Project Showcase: Trump’s Gambling Heritage Tour
12 December 2016 – Levi Fox
Public historians are occasionally presented with opportunities to engage in projects relevant not just to our local communities, but of immediate importance to the entire country. Last summer, Donald J. Trump’s nomination as the presidential candidate of the Republican Party, combined with the decision to close Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal in the midst of a labor strike, offered me just such an opportunity. So, in September I launched the “Trump’s Gambling Heritage Tour” on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
As a PhD candidate at Temple University, president and CEO of Jersey Shore Tours, and a native of Atlantic County, New Jersey, I saw the rise of Trump and the fall of the Taj Mahal as a teachable moment of tremendous political and economic consequence. The walking tour begins at the Taj and takes visitors down the Boardwalk to the shell of the shuttered Trump Plaza. I stop along the route at several points to discuss president-elect Trump’s multiple casino bankruptcies, as well as the broader history of legalized gambling in Atlantic City.
Visitor questions have tended to focus on local stories that had not previously made the national news, such as Trump’s strategic acquisition of three nearly-completed casinos by 1990. Tourists have also inquired about tax loopholes which allowed Trump to boast that he took nearly a billion dollars of wealth out of Atlantic City, without investing much of his own money. While most visitors have responded very positively to the tour experience, some passersby have been upset by my sharing of unflattering facts about Trump.
This new tour immediately garnered media attention from the Philadelphia Inquirer and our local National Public Radio affiliate, as well as digital coverage. The interest which I have received from international journalists has offered the most intriguing opportunities. I have been able to lead tours for German, French Canadian, and Spanish journalists, helping shape their coverage of president-elect Trump’s career in Atlantic City. Moreover, the results of the election seem likely to provide me with an extended window to continue to share the real story of Trump’s legacy in our local community with a global audience. I will be offering this tour every Saturday at 1:30 p.m. through Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017.
I hope tourists take away from the experience a sense of how Trump’s history in Atlantic City may provide a useful context to understanding some of his campaign claims, and potentially, how he might act as president. I also hope visitors leave with a deeper appreciation of the ways local stories, told through material culture and sites of memory, can speak to national narratives.
~ Levi Fox is a PhD candidate at Temple University and founder of Jersey Shore Tours.