ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — The Trump Plaza sign at 2500 Boardwalk in Atlantic City once glowed like a maraschino cherry. The block letters—each about three feet tall—sprouted from three rows of twinkling lights, the sort of glamorous yellow orbs that might line the perimeter of a mirror in the dressing room of a Hollywood star, maybe someone like Sammy Davis Jr., who hosted the casino and hotel’s four-day grand opening in the spring of 1984.
Back then the place was gaudy and excessive, and that was the point. As Donald Trump’s first of several such businesses in the seaside resort town, it was introduced with the claim that, at 614-rooms (later expanded to 906) contained within 60,000 square feet and spread across 39-stories, it was the biggest and best Atlantic City had ever seen.
But a lot has changed in the interim.
For one thing, Trump Plaza is dead.
And on Wednesday, 32 years after it opened and 3 years since Trump sold it and sued its buyers to take his name off the building, Hillary Clinton came to dance on its grave in the most dramatic critique of her likely general election opponent to-date.
Dressed in a Kim Jong Un-style blazer the color of the sea, her tone was confident and her criticisms as unrelenting as they were uncharacteristically biting. She lingered on her every stinging word, as if she enjoyed playing the role of agitator more than she had anticipated. It was a familiar look, the one on her face.
In the beginning of his rise to the top of the Republican primary polls, when Trump would come out swinging at his every detractor, major or minor, at his rallies, he wore a similar expression.
She was, like Trump once was, having fun.
It was a preview of sorts for the debates and arguments to come ahead of November, except Trump was stuck sending his retorts in tweets and half a dozen press releases emailed to reporters.
“As the people of Atlantic City know better than anyone, Donald Trump cannot do the job for American workers and businesses,” Clinton said. “Now let’s just look at this for a minute: Donald Trump says he’s qualified to be president because of his business record.”
The crowd booed and laughed in equal measure.
“He said, and I quote, ‘I’m going to do for the country what I did for my business,’” she said in her best Trump voice. “What he did for his businesses and his workers is nothing to brag about. In fact, it’s shameful, and every single voter in America needs to know about it so we don’t let him do to our country what he did to his businesses!”
Clinton was standing before the building that was once such an ostentatious display of Trump’s, well, ostentatiousness.
The sign which had gleamed so brightly on the boardwalk still spells out TRUMP PLAZA—except now the letters are just dust and dirt.
And those glamorous lights were long ago turned off, many of them shattered and hanging by wires.
“Now it’s abandoned,” Clinton said of the structure.
“You can just make out the word ‘Trump’ where it used to be written in flashy lights. He had the letters taken down a few years ago, but his presence remains.”
The de facto Democratic nominee couldn’t have dreamed up a better backdrop before which to needle her opponent, in other words. It was like the wall of garbage Trump spoke in front of last week, except this particular wall of garbage was branded with the Trump seal.
Because Atlantic City, like Trump University, is a Trump failure with human cost.
Introducing Clinton on Wednesday was Marty Rosenberg, 73, whose glass company had been contracted by Trump to help build his Taj Mahal, just a few blocks away from the Plaza.
According to Rosenberg, Trump stiffed him on the bill of nearly $1.5 million. Rosenberg is one of many contractors who has alleged that Trump often fails to pay his bills preferring instead to drag the matter out in court, an expensive and time consuming process that many working class people cannot afford to take part in.
Visibly nervous, Rosenberg struggled to deliver his handwritten notes. At one point, Clinton extended her hand to move his microphone closer to his mouth for him.
“Trump’s actions caused great financial burdens to most of us,” he said. “Some lost their businesses, some went through bankruptcy, all suffered emotionally—all while Mr. Trump went about his extravagant lifestyle, never giving any of us a second thought.”
Clinton was, somehow, even less forgiving.
It helps her, of course, that Trump has not extracted himself completely from the town he abandoned and told The Daily Beast, in 2014, that he hadn’t visited in “about seven years.”
A central figure on Trump’s campaign is Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who himself failed to realize his stated goal to revitalize Atlantic City after funnelling taxpayer money into Revel Casino, an expensive new venue that was supposed to cure the town’s ills.
Instead it went bankrupt, and Christie went on the road with Trump.
“If your governor would start doing his job,” Clinton said at one point, “instead of following Donald Trump around, holding his coat, maybe we could really get New Jersey’s economy moving again.”
Broadly, Clinton was there to show, not tell.
But the story she’s selling isn’t only about Atlantic City, it’s about Trump’s character. Wednesday’s visual was for cinematic effect.
“He calls himself the king of debt, and he earned that title right here in AC,” Clinton said. “Here’s an important thing about how Donald Trump operates: he doesn’t default and go bankrupt as a last resort, he does it over and over again on purpose even though he knows he will leave others empty-handed while he keeps the plane, the helicopter, the penthouse.”