The Poor Man’s Celebrity

The biggest myth surrounding our new President is that he is going to fight for the “forgotten” American. That he is - despite inherited wealth, a penchant for gaudy opulence and an insatiable itch for celebrity - a man of the people. And that somehow - despite humble beginnings, a self-made career, years devoted to public service and family - Obama is the one that sits atop a gilded tower, looking smugly down on us. This, to me, is the biggest crock of shit, the biggest moral conundrum, and one of the main reasons I cannot understand Trump supporters. And in this case - when I say Trump supporters I mean the ones who feel free to call me out as a disgusting liberal, the ones who defend their vote by referencing The Apprentice, the ones who have no problem tweeting “Now the niggas r gonna have to tie their own shoelaces. Trumpnation!” 

Yes, I loathe them but some days, I pity them. I know a place of hardship; I remember it daily, even now as I type this from my comfy nest. Thirty three years ago, I was an immigrant, a ‘Polack’ who started out in this country with nothing, whose parents didn’t speak English, who sweat and toiled so I could feel free to chase my American dream. And I chased it hardcore. But I chased it without blaming ‘the man’, or any man, without passing the buck or the blame, I chased it despite and because of obstacles in my way. I didn’t give a shit who was on welfare, or who was born with a silver spoon in their mouth. I didn’t waste time on envy, bitterness or despair. I chased with all my heart, and begrudged no one along the way. I cheered the ones running beside me, supported the ones behind me, and was driven by the ones way, way ahead. But mostly, I concentrated on my own course. I concentrated on achieving my dreams, in my own way. The stage was set - the glorious American stage, and even though my ‘green room’ was a 2 bedroom apartment in a Flatbush, Brooklyn housing project, I headed toward the light. There is always a light, even though Trump loves to tell his followers that they sit in the dark, and that he, and he alone, can flick the switch. 

(A few months after emigrating to New York, visiting a friend’s house. The button reads “Kiss Me I’m Polish)

Trump has spent his entire existence insulated from reality. His son said so just last week, when asked what would be the biggest adjustment for his father as President.“We’re an insular family.” Trump has not rubbed elbows, spent any real time with, given money to, or shown any interest in those who have struggled. Hiring blue collar workers to build your towers is not the same as sitting down to a meal with them, or truly understating their problems. This egoist, this self-proclaimed germaphobe, this inarticulate fool who has no time or regard for history, news, books, or conversation - has no actual idea what kind of lives his supporters have been living. He didn’t want their stories; he wanted their vote. Shaking hands with the poor on a campaign trail doesn’t count. Making pie crust promises is not the same thing. The man who loves nothing more than coming up with a tagline (MAGA! You’re fired! Lock her up!) is living according to a script he concocted. Words are meaningless now; words are flung “off the cuff,” they are blurbs; they are ‘alternative facts.’ The truth is Trump is a billionaire with a lackluster education who relishes being able to ‘talk down’ to people, who behaves boorishly, whose sound bytes strike an appealing chord with people who have never risen above their means, who remain stuck. This is why he is their star. This is why he got their attention. He gave them permission to stew and rail; and then he held out a glitzy pipe dream and waved it in front of their faces.

Obama, on the other hand, rose up from his circumstances through sheer will and force of spirit, because of faith in himself and in what his country offered. He understood possibilities but didn’t just pine; he worked his ass off. He sought the pinnacle, climbed the ladder, slippery rung by slippery rung. But Trump supporters - the “forgotten” ones - don’t look at Obama as one of their own - when they should - exactly because of the fact that he was able strive and overcome. They don’t see his journey, his elegance and eloquence, as  inspiration. Instead, they see it as a slap in the face. They see his perseverance not as an attribute but as ego, a hidden agenda. And that’s because Obama is black. He is “other.” It’s the simple, hard truth. It is a truth that none of them will admit, because it means something frightening, and in their eyes, demeaning; that a black man raised by a single mother was able to overcome poverty and hardship, and they could not. 

So they turned to an imposter

They turned to a man who decorates his mansion with gold and shimmer, a man who has had three beautiful ‘trophy’ wives, who fathered (but did not raise) a multitude of worshipping children, a man who is not a believer, but who has no problem pretending he is. A man who never donned a uniform to serve his country, who brags about not paying taxes, who has appeared in dozens of movies as a caricature of himself (typecasting! SAD!), who grabbed pussies left and right, and whose vocabulary is worse than my ten year old son’s. 

This is their hero. This is their savior. This is their celebrity. This is their President. This man who is not a man but a brand. 

Politics is one thing; politicians fail us all the time, and I know that Obama in some ways, failed people too. I understand. But I also understand that character matters. The God-loving, God-fearing Americans who did vote for Trump; how were they able look past character? Somehow they were able to cast a vote hoping a “successful business man” would help their lives, even though said man had led a life completely at odds with their values. How did they trust a man who cannot be humble, or gracious, or affectionate, a man who surrounds himself with millionaire minions, and tongue-tied lackeys. A man whose life revolves around ratings, who is now starring in yet another shitty reality show, but this time he’s found the perfect audience. And the rest of us? We’re the annoying background; the day players. 

But, we’re not going anywhere. And if yesterday is any indication, we are gonna change the fucking channel. 

Every time I look at him now, every time I hear him bark orders, every time he waves those hands around, hands which never seen a day of hard work, I remember my own beginnings. I remember what I have achieved, and earned. I remember the “forgotten” ones. And I remember that he is not my America, our America. He is not the answer. It is my hope, that sooner or later, we will all get tired of his act, we will take away his script, and together, we will write a brand new one.  


We recently traveled up Route 1 in Northern California to visit friends in Humboldt for Christmas. These shots document the journey in a rather elegant way as we dipped in and out of several coves and beautiful sunrise and sunsets along the coast.