NEW YORK — It didn’t take more than an hour for the annual New Yorker Festival to get down to the elephant in the room: Donald Trump.
“You knew we were going there,” the magazine’s editor, David Remnick, told the crowd as he raised the issue of Trump’s rise to Republican nominee with his guest — none other than Bruce Springsteen.
The rocker, clearly the top draw at the three-day festival that ended Sunday, obliged with his opinion.
“When he was just a big, sort of bloviating New York billionaire he could be highly entertaining,” Springsteen said of the nominee. “He’s not funny as a presidential candidate.”
He predicted Trump would not win the election. But, he said: “I do believe he’s done a lot of damage already. I believe he’s let loose some forces from the alt-right movement — he’s brought them into the mainstream — that are not going to go away when he goes away.”
It wasn’t all politics: Springsteen spent 90 minutes discussing his life and career, and even reading aloud from his new memoir, “Born to Run.” The 67-year-old legend got an especially sympathetic cheer from the audience when he brandished his reading glasses — perhaps his only evident concession to the aging process.
“Put those cameras down!” he admonished the crowd. (Remnick also asked about the singer’s workout routine, noting that he was in “ridiculous” shape.)
The Friday evening appearance kicked off a three-day event featuring authors, actors, filmmakers and more on panels at various venues. This year, nearly 20,000 people came from 29 countries and 45 states, organizers said.
Not every panel was about politics — far from it — but there was plenty to satisfy the political junkie. Whereas last year, one of the most interesting events featured seismology experts painting a sobering picture of the earthquake risk in the Pacific Northwest, one panel this year offered what the moderator called “political seismologists,” to examine earthquakes of a political sort.
In that panel, “How We Got Here: Dark Money, Income Inequality, and the Forces Driving This Election,” New Yorker writers Jane Mayer and George Packer looked at the historical factors leading to Trump’s success, and examined the overall issue of campaign funding. A questioner asked the panel why so many people have problems with Hillary Clinton. “What has she done that’s so terrible?” asked the questioner — who, like most of the audience, was sympathetic to the Democrat.
Mayer replied that, in part, Clinton was held to a different standard as a woman, and asked how the world would be reacting if Clinton had been the one making the comments that Trump made on the “Access Hollywood” video ricocheting around the airwaves. “I don’t think she’d still be in the race,” Mayer said.
Another panel, “President Trump: Life As We May Know It,” examined what a Trump administration might look like. Panelists included Roger Stone, a prominent Trump ally, who engaged in spirited debate with anti-Trump voices on the panel.
At a late-night panel, comedian Sarah Silverman explained to New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz that although she’d been a huge supporter of Bernie Sanders in the primaries, she couldn’t understand Sanders supporters who weren’t supporting Clinton now. Clinton, she said, had listened to Sanders’ ideas.
Silverman also spoke about her recent health scare, in which she underwent emergency surgery for a life-threatening abscess on her windpipe.
Silverman wasn’t the only celebrity to discuss health issues; Springsteen spoke about the depression he details in his memoir.
Remnick asked the musician why he’d decided to write an autobiography at this point in his career. “I wanted to do it before I forgot everything,” Springsteen replied, to laughs. “It’s getting a little edgy, some of it.”
If there was any doubt that Springsteen was the marquee event, Remnick told the crowd that the event had sold out in six seconds.
“What took you so long?” he asked the lucky ticketholders.