By Annabelle Quince.
In June, real estate tycoon and television personality Donald Trump announced he was running in the Republican US presidential race. Many dismissed him, but within weeks he became the frontrunner in a field of 17 candidates. Annabelle Quince explores where Donald Trump came from, and why he is so popular with a large section of the American electorate.
‘The American dream is dead, but if I get elected president, I will bring it back, bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again. Thank you.’ Donald Trump
Donald Trump portrays himself as a self-made man, but his start in life was anything but humble. His grandfather came to America from Germany in 1885 and made his fortune supplying goods to the miners of the gold fields. His father, Fred Trump, followed suit, making his own fortune building low cost housing after WW1 and WW2 in Queens.
Don Guttenplan, editor-at-large forThe Nation magazine, has followed Trump’s career for decades. It all began, he says, in ‘the part of New York that the tourists never want to go’.
‘In deepest, darkest Queens in Brooklyn, not the chic parts of Brooklyn but the interior, you see these brick high-rise buildings or fairly charmless tract housing,’ says Guttenplan.
‘That’s Trump Village and Trump City; those were built by his father, Fred Trump, who was a quality builder who built homes for lower-middle-class people that they could afford. They were built on the cheap and they were built in large numbers, and that’s what made the fortune that made Trump possible.’
Gwenda Blair, who interviewed Donald Trump many times for her biography Donald Trump: Master Apprentice, explains that his childhood was both privileged and positive.
'There were five children. His father, by the time Donald was born in 1946, was quite successful. They lived in a 23-room house; they had a chauffeur and a maid. The kids were taken to their private schools in a limousine. So this was hardly a hard-luck story. They were already very well-to-do,' says Blair.
'They were also a very close family. On Saturdays and Sundays the dad would take the kids around to building projects, check on things, check on landlords and buildings, go up to the top floor by the back stairs and then come back down to see that the halls were swept. The kids went around picking up unused nails to be recycled. This was a guy who knew the value of a penny and didn't waste any.'
Trump began his career in his father's firm and moved into New York real estate with the backing of his father's money. 'His father's very considerable resources were at his disposal,' says Blair. 'Not that he could cash them in, but that spoke to his creditworthiness, and he had his father's financial connections with banks and with financial institutions. He also had his father's political connections, and both of those things were very important and worth a great deal at pushing him to the head of the line.'
According to Guttenplan, New York was (and still is) a one-industry town—and that industry is real estate.
'In those days the Democratic Party controlled all patronage and controlled City Hall, because New York was basically a one-party town. Fred was someone who was known as a benefactor to Democratic politicians. There was nothing corrupt or particularly egregious about the way Fred operated, but it meant that he was known to people and he knew people, and it meant that Donald knew people and was able to hire this lawyer who was the son of the leader of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and who had many, many more connections than Donald had in those days. So he was able to open doors for him, and he basically made Trump possible as a Manhattan player.'