The boardwalk was deserted on this bright spring day, a solitary security guard with nothing to do staring out to sea. Behind her an enormous empty building loomed. We were in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where my husband was attending a Credit Union Association conference. Quite why credit unions, known for encouraging saving and financial responsibility, should choose to meet in a casino resort is a bit of a puzzle. But when I learned where we would be going I had one goal in mind, not playing the odds, but making a pilgrimage of sorts to the abandoned remains of the Taj Mahal, Donald Trump’s failed casino.
We walked northeast away from a cluster of thriving casinos and restaurants interspersed with tattoo parlors, tacky souvenir emporiums, and fortune-tellers. The closer we got to the Taj the fewer the businesses and people, until there was nothing at all. The failure of Trump’s Taj Mahal has infected whole blocks of the northern Atlantic City boardwalk, leaving a wasteland. My first glimpse of the defunct casino’s signage was a surprise. You would think Trump could have come up with the money to remove his name from this embarrassment, but no. “Trump Taj Mahal” blares the sign across the top of the building, though the “p” is missing. The same wording on the grandiose tower is intact but badly fading. The glass entry doors are plastered with signs reading “Closed No Trespassing.” The presumably once imposing entry staircases are boarded up; the windows stare blankly at the sea.
The architectural style of this fantasy building is as fake as Trump himself. A messy hodge-podge of arches and domes meant to conjure the magnificence of the real Taj Mahal but failing to impress. The onion-shaped domes may have been intended to make us think of India but in the current context they can’t help but bring Russia to mind. The most Trumpian thing about the style is the heavy use of gold paint, the color that dominates the fake Louis XIV interior décor in his homes and resorts. I wonder what it looks like inside, the huge empty spaces perhaps haunted by the ghosts of disappointed gamblers condemned to a hell of playing slot machines for eternity.
The mood is somber as we walk back along the boardwalk to the open casinos. I’ve been struck by how miserable the gamblers look. They don’t look like people on vacation having fun. They sit slumped at the machines with expressions ranging from boredom to desperation. I was shocked to see that some brought their babies along. Surely all the flashing lights and noise can’t be good for them. But perhaps it’s worth it if Mommy or Daddy hits the jackpot. Then they can live like a King, or at least a Trump.
Like the gamblers of Atlantic City the voters played the odds last year. They bet that a successful businessman could be a successful president. But the evidence was there for all to see. Just look at the Taj Mahal. He wasn’t a successful businessman, just a conman with a flair for self-promotion who left a string of bankruptcies and failed projects behind him, stiffing his creditors and employees as he moved on to some new flimflam. Unfortunately his latest flimflam is the future of the United States and the American people. And that’s nothing to gamble with.