaration that they've "gone to boob heaven." The thought of bringing good into the world even if it won't earn them a bonus, a blowjob, or a diamond bracelet is anathema, which is harmless for fiction but horrible for reality. Given that we've had four years of an emperor who isn't just naked but actively shitting on the pavement, maybe his dream of a soap empire should have been more of a warning sign to not treat elections like the greatest soap operas of all.
As inane as Trump Tower is to read, there's also a certain nostalgia because its occupants are all subjected to Trump's world by choice. Early in the novel, right after we're informed that Trump Tower is a nonstop source of gossip, Trump appears solely to contribute to it with a dirty joke about one of his residents. This fictional Trump appears to have more fun setting up his punchline than the real Trump has had as President, and it's certainly more fun to read his silly gag than to see the real deal wax about the joy of seeing a journalist assaulted while the COVID death count on his inept watch ticks ever upward. It's like a glimpse into an alternate 2020 where a happy, popular Trump is ripping into Mariah Carey's latest haircut, and fewer people are dying in lonely hospital rooms.
If that's too speculative and high-minded, just know that one of Trump Tower's many subplots involves the search for L. Arthur Farmer, a reclusive, possibly dead mogul who cornered the rice market and used his riches to secure the first slot in Trump Tower, because in Trump's fantasy the men with the biggest bank accounts fawn over his work. Farmer's fate is investigated by a professional tennis player turned writer, at least when she's not busy bathing, trying on skimpy lingerie, and otherwise wearing so little clothing that you'd presume the Tower's air conditioners were broken. Farmer appears to have become involved with a fringe religious community called the "Finfolkmen," which our ace reporter tells her husband from the bathtub before clambering out to get "onto her knees" and declare "Let's finfuckman, instead." So he inflicted that on the world, and somehow people voted for him anyway.