Donald Trump is not the first US president to leave a trail of commercial interests in his wake. Jimmy Carter had that peanut farm; Ronald Reagan was in the movies; Bush drilled for oil in West Texas. But there is no doubt that our current tangle of chintzy, dollar-store Hollywood and DC politics represents one of the silliest and most grotesque political eras in modern history. It's become weirdly easy to forget, as this term trudges further on its death march to oblivion, that the blustery demagogue in the White House was also the executive producer of Celebrity Apprentice. The American mythos makes a habit of lionizing rich, easily aggrieved, blue-blood old white men, but at the very fucking least, Mitt Romney never put his name on a steak.
So welcome to 2018, where not only is Trump still our president, but a legion of shared-economy predators are doing their best to cash in on the many, many forgotten products the man emblazoned with his brand while he was still, technically, a private citizen. More specifically, I give you Trump Vodka, and its secondary market found on eBay.
Dozens of these skyscraper-shaped bottles deck the website's halls, trying to goad any sucker they can find into taking home a piece of (regrettable!) presidential history. If you look closely, you can begin to suss out the particulars of the economy. Empty bottles, depending on size and volume, usually retail between $25 and $100. Sealed bottles are considerably more valuable; I've seen them priced anywhere between $200 and $1,000.
Most of the products in Trump's constellation of bad business endeavors are not exactly tangible or resellable. Trump University was exposed as a gigantic scam; his airline, Trump Shuttle, barely ever existed; and Trump Mortgage… well… the less said about that the better. Trump Vodka, on the other hand, did actually make it out of the warehouse, before the brand was graciously canned in 2011. So it makes sense that some people have held onto their bottles, and are now offloading the stock as a shitty novelty gift. Yehoshua Jacobs, of Israel, is one of those salesmen. He tells me he saw some Trump Vodka sitting in his grocery store, gathering dust, before a light bulb went off in his head. "I sold one bottle for $250," he tell me over Facebook. "[I said] 'Let's try this again!' After a week I sold my second bottle. I have three more bottles left."
This makes sense if you know that Trump Vodka is still routinely sold in Israel, due to a weird legal loophole. Basically, years after the original line of Trump Vodka was killed dead, a distiller in the Holy Land named H. Pixel International was still producing the spirit based on a previously established deal with the initial partner, Drinks Americas. However, H. Pixel International did not have a deal to use Trump's likeness in the marketing, which caused the man to rain down an unsurprisingly whiny lawsuit on the company. That lawsuit was eventually scrapped in favor of a new brokerage, which allowed for the continued sale of Trump Vodka—name intact—in the country.
So, why is Trump Vodka still popular in Israel, when it's defunct everywhere else? No, it's not a Netanyahu-planted advertising campaign—the drink was prevalent in the country long before Trump ascended to the highest office in the land. Instead, Israelis liked the vodka because it was potato-based, and therefore Kosher. (The bottle Jacobs bought was part of a limited run for Passover last year.) Maybe it sounds weird that Donald Trump, of all people, is responsible for the holiest of cocktails, but everything in 2018 is weird and awful for so many ungodly reasons so—speaking for myself, anyway—I'm not all that surprised.
That being said, there are still people in the United States sitting on a cache of Trump Vodka, waiting for the moment to cash in. One eBay merchant in New Jersey, (who asked not to share his full name but operates under the username "airmax617,") can call himself a genuine investor. His wife's parents bought him a bottle as a gag, which surprised him, because he knew the line was discontinued years ago. He asked them where they purchased it, and drove to the liquor store in question in order to take home six cases of Trump Vodka. "I got it at a significant discount to what the bottles were going online for," he says. "The retailer had no interest of selling his liquor online so was not marking it up, selling at true retail cost."
Airmax617 speculates that if something truly dramatic happens, like an impeachment or a constitutional crisis, there's a chance the product might spike in value. "In general this is a very interesting piece of business and political history," he explains. "Vodka doesn't go bad." For now, though, nobody is getting rich off Trump Vodka. Jacobs told me he sold his first bottle to an eccentric collector type, who will probably let the artifact appreciate in value before posting it at a higher price. The second bottle went to a customer who simply wanted it as an office joke. (Fair.) So far, he hasn’t encountered any hardcore Trump voters willing to drop serious coin in order to pledge their allegiance through booze.
The more visible portion of the market share appears to be made up of either grifters or nihilists (two ideological bases that are currently going strong in America). Jacobs also asked me to share that he's currently selling a 1,750-milliliter bottle that was used as part of a front-of-house window display. "Not a regular bottle!" the ad exclaims. (Please be careful with your money.)
What else can we do than wish good luck to those who've found an outstanding accidental commercial niche by selling Trump Vodka back to its motherland? It's a true ouroboros of late capitalism and cynical political celebrity. Honestly, I cannot think of anything more uniquely emblematic of the 21st-century American experience than buying empty bottles from a failed alcohol brand named for our current president, a former reality television star.
Maybe next time, we can elect a president that doesn't have his (or her) own vodka brand? That really, really shouldn't be too much to ask.