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Showtunes Are Trump’s Portal to His Golden 1980s

The ex-president is addicted to the songs that scored his rise to prominence

Another day, another Trump White House goon trying to make a quick buck with a tell-all memoir of working for our most gelatinous president. These books are so cynically self-serving and interchangeable that, upon release, they are usually boiled down to a single anecdote in media coverage, a revelation meant to shock us. Typically they don’t because we’ve learned that Donny has always been weirder and worse than we imagined.

An exception, however, emerges from former press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s I’ll Take Your Questions Now. To assuage Trump’s frequent tantrums, she writes, a certain aide — the New York Times reports it was her ex-boyfriend Max Miller, now a congressional candidate — had to play him his favorite showtunes, including “Memory,” from the musical Cats. This babysitting role earned Miller the nickname “Music Man.” Trump has since endorsed Miller’s run.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the orchestral melodrama of Andrew Lloyd Webber as much as the next guy. But if I were in the kind of furious rage that Grisham describes as common for Trump, I’d be very tempted to punch the guy who started playing the Cats soundtrack on a bluetooth speaker in my vicinity. That the big boy liked it — no, needed it — is far scarier than his volcanic temper. I ask you, in all seriousness: what the fuck? There cannot be a human being wired this way. Trump is known to enjoy violent movies (Bloodsport) and hard rock ballads (Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain.”) How do showtunes square with his murderous machismo?

For an answer, we have to go back to the era when Trump attended Broadway openings. He claims to have seen Evita, his favorite musical, six times, and apparently loves The Phantom of the Opera as well. The former premiered in 1979, Cats in 1980 and Phantom in 1986. This era of blockbuster Andrew Lloyd Webber shows, full of sonic bombast and lavish spectacle, perfectly coincided with Trump’s rise to prominence in New York real estate and tabloid culture. Having box seats to the hottest musical on opening night would’ve helped to cement his social status, and, of course, to be seen in those seats would identify you as rich and important. (Recall that even Patrick Bateman of American Psycho is familiar with Les Misérables.)

There’s a fun theory as to why Trump particularly loves Evita — it critiques the faux populism and gaudiness of First Lady Eva Perón and President Juan Perón of Argentina, and he’s just thick enough not to understand it’s a cautionary tale — but where it comes to the other musicals, there’s no narrative justification. Throughout 2016, he insisted on playing Phantom of the Opera songs at rallies where basically no one else wanted to hear them. And I staunchly refuse to believe he could begin to summarize Cats, because even intelligent viewers struggle with its “plot.” No, it must be nostalgia for a time when he was on top of the world, before his string of corporate bankruptcies in the early 1990s necessitated a “comeback.”

We’ll never know the true extent of the damage Trump has done both in and out of power. But whether he’s getting amped with the brooding “Music of the Night” or soothed by the melancholy “Memory,” it seems fair to say that continually returning to an ’80s Broadway Mind Palace to bask in the tacky grandeur of the period is among his most disturbing habits. We take it as a given that he’s a bad person — but this has me questioning if he’s even human. One day we’ll hear speakers pipe these melodies in for his funeral and wonder if they were to blame all along.