Once upon a time, in New York City, in the 1950s, a little boy didn’t like his second-grade music teacher, Charles Walker. So, the boy later boasted, he slugged Walker, giving him a black eye.
“When that kid was 10,” Walker recalled on his death bed, “even then, he was a --” Oops, gentle reader, time to move on hurriedly with the life story of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate in the United States.
Young Donald took on a newspaper route to learn the value of money, but this was not “Leave It to Beaver”: On rainy days, Donald avoided getting wet by delivering papers while being squired around in the family Cadillac.
There are now more than 20 books out about Trump and while I can’t claim to have read them all — I am not a masochist! — I have waded through his life story so that you don’t have to. You’re welcome! As a reader service, here are the highlights.
Trump attended the New York Military Academy, where he thrived despite a regrettable attempt to throw a smaller student out from a second-floor window (this comes from one of the best of the biographies, the brand-new Trump Revealed, by a team from the Washington Post).
Enough of Trump’s youth; now let’s hurtle through his business career. After graduating from Wharton, Trump joined his dad’s real estate business and, er, worked his way up: At about the age of 25, he was named president of Trump Management.
Unfortunately, the Trumps seemed to have a policy in some properties of not renting to blacks. “I’m not allowed to rent” to black families, a Trump building superintendent reportedly explained at the time, adding that he was just doing “what my boss told me to do”. If a black person did make it as far as filling out an application, it was coded — in some cases, “C” for “coloured” — to make sure it was not accidentally approved. The Nixon administration sued the Trumps in 1973 for breaking anti-discrimination laws.
Something similar happened with Trump’s pageants. He began with the American Dream Calendar Girl Model Search, but that led to a lawsuit from a woman who said that Trump had groped her and restrained her in his daughter’s bedroom. The lawsuit also alleged that Trump had directed that “any black female contestants be excluded” from his parties. Trump denied the claims.
Back in the world of real estate, Trump had moved into Manhattan. In 1980, preparing to build Trump Tower, he demolished a department store using hundreds of undocumented Polish workers who were paid less than $5 (Dh18.39) an hour. Some weren’t paid at all and were threatened with deportation if they complained. In subsequent litigation, Trump blamed the subcontractor. The judge said that Trump’s aide was on site and that Trump himself should have known.
Ultimately, Trump Tower was a financial success, but the same was not true of Trump’s venture into casinos. Anyone who had invested in his only public company, Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, when it listed in 1995, would have lost about 90 cents on the dollar by 2005.
Trump as a candidate has, of course, refused to release his tax returns, but many years ago, he was obliged to release them for casino regulatory filings — and at that time he paid no federal income tax at all. Because of tax loopholes, he managed to report zero income (actually losses!) for both 1978 and 1979.
Do I risk losing you with finances? Time to look now at Trump’s family life.
Melania Trump says that her husband “is intensely loyal ... he will never let you down”. Then again, she’s his third wife. His first was Ivana Trump, and he then began a dalliance with Marla Maples, culminating in a dramatic made-for-the-tabloids confrontation between the two women while they were all skiing in Aspen. The resulting divorce negotiations were bitter, with Ivana alleging in a deposition that Trump had raped her; she later backed off that.
Trump then married Maples. She in turn gave way to Melania, who may well have arrived in the States illegally (Melania Trump denies this, but hasn’t furnished a convincing explanation for her immigration).
So what does all this add up to?
Whether in his youth, in his business career or in his personal life, Trump’s story is that of a shallow egoist who uses those around him.
Even as a child, he personified privilege and entitlement. In business, he proved a genius at marketing himself, but grew his fortune more slowly than if he had put his wealth in a stock index fund. He made a mess of his personal life and has been repeatedly accused of racism, of cheating people, of lying, of stiffing charities.
His life is a vacuum of principle, and he never seems to have stood up for anything larger than himself.
Over seven decades, there’s one continuous theme to his life story: This is a narcissist who has no core. The lights are on, but no one’s home.
— New York Times News Service
Nicholas Kristof is an American journalist, author, op-ed columnist and a winner of two Pulitzer Prizes.