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Get inside Donald Trump’s brain with the man who first called him a ‘short-fingered vulgarian’

Spy magazine co-founder Kurt Andersen says the key to understanding Trump may be pro wrestling.

Marco Antonio / Courtesy WNYC

Kurt Andersen has done a lot of interesting stuff since co-founding Spy magazine in the 1980s: Editing New York magazine, co-founding, and hosting WNYC and PRI’s Studio 360 for the past 16 years.

But this year, Andersen and his Spy co-founder Graydon Carter’s three-decade-old magazine articles have taken on new life. That’s because Spy, starting with its very first issue in 1986, made a sport of antagonizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“The cover story was ‘Jerks! The Ten Most Embarrassing New Yorkers,’” Andersen recalled on the latest Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “And there he was, before he was even well-known in New York. We called him a ‘Queens-born casino operator,’ we had all kinds of little epithets. Regular people got an epithet attached to them. Henry Kissinger, for instance, was ‘socialite war criminal Henry Kissinger.’”

In 1988, Andersen and Carter hit upon the epithet that really stuck: “Short-fingered vulgarian.” As Spy got more and more aggressive in covering Trump’s business dealings, he began threatening the magazine with “massive litigation.”

On the new podcast, Andersen said Trump was “flirting with the idea of running for president” as early as 1987, but that he was a relatively minor player who was more interested in being written up in the tabloids than starting false rumors about a sitting president of the United States. Somewhere between then and now, the fantasy of being political seeped more and more into Trump’s reality.

“WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] is, if not the key, a large key to the Donald Trump phenomenon we’re experiencing today,” Andersen said. “What they started doing in the ‘80s, more than they’d ever done before, when he got involved in wrestling, is this blurring of the line between the characters they’re playing — ‘I’m pretending to be angry at you, Hulk Hogan!’ — and bringing that outside the ring and making it kind of real.”

“I have always thought he had some mental disorders going on,” he added. “One of the most basic — you can call it narcissism, call it whatever you want — [is] this hunger, this need like nothing I’ve ever seen in anyone for attention.”

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