August 3, 2018

Trump’s AC History: Made in Mexico, Pakistan, Korea, Honduras, China, Sri Lanka…

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The long-awaited Donald Trump Museum of Atlantic City had its debut the other day in front of the moldering husk of the TRUMP Plaza Casino at Columbia Place and the Boardwalk.

Levi Fox, the historian and local tour guide who is also the museum’s curator and founder, arrived sometime before 2:00 pm with a card table and began ceremonially removing TRUMP-branded artifacts from a TRUMP Marina duffle bag while addressing passersby in his best P.T. Barnum voice.

There was a TRUMP Marina teddy bear dressed like a motorcycler, with a black leather vest and a Stars & Stripes bandana. “Handmade in China,” Levi said.

“Trump Marina did a series of different bears over the years. I happened to go for the biker.”

Next up was a TRUMP Taj Mahal shot glass that also appeared to be made in China. Levi displayed the Chinese characters on the bottom. “That’s just my interpretation,” he said.

Then came two “beautiful” (Levi’s word) matchbooks, made in Canada. “Thank you, NAFTA,” he said.

Next up a TRUMP Plaza ice scraper of the kind you’d use on your windshield. That had no made-in data, but it was a personal favorite of Levi’s, “because there’s nothing that can’t be branded.” Then came a “a beautiful TRUMP Plaza drink-warmer,” also made in China. “You hook it up into your car,” Levi said.

A batch of museum-goers had gathered, including two high school friends of Levi.

“Anything from Russia?” someone asked.

There was not, but a pair of TRUMP World’s Fair magnets were made in Mexico.

“That’s why we can’t have the immigrants come here,” one museum-goer said. “They have to stay in Mexico, so they can make the [magnets].”

A young man, looking like a Madmen extra, said “MAGA” at Levi as he walked by.

“Oh my god, that dude definitely just said MAGA at me,” Levi said.

One problem Levi faces is that people see “Trump Museum” and imagine he must be pro-Trump. He is not. But he seems less interested in disabusing people of that fact than in addressing the question of how a museum is a political statement in the first place.

The pop-up museum’s sign advertises the “Atlantic City Trump Museum” on one side, and the “Atlantic City Anti-Trump Museum,” on the other.

“You can see the way in which a museum is named can actually impact how you think about it,” he said.

Levi handed his high school friends two small boxes.

“Enjoy and unveil carefully,” he directed, while they poked through the bubble wrap.

Inside the boxes, were two TRUMP-branded piggy banks, provenance unknown.

“You put the coins in their butt,” one of Levi’s friends said.

I asked Levi if he could imagine another president who would need a two-sided sign. In his day job, he studies Korean War memorials had has a PhD from Temple. He said he spent a lot of time at the Truman Museum in Missouri, where they ask visitors to think critically about Truman’s use of the bomb.

“I view that as a model,” he said.

In the meantime, he’d produced two TRUMP Castle moppets, acquired at a goodwill in Ventnor, manufactured in Korea, a TRUMP Castle tape measure also manufactured in Korea, a TRUMP Marina teeshirt made in Honduras, a TRUMP Taj Mahal bathrobe from Pakistan, a TRUMP Plaza wallet from Taiwan, a TRUMP Plaza sweatshirt from the Dominican Republic, a TRUMP Castle camera, made in China. The duffel bag itself was made in Sri Lanka.

He’s considering two signs with arrows pointing in opposite directions, to highlight the post-reality reality we inhabit, but he says the one, flappable sign is more interactive.

“These are the types of concerns I’m trying to weigh,” he said.

A guy walked up in flip flops and a braided beard. He was Ogbonna Hagins, the Philly Green Man, an environmental activist from Philadelphia.

“What about people who don’t even care that his products are made in other countries, even though he says, ‘America First?’” the PGM said.

“My hope is that in this era of fake news and fake history when you look at artifacts and the tangible material culture items, it’s harder to say, ‘No this is not made in Pakistan. You’re making this up.’ The tag is sown in there.”

The museum runs from 2pm to 4pm in front of the Plaza every Sunday in August.

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