Daddy Issues

Early October, one month out from the election – and things were not going well for Donald Trump, given this item from Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns:

Mr. Trump has already slipped perceptibly in public polls, trailing widely this week in Pennsylvania and by smaller margins in Florida and North Carolina – three states he cannot afford to lose. But private polling by both parties shows an even more precipitous drop, especially among independent voters, moderate Republicans and women, according to a dozen strategists from both parties who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the data was confidential.

Liesl Hickey, a Republican strategist involved in several House races in swing states, said she was dismayed by a sudden exodus of independent voters in more diverse parts of the country.

“They are really starting to pull away from Trump,” said Ms. Hickey, describing his soaring unpopularity with independents as entering “uncharted territory.”

But he’ll always have his base, and Dan Zak suggests that may be a daddy thing:

Donald Trump is the “strict dad” that America needs, said a 56-year-old emergency-room nurse last week at a rally in Melbourne, Fla.

“He’s the kind of man you would want to be your dad,” a Los Angeles Trump supporter, whose son was killed by an undocumented immigrant, said in July.

“He’s the father figure I always wanted,” a hairstylist told the Boston Globe in December. “I feel like he’s protecting me.”

“Trump reminds me so much of my father,” Jerry Falwell Jr. told Fox News.

Put aside the oedipal stuff, the queasy sexual undertones of “father complex” – our emotional hang-ups, the whiff of fetish. America’s daddy issues might stem from the fact that our first experience with governance is our family unit. A parent is in charge, and traditionally, it’s Dad. Our politicians worship the Founding Fathers, the ur-daddies, the bigwigs in wigs. We can’t make any decisions, as a nation, without asking ourselves, “What would our Founding Fathers think?”

They’ve been dead for 200 years. We’re still trying to please them.

In fact, we all may have “daddy issues” that Trump relies on:

The hyper-partisanship of today – and the campaign of Donald Trump – might be understood through two kinds of family forms: the “nurturant parent” family (liberal) and the “strict father” family (conservative), according to George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.

In the strict-father worldview, Lakoff says, there is a moral hierarchy led by dominant forces: God above man, man above nature, rich above poor, adults above children, our country over other countries.

“Trump is the ultimate strict father,” Lakoff says. “It’s in everything he does. It’s in his body language. Conservatives tend to think in terms of direct causation: Build a wall, throw them out, use the bomb. Direct causation everywhere.”

Zak sees that:

Certainly some Trump supporters like him because they like his policy positions. But maybe some of Trump’s supporters secretly like him because he’s seven inches taller than Hillary Clinton and a man. On CNN in April, “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams, who has opined extensively about the Trump mystique this year, predicted the general election would be about Mom vs. Dad.

“The thing about Dad is that Dad is kind of an asshole, but if you need Dad to take care of some trouble, he’s going to be the one you call, you know,” Adams said. “If there’s a noise downstairs, you’re probably not going to call Mom, even if she’s awesome. You’re probably going to call the biggest person in the room.”

And that’s where Trump is unique:

Barack Obama didn’t really know his dad, so he wrote a whole book about him. George W. Bush’s dad was president first, which is a lot to live up to. Bill Clinton’s was married four times and died in a car wreck while the future president was in utero. (“I’m still waiting,” Clinton wrote in his memoir, “hoping there will be one more human connection to my father.”) Hillary Clinton’s dad was a tough guy who withheld praise and berated her mother. (Hillary was a “daddy’s girl,” brother Hugh once said.) Fred Trump’s “life was business,” says Donald, who turned out much the same.

He had a role model, but then everyone has:

Donald Trump’s employees view him as a “patriarch” more than a boss, Trump Organization Executive Vice President Michael Cohen told the Jewish Chronicle Online.

And yet the Trump children and Chelsea Clinton are routinely deployed to remind voters that their parents are, in fact, parents. “Yes, Donald Trump is my father,” the Trumplings imply as they praise him, “and he can be yours, too.”

Same goes with Chelsea.

“My earliest memory is my mom picking me up after I’d fallen down, giving me a big hug and reading me ‘Goodnight Moon,’ ” Chelsea said before introducing Hillary at the Democratic National Convention.

And Zak argues that this introduces an interesting dynamic:

Don’t worry. Mom and Dad are here. But you gotta pick one.

“#DaddyWillSaveUs” – That’s the name of a pro-Trump art show supposedly opening Saturday in New York, according to Breitbart.

And then there are the others:

Kaine is the Boy Scout troop leader asking whether you want cheese on your burger.

Pence is the youth minister who’s disappointed by your chalk drawings outside the entrance to church.

But Trump is the man:

Stern and resolute, Trump has promised to make everything better if elected. “The Apprentice” established his reputation as a hard-to-please disciplinarian, which he cemented on the campaign trail. His moral hierarchy is stone cold.

But what was the final sentence of his law-and-order acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention?

“I love you.”

Tough love. A strict father’s greatest gift.

