Sunday, March 13, 2016

To Know The Son, Know the Dad - So What Can We Learn From Trump's Dad?

The above is a biblical citation with attributions to Matthew and to Luke.
"No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
Not quite what I had in mind, but the concept is there, even if it refers to one specific son and father.

But there are other similar beliefs scattered throughout our culture.

Attributed to Alexander Pope:
'Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined.’
The Free Dictionary tells us about:
'Like father, like son.'
Idiomeanings offers:  [At first I thought they were trying not be sexist by offering a mother/daughter example, but since it involved shopping, I think not.]
'The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.'

There are lots of sons who have distanced themselves from their dads and worked to be exactly the opposite of them.    Psychology Today has a long article tracing the changes since the industrial revolution that have changed the relationships between the father and the son.  Fathers today have fewer connections with their sons, resulting in what the author calls "Father Hunger."
Life for most boys and for many grown men then is a frustrating search for the lost father who has not yet offered protection, provision, nurturing, modeling, or, especially, anointment. All those tough guys who want to scare the world into seeing them as men and who fill up the jails; all whose men who don't know how to be a man with a woman and who fill up the divorce courts; all those corporate raiders who want more in hopes that more will make them feel better; and all those masculopathic philanderers, contenders, and controllers--all of them are suffering from Father Hunger. They go through their adolescent rituals day after day for a lifetime, waiting for a father to anoint them and treat them as good enough to be considered a man.
I think the author generalizes a lot here, and he doesn't offer any hard evidence in this essay.  But my own sense is that the love of parents - often the father - is a yearning that many men have.  They want father's approval and blessings and not getting it as they need it often plays a big role in men's lives.  They never feel truly comfortable with themselves and act out in many inappropriate ways.

What does Trump's relationship with his father tell us about this idea?

Trump's grandparents came to the US in 1885 from Germany.  Fred Trump, the father,  was born October 11, 1905 and became a real estate developer in partnership with his mother at age 22, who helped finance the company.

In 1927, sometime before his business partnership with his mother, he was arrested at a KKK and Fascist demonstration where two people were killed.  The Washington Post wrote about this after Trump claimed ignorance about David Duke and white supremacist support for Trump.  [I checked out the NY Times June 1, 1927 article* they cite, and the story, with Fred Trump's name is there.  He would have been 21 years old at the time.]

By World War II, with the US going to war against the country where his parents were born, Fred stayed in the US building barracks for soldiers among other things.  He was 35 and all men between 18 and 45 were required to sign up for the draft.  The National World War II museum site says 50 million men had registered for the draft by the end of the war and 10 million had been drafted.  I'm sure it wouldn't have been hard to make the case that his work was important for the war.

He continued to get government contracts after the war and Woody Guthry lived in one of his buildings for a time.  He wrote a song about it:
"I suppose
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
Racial Hate
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project"
Wikipedia adds Justice Department findings to the accusations.
In 1973, the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division filed a civil rights suit against the Trump organization charging that it refused to rent to black people. The Urban League had sent black and white testers to apply for apartments in Trump-owned complexes; the whites got the apartments, the blacks didn't. According to court records, four superintendents or rental agents reported that applications sent to the central office for acceptance or rejection were coded by race. A 1979 Village Voice article quoted a rental agent who said Trump instructed him not to rent to black people and to encourage existing black tenants to leave. In 1975, a consent decree described by the head of DOJ’s housing division as "one of the most far-reaching ever negotiated," required Trump to advertise vacancies in minority papers and list vacancies with the Urban League. The Justice Department subsequently complained that continuing "racially discriminatory conduct by Trump agents has occurred with such frequency that it has created a substantial impediment to the full enjoyment of equal opportunity."[12]
We do have to put this in context.  At the time, housing discrimination was was common everywhere.  I remember hassling my realtor uncle about not selling to blacks and his response was that he'd be in trouble with the realtors association if he did.  To his credit, he later helped get anti-discrimination practices adopted.  [My google searches can't find this quickly.  It's what he told me and he didn't make things up.  But I'm putting it on my todo list to find out more details about when Los Angeles realtors adopted anti-discrimination policies and if I can find any references to his role.]

Nevertheless, there were people who were more and people who were less aggressive about this.  The Fred Trump  example appears pretty aggressive.  (Yes, I know, I tend to understate things.)

