In The Magazine

Trump: Making Palm Beach Great Again

Thursday, January 5, 2017

by Linda Marx

While the rest of the world waits, wonders and, in some cases, worries how Donald J. Trump will fare after his January 20 inauguration as commander in chief, many in the Palm Beach plutocracy are already glowing with excitement.

The barrier-beach town should benefit greatly from the new Trump administration, not least from the economic stimuli of its fiscal and regulatory policies and especially from the president-elect’s promised lower tax rates and caps on deductions. “Those will make the effective burden of state and local income taxes more severe, encouraging more wealthy people to become tax refugees in Palm Beach,” predicts part-time Palm Beacher Wilbur Ross, Jr., the billionaire investor and economic adviser to President-elect Trump, who has been tapped as secretary of commerce in the new administration.

Ross, also known by the sobriquet “king of bankruptcy” for buying, revamping and selling underproducing industrial companies, played a key role in raising money from Wall Street types for the Trump campaign. The 78-year-old was so excited about the win, he stayed up until the wee hours on election night.

Trump has selected another local, the daughter-in-law of Palm Beach’s Richard DeVos, Sr., the cofounder of Amway, to head the country’s Department of Education. Charter school advocate Betsy DeVos, a Vero Beach and Michigan philanthropist, as well as a busy activist and fundraiser, is elated, even though she was not initially in the Trump camp. Trump has also named Palm Beach County resident Ben Carson to serve as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate, recently bought a home in West Palm Beach and loves socializing with Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

Other mainstream Republicans who didn’t support Trump have changed face. Though they were labeled members of “the party of Davos donors” by new chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who further berated them for denigrating Trump supporters as “vulgarians, the hobbits” and “the peasants with the pitchforks,” as reported in the New York Times, most have also come around.

Even billionaire industrialist David Koch, who didn’t support Trump, has expressed interest in working with him on matters of mutual benefit.

Prominent Palm Beachers who weren’t afraid to back or raise money for Trump are even more excited for their future: art and Pucci-pants collector Bill Koch and his wife, Bridget Rooney Koch; Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach head Pauline Pitt; Landmarks Preservation commissioner Page Lee Hufty; Mar-a-Lago Club member and delegate-at-large to the Republican National Convention Robin Bernstein; talk host Rush Limbaugh and his Republican mover and shaker pal Gay Gaines; and bright philanthropist Diana Ecclestone likely think things could be worse.

Prescient Palm Beach resident Ann Coulter is another trumped-up winner. The conservative syndicated columnist and outspoken political activist wrote the book, In Trump We Trust, published last August, because she says she believes that “a bull in a china shop is exactly what we need to ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”

Indeed, many who have merely shaken the hand of Trump the Great now intimate that they’ve kissed the reality-TV showman and celebrity extraordinaire. And some wouldn’t mind if you think they’re in bed with the president-elect. Once the 2016 presidential election morphed into a stunning movement for change—and what appeared to be a New Conservative Revolution—the view from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club seemed rosier than a Mother’s Day bouquet. In coming months, members of the Mar-a-Lago Club should be poised for their own social uprising. Just as President John F. Kennedy had his “Winter White House” in Palm Beach, which spun the island’s sugar white sand into 24k gold, now Trump has his own warm weather bolt-hole at Mar-a-Lago, which should do wonders for local tourism. (After all, it was Mar-a-Lago’s creator, the cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who wanted her 1927 edifice to become the “Winter White House” and willed it to the Federal government. Considering it a white elephant, the United States sold it to Trump years before he emerged at the head of the white elephant herd).

Even if President Trump rarely ventures outside Mar-a-Lago for anything but golf, the rest of Palm Beach will enjoy knowing that the king is in his castle.

“Trump’s election is a win for Palm Beach because shops and restaurants will prosper, real estate sales will increase, and many curious people will drive as close as possible to Mar-a-Lago to try and catch a glimpse of this fantastic person whom I call Superman,” says Toni Holt Kramer, a club member and founder of the grassroots Trumpettes, a group of society women who are swirling atop cloud nine while aiming to emulate their newly elected president’s work ethic by empowering “all types” of women to toil away and improve their communities.

Kramer also believes that if President Trump runs America like he runs Mar-a-Lago, “everyone” will enjoy sweet endings. “Mar-a-Lago has the best desserts,” she told actress Desi Lydic, a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. “Coconut cake, apple crumb pie, cookies, and a machine that makes ice cream!”

Fittingly then, Trump has a delicious history in Palm Beach. The opening of his Mar-a-Lago Club in 1996 was the biggest thing that had happened to the island since Roxanne Pulitzer’s 1982 divorce trial from publishing heir Peter Pulitzer, which drew international attention and a constant stream of gawking tourists. (Few have forgotten the New York Post headline “I Slept with a Trumpet!,” referring to Roxanne’s recounting of a steamy spiritual moment, during the highly publicized trial. She took the trumpet to bed, she said, in hopes “the dead would speak to me through it.”)

Not only did Trump impeccably restore the 20-acre sea-to-lake mansion back to its early glory, his Mar-a-Lago Club also opened its doors to wealthy residents who were not welcome in most of Palm Beach’s restrictive clubs. Mar-a-Lago’s very presence added a spark of life to a once-stilted island.

And now that same spark has ignited a firestorm of interest and excitement that hasn’t been felt since the 1980s when the wealthy were fawned upon like Fabergé eggs. “It reflects well on those of us who live in the town of a sitting president,” says Palm Beach architect Ken Walker, quipping, “Pretty women will say hello to me and people will buy me drinks!”

Residents like Broadway producer Terry Allen Kramer (Kinky Boots, Evita, Sugar Babies, etc.) agree tourism will benefit Palm Beach, though she fears that her privacy and seclusion could be interrupted because “traffic will be horrendous.”

True enough when the president comes to town. But a well-executed Secret Service protection plan should make Palm Beach residents feel safe even if they are inconvenienced by security checks and car swipes.

Besides, a little difficulty navigating is nothing to fret over after reading a report from Climate Central that was published recently in the New York Times. It warns that Mar-a-Lago could be flooded at high tide by the end of this century depending on how fast Antarctic ice sheets melt if “greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.” (Not that many Trump fans will read or believe that.)

In the meantime, if President Trump makes good on his promises to upgrade water and waste, which includes protecting the dwindling water supply in south Florida, his three golf clubs—Trump International in West Palm Beach, Trump National in Jupiter and Trump National Doral in Miami—will be more attractive than ever.

And so will Mar-a-Lago. After two decades of legal wheeling and dealing to keep jets from flying near the site, which he felt created an “unreasonable amount of noise, emissions and pollutants,” he is finally getting his wish. Since Air Force One, the official presidential plane, shuts down airspace or airports completely when landing, Mar-a-Lago should benefit, at least while President Trump is in town.

“The image of Palm Beach will become more magical than ever with all kinds of important people coming here to be near President Trump,” gushes Robin Bernstein. “I stuck my neck out from the very beginning to support him and lost business in our insurance company because of it. But I never wavered on the strength and success of this man. I tell people to never bet against Donald J. Trump.”


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