By mistake I watched some really early footage of Donald Trump the other day and I was struck by how humble and down to earth he seemed. Totally unlike the man we know today from the lurid headlines and speeches where he threatens to incarcerate Hillary and build a wall to keep out Mexicans. In 1980 Trump was just 33 years old. Appearing on the NBC News, he spoke about rental costs in New York. He was quietly spoken, seemed well-mannered and intelligent, yet just four years later he’d cast this persona off in favour of an altogether more brash and forceful demeanour. From then onwards every single interview you see shows him in this braggadocious light. Gone is the thoughtful man giving considered responses to questions. Instead, we’re treated to a brash, pinched lipped, tight-pocketed vulgarian.
What the hell happened in those four years? To understand you have to go back in time.
Donald Trump’s German grandmother, Elizabeth Christ, married Frederick Trump in 1902 and they emigrated to the USA from Germany. Frederick Trump had already taken advantage of business in the USA by founding boom town restaurants and boarding houses during the Klondike gold rush. Undecided about life in the States, he’d been back and forth. In 1904 they returned to Germany, only to about face and go once more to the USA in 1905. There is some discussion about whether he was avoiding conscription into the Imperial Army, but we’ll leave that for now. In any event, he succumbed to the Influenza epidemic in 1918 and died, leaving Elizabeth with three small children and a tidy sum of money, which, nevertheless would not have lasted long had she not have been the strong upstanding woman she was.
Needing to provide for her children, she hired a contractor to build some houses on a property she’d inherited from her husband. When she sold these houses she founded ‘Elizabeth Trump & Son’. Frederick Junior was still a minor. Imagine the strength of character it took for her to do this during the 1910s and 1920s. Elizabeth was the matriarch of the family and remained involved in the company right up until her death in 1966.
Frederick must have felt, at times, cowed and pathetic. He was, after all, forever tied to his mother’s apron strings. Is it any wonder that he instilled a hatred of women into his son, Donald? Frederick Junior has his own skeleton-clogged closet, but now’s not the time for it.
Roll forward some and Frederick Junior marries and has children of his own. He married a seemingly lovely, yet vigorously strong woman from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Mary Anne Macleod; herself a force to be reckoned with. Their eldest was named, you guessed it, Frederick, but this Frederick is a rebel; he’s a sweet guy who just wants to fly. He’s not interested in business, even though he’s pegged to inherit the family’s fortune in real estate. Instead, off he flies into the blue yonder, only to to drink himself to death at the age of 43, in 1981.
Wait…. 1981? Well, yes. Oh and did I tell you that his younger brother Donald was very attached to his older brother? Revered him, in fact. Now it’s all starting to come together. Here we have Donald, who’s encouraged by his father to take an interest in the real estate business because it doesn’t look like brother Fred will ever get it together. But oh how it must have hurt Donald to lose a brother like that; to watch him drink himself to death; to shun the family and turn away from everything they’d ever held dear - namely money. Donald’s even gone so far as to say that he doesn’t drink because of what happened to his brother.
And then there’s Donald’s sister, Maryanne, who was nominated in1983, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey by President Ronald Reagan. That’s a strong woman; a forceful woman; a woman with a mind of her own.
So, all in all, it looks pretty much like 1981 is the pivotal year in Donald Trump’s developing persona: the death of a much loved, flaky older brother, a successful and powerful sister, a strong mother, an even strong grandmother. I’ll leave it to the arm-chair psychologists to make what they will of this.
Married in 1977, but divorced by 1990 and already racking up ‘cruel and inhuman’ behaviour (to quite Ivana), he went on to marry twice more, his present wife being Melania Knauss. In recent weeks Trump’s treatment of women has taken centre stage, as he fights his, at times rambling, campaign for the Presidency of the United States.
One wonders if his grandmother is not spinning like a proverbial top in her grave as he blusters his way through the mire of detractors and tries to make like he’s the victim. Perhaps in many ways he is. It’s hard to be your own person when the weight of family history and responsibility is weighing on your shoulders. Old Donald must sometimes curse his much loved brother for having died and left him with the mess. After all, how wonderful would it be just to fly up, up and away and leave the angry, loveless father and matriarchal grandmother far far behind? But no, Donald shouldered the responsibility, cowed down, stuck at it and developed that unswervable self-belief we see in him today. If nothing else Donald Trump shows us how far you can get if you just believe steadfastly, in your own rhetoric.
Roll forward a little more of course and you get Frederick Trump’s death, in 1999. He’d suffered from Alzheimer’s for six years by then. One wonders if that’s what’s in store for The Donald, or whether, in fact, he’s already got it.