The Wikipedia piece also tells us that
The couple [Fred Trump and his wife]  had five children: Maryanne (born 1937), a federal appeals court judge; Frederick "Fred" Jr. (1938–81); Elizabeth (born 1942), an executive assistant at Chase Manhattan Bank; Donald (born 1946); and Robert (born 1948), president of his father's property management company. Fred, Jr. predeceased his father when he died of complications of alcoholism in 1981.
The daughters seemed to do ok.  The first son would seem to have had some serious problems if he died in his forties of alcoholism.   How hard was it for Donald to get his father's positive attention?  From my own family, I know that Germans believed that kids should not be praised, that it would go their heads.  Fortunately, my father didn't follow that philosophy.

Trump seemed to act up a lot as a kid.  From another Washington Post piece:
"Before military school, Trump was famous for breaking the rules. Long before buildings would be named after him, schoolmates used the Trump name as shorthand for getting into trouble. 
"We used to refer to our detention as a 'DT' — a 'Donny Trump' — because he got more of them than most other people in the class," said Paul Onish, one of Trump's grade school classmates.
Then came military academy.  This article compares his classmates' impressions with Trump's.  As you can imagine, Trump's version is that the others lied and he was a natural leader who got a great education, even knew more about the military than people who fought in wars.

My guess is that Trump was acting out because he wasn't getting his father's approval.  Living at boarding school and then military school away from the family at such an early age does let us know that he wasn't particularly close to his parents at that time.  

The Wikipedia quote just above mentions that the youngest Trump child took over the father's business.  What does it mean that Robert, two years younger than Trump, became president of his father's company?  Wikipedia explains some of it:
In 1968 his 22-year-old son Donald Trump joined his company Trump Management Co., becoming president in 1974, and renaming it The Trump Organization in 1980. In the mid-1970s he lent his son money, allowing him to go into the real estate business in Manhattan, while Fred stuck to Brooklyn and Queens. "It was good for me," Donald later commented. "You know, being the son of somebody, it could have been competition to me. This way, I got Manhattan all to myself."[2]
Maybe that's what happened and they parted on amiable terms.  Or maybe Trump was putting a positive spin on a difficult partnership.   He does say they avoided competing.

Does birth order matter?  The research I found in a quick google search was too contradictory to base any generalizations to fourth-child-of-five Trump.

I'm not sure what conclusions we can take from this.  I haven't read Trump's book, which should give some insights even it if is full of spin.  What I've found is not inconsistent with my belief that he's still seeking dad's approval by trying to be a rich winner in the same field as his dad.  I know, his dad is dead, but he lived long enough (until 1999)  to see some of Trump's financial triumphs (and failures.)  Nor do the data prove my hypothesis.  Did Fred ever praise Donald for his achievements?  I'd guess if he did, it wasn't effusive enough or it was just too late.  Or maybe they got along well, but Fred's behaviors weren't very good models for Donald to follow.  And there are lots of other possible interpretations.

[UPDATE March 14, 2016:  It appears to me, after reading the NYTimes article Kathy mentions in the comments, that the 'bad role model' explanation may be the closest.  The article says that the oldest son just wasn't ruthless enough and Donald, who thrived on the constant criticism and sparse praise, became the favorite son.  Dad didn't like wimps and Fred Jr.'s family was written out of Fred Sr's will.]

Please take this as bits and pieces of data that may or may not point accurately at Trump's motivation.

*Since I had to sign in through the UAA library to get the article, I'm not including the link which wouldn't work on here.  But for those of you who want to check, it's June 1, 1927, page 16.  In that same issues there are stories about the Soviets spying on the Chinese, Lindberg being feted in France, a British researchers findings that blue eyed blonds tend to commit the vast majority of crimes, and that  the Yankees won both games of their double header, with Babe Ruth hitting two home runs.

I note that I've broken down and added a Trump label to this blog.

[More feedburner problems.  I thought it might just been too much html code imported when I cut and pasted, so I'm being careful about that, but it doesn't seem to matter today.]


  1. NYTimes had a long article about Trump's older brother, a mild-mannered guy who was held in contempt by Dad because he wasn't tough enough for the business, and who later drank himself to death. This article said Donald was the favorite son (obviously tough enough). In fact, Dad wrote wimp brother out of his will, and after Dad's death, Donald reneged on his promise to take care of wimp's disabled grandson. No sympathy for wimps in that family.

