The Escalator Ride That Changed America

Four years ago, Donald Trump stepped onto an escalator in the atrium of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York and began descending into a lobby packed with cameras. It’s safe to say the 10 or so seconds that followed are the most consequential escalator ride in American history.

The cranked-up soundtrack was Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The cued-up crowd was made up of loyal staff, bemused reporters, people given 50 bucks to wave signs and make noise, and tourists and bystandersdressed up in early MAGA merchandise they’d just been handed. And they watched Trump, the director and leading man of his own lifelong show, standing and waving and giving a thumbs-up, trailing behind his smiling, stiletto-heeled wife, gliding through his habitat of marble and brass toward his discursive, xenophobic speech, his unprecedented candidacy and ultimately the White House.

“The famous escalator scene,” Trump himself would say. “It looked like the Academy Awards.”

What really went into that moment, and what was it like to experience? This oral history was assembled from reporters and photographers who were there; from Trump’s aides and advisers and former Trump Organization executives; from a lead architect and the construction manager of Trump Tower; from the co-author of The Art of the Deal and former contestants on “The Apprentice” as well as supporters and others who had seen Trump prepare and rehearse for this for decades.

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