The (mostly) charming family movie “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is about a divorced father living alone in his posh Manhattan digs. Unexpectedly, he receives two boxes of penguins, and chaos ensues. But the 2011 film has a not-very-subtle subtheme: the prominence of future President Trump as the quintessential rich and heroic New Yorker.
Popper (Jim Carrey) and the penguins go skating at Central Park’s Wollman Skating Rink — excuse me, the Trump Wollman rink. You see TRUMP in gigantic letters appearing in almost every camera angle and no Wollman.
There’s a scene in the landmark Tavern on the Green, where Popper quips, “You can’t even get a reservation here unless you’re dating The Donald.” No explanation needed about whom “The Donald” refers to or his alleged attraction to fabulous women.
“What is up with this Donald Trump as product placement?” a reviewer for the National Catholic Register asked at the time.
There’s more of that in the backstory. The real-life Tavern had fallen on hard times and was closed. Trump was talking big to New York media about plans to spend $20 million to rebuild the icon and make it “the highest-grossing restaurant on the planet.”
But it was only talk. When the city parks department finally asked potential operators to submit bids, Trump was nowhere to be found.
“Bizarrely, the movie seems to pretend that Trump already has something to do with the place,” the reviewer complained.
This is my roundabout way of noting that Trump can no longer get away with playing big-hearted tycoon on what was his home turf. The Trump name is gone from six of his buildings and the skating facility (again called the Wollman Rink). Their association with the president was turning off the public.
Before the 2016 campaign, New Yorkers didn’t detest Trump as so many do today. They regarded him as a colorful character who aspired to be in the top tier of the city’s superwealthy. Maybe he scammed the little people — for example, tricking them to buy stock in his failing casinos — but hard-hearted sophisticates thought the investors had it coming. They believed in easy money and didn’t do their homework on Trump.
Trump recently moved his official permanent residence from New York to Florida. Saving taxes is the reason often put forward for the move. But another is the reality that Trump has no path for returning to Gotham as anything but a loathed figure.
Just last month, he was roundly booed at a World Series game in Washington, D.C. Perhaps assuming he’d receive a warm MAGA welcome at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, he joined the crowds at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The jeers matched the cheers.
After the presidency, he’d be razzed almost everywhere in the city. Some local magnates might thank him for cutting their taxes, but the middle-class masses would remain angry that he raised theirs by taking away deductions for their high state and local taxes.
Now, life could be palmy at Mar-a-Lago. Trump would find year-round golf, and he’d remain king of his compound. Rich Palm Beachers might invite him over to add buzz to their parties.
But the glittering global stage that is Gotham would no longer be his oyster. Sure, he could visit, but not as a hotshot everyone wants to please. He’d also have a hard time cultivating the name and the image that has been key to The Trump Organization.
So-called Trump Country is the last place he’d want to live. He really likes to surround himself with the superrich. So Florida it is; and obscurity his future. There’s no going home for Donald Trump, certainly not if he thinks home is New York.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.