    NYT story here

    and though Donald was fourth of five children, he was the second son, so as wimp got read out of the family drama Donald became first son.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, for that link. It adds what I was missing and I'd updated the post.

  2. His Dads name was Drumpf not Trump

  3. His father's father:

    "One hundred and thirty years ago, in 1885, Friedrich Trump stepped off a boat in lower Manhattan with a single suitcase. Only sixteen years old, he had left a note for his widowed mother on the kitchen table back in Kallstadt, a village in southwestern Germany, and slipped off in the middle of the night. He didn’t want to work in the family vineyard or get a job as a barber, the profession for which he’d been trained. He wanted to become rich, and America was the place to do it.

    Friedrich wasted no time, and he did it by pushing the behavioral boundaries of his time, much as his grandson Donald would a century later. By the early 1890s, Friedrich had learned English; morphed from a skinny teenager into an adult man with a handlebar moustache; become a naturalized U.S. citizen, an easy matter at a time when there were no immigration quotas (much less debates about “birthright”); changed the spelling of his name to the more American-sounding Frederick; and made his way to Seattle, a wide-open city filled with single, rootless newcomers who’d arrived expecting to make their fortunes but found themselves facing the same uncertain economic prospects they’d wanted to leave behind.

    A quick study, Trump headed for a prime location, the city’s red-light district, known as the Lava Beds. There he leased a tiny storefront restaurant named the Poodle Dog, which had a kitchen and a bar and advertised “private rooms for ladies”–code for prostitutes. It would allow the resourceful Trump, who renamed it the Dairy Restaurant, to offer the restless, frustrated public some right-now satisfaction in the form of food, booze and easily available sex."

    At some point some people might wonder if there are any multi-generational patterns.

    1. Thanks, Anon 8:20. That Politico article says "to know the man, know the grandfather.'

  4. Well, genetics settles that, then. And as some Europeans say about historical emigration, "Our lower classes left to America."

    And then the USA turned that European rejection into its vaunted 'wretched refuse of your teaming shore'.

    Perhaps Europe got it right. It appears in so many stories of immigration to the United States -- a likely genesis of America's rougher discourse, simpler vocabulary, its public anti-intellectualism, its hold to religion, its ever-present money culture. To me, it does all makes sense looking at who we once were, hungry for that 'new life'.

    In this story, the German Drumpf becomes the American Trump.

    1. Jacob - Genetics plays a role for those with strong genetic traits. But even those cases, environment plays a role. Donald seems to have inherited his father's (and grandfather's) egocentric winner/loser view of the world genes, and they were further nurtured by his environment. Fred Jr. got genes that didn't match his dad's expectations and the conflict between following his nature and pleasing his dad seem to have tortured him. If Donald had had parents who acknowledged his strengths, but also modeled humility and empathy for him, who knows how he might have turned out?

    2. 'Genetics' was catch-all, including many pre-determinants. Of course that, together with who we were raised by, the communities which form us, the culture and language we learn and use, the religion and world view we accept and practice. But this only supports my analysis of Trump being that end result of things outside himself.

      To know what HE is responsible for, as if a person charged with culpable homicide -- that is the real task with this political apparition, I should think.

      I'd really rather not excuse his bad persona. Not when he parades it about as virtue.


  5. And Steve, no matter how many times you mention I can and should pre-write off-line, I don't. I saw I didn't catch a verb tense conflict from a word change until AFTER I clicked 'publish'.

    All I need is a post-publish edit function. For all this, the change needed was in "it does all make(s) sense" -- strike my now bracketed (s).

    1. It took a while to figure out what you were referring to. I kind of like the spelling rules of 1800, before Webster published the first American English dictionary, when you could write teem or team and no one cared.
      And I hear your pain over editing comments. And I’ve been having even worse issues editing my comments BEFORE hitting publish. The screen jumps to the top of the post and editing is impossible. I just cut and paste them into a word processor, delete the original comment, and put up a new one. Clunky, but it works. I’m doing this now off the blog because it didn’t like my html code for the link, but jumps out of the comment box when I try to fix it there.

      Actually, now that I reread your comment and see you're referring to a tense change, I realize I haven't found the one you wanted to correct. And I wouldn't have noticed the one I did find without you're making me read more carefully.


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