“How the media elevated moneymakers like Donald Trump to celebrity status”

Amy Waldman, then at the NYTimes.

From an article, “Donald Trump, the QVC President,” by Amy Waldman in the 50th anniversary  issue of the Washington Monthly:

In late 1994, when I began working at the Washington Monthly, my new boss, Charlie Peters, asked that I write a piece on home shopping channels and how they preyed on lonely, mostly female consumers. . . .

Looking back, my claim that “the marriage of technology and commerce will make consuming ever more convenient,” and Americans more vulnerable, has been borne out. In June 1995, Amazon wasn’t yet a year old; technology and commerce had barely begun to date.

Nearly twenty-five years later, consumption is very nearly instantaneous, and consumer debt, then just over $1 trillion, is now over $4 trillion. (QVC bought HSN in 2017, after years of losing market share to online shopping.) Americans are superficially more connected, via social media, yet seem more isolated. The Internet has enabled predation on a whole new scale. Witness “Facebook love scams,” in which scammers pose as soldiers online to romance and then steal money from civilians. 

But a deeper and more troubling line runs from where we were then to where we are now. Writing about the 1980s culture of conspicuous consumption that spawned these channels, I mentioned how “the media elevated moneymakers like Donald Trump to celebrity status” and then went on to describe his ex-wife, Ivana: “In her pink silk ‘House of Ivana’ outfit, girlish blond curls, and what looks like tens of thousands of dollars of plastic surgery, she comes on HSN to share her designs and her secrets (and plug her new book).” It’s a reminder of how long the Trump family has been at this con, and how well tuned their playbook is. Ivana’s perfume must be good because, she said, “I could purchase any perfume in the world.” She proclaimed that “silver is in this year,” and that she “already knew that last year, because I go to parties. . . . I’m always dead ahead.”

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