But that’s not the gift Trump got from his own father. In Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald tells of how Trump’s father indulged him:

It wasn’t just 1995.

Five years of tax information from the 1970s that Donald Trump provided to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety show mismanagement and losses that could have pushed him into personal bankruptcy – but for the largesse of his Dad.

People have this all wrong:

The recent report in the New York Times, that a loss of almost $1 billion in 1995 may have allowed Donald Trump to avoid federal income taxes for almost 20 years, set off attacks by Democrats and pushbacks by Republicans over his business acumen and ability to identify with Americans who pony up cash to the government every April 15.

Given that deducting a loss against income in future tax years is both common and legal, Hillary Clinton and her allies have focused primarily on the almost incomprehensible financial thrashing Trump took in that year: The primary qualification offered by the Republican nominee for why he should be president is because of his success in business, and such a gargantuan flop showed he was a bumbler, not a successful entrepreneur.

But the real estate developer and his supporters have flipped the argument: Not only has Trump been open about the catastrophic consequences of his failed foray into the casino business that contributed mightily to the 1995 disaster, but he has written a book about it and even used it as a talking point in the opening scene of his reality television show, The Apprentice. “It wasn’t always so easy,” he said on the first episode of the show, broadcast in 2008. “About 13 years ago, I was seriously in trouble. I was billions of dollars in debt. But I fought back, and I won big league.” The point: Trump’s ability to recover from the 1995 financial wipeout showed he could accomplish anything in business, including recovering from a near-crippling setback, because of his skills.

That’s the argument that’s winning out, even if it’s bullshit:

That would be an inspirational and potentially effective comeback if not for one problem: Trump flopped long before his casino bankruptcies, causing huge losses that wiped out his tax obligations. And the primary way he avoided bankruptcy those times was not through any personal skill, but because of an accident of birth – his wealthy father, who set him up in business, bailed Trump out.

Eichenwald uses a report from the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety that summarizes Trump’s federal tax returns from the late seventies, a report based on tax returns furnished to them when Trump first tried to break into the casino business in 1980. This was just after Trump had his first big success – the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan – a deal which relied entirely on loans personally guaranteed by Trump’s father. There, Fred Trump also arranged for Donald to obtain a personal line of credit of thirty-five million dollars at Chase Manhattan:

But Trump was unable to control his spending… In 1978, the same year that Fred Trump set up the credit line for his son at Chase Manhattan, Trump’s personal finances collapsed… Losses came across the board. A number of Trump’s New York rental properties – on Third Avenue, Fifth Avenue, East 56th Street, East 57th Street, East 61st Street and East 67th Street – all were financial flops… Partnership investments – Park Briar Associates, Regency Lexington Partners and 220 Prospect Street Company – contributed even more red ink. The interest owed to Chase Manhattan on Trump’s massive use of his credit line topped off the dismal financial performance…

No one could withstand these types of losses given the comparatively paltry amount of money available to offset them. So Trump took the same route he did for the rest of that decade and in decades to come: He borrowed more to keep himself afloat… On September 24, 1980, Fred Trump arranged for a series of loans totaling $7.5 million to his son… That same day, one of the Trump family’s companies, Trump Village Construction Corporation, lent Donald Trump an additional $976,238. All of the loans could be paid back at any time, and Donald Trump was not liable for any of the interest payments on them.

That’s a sweet deal – free handouts to a total failure – which led to what Kevin Drum calls the six eras of Trump:

1970s: The Era of Early Failures. See above. Trump breaks into the Manhattan real estate market but racks up loss after loss. He is bailed out by his father.

Early 1980s: The Era of Success. A chastened Trump apparently decides to buckle down and pay attention to work. It’s during this period that he puts together the parcels and financing for Trump Tower, one of his most successful projects. This is the briefest of the Trump eras.

Mid 80s/early 90s: The Era of Catastrophic Failure. Trump reverts to form. He negotiates terrible deals for a USFL team, the Plaza Hotel, the Eastern Shuttle, and a yacht he never uses. He obsesses over plans to develop a grandiose project he called Television City, located on 57 acres of land along the Hudson River. But he bungles the deal and loses control. He builds casinos in Atlantic City, but epically mismanages them and loses a huge sum. By 1991 he’s broke. He avoids personal bankruptcy partly by browbeating his bankers and partly by pleading for tens of millions of dollars in loans from his father and his siblings.

Mid/late 90s: The Era of Desolation. Trump finally emerges in 1995, no longer broke but no longer all that rich either. His marriage to Marla Maples is heading south, and ends in divorce in 1999. He keeps up a brave public face, but these are bleak years with nothing much to maintain his interest. Then, in 1999, Trump’s father dies, followed by his mother in 2000. Trump inherits roughly $70 million or so.

2000 and beyond: The Era of Golf and Licensing. Building skyscrapers is now out of reach, since no one will lend Trump the kind of scratch that takes. So he starts overpaying for golf courses instead. Beyond that, he finally finds something he’s good at: making money from his mouth. He licenses his name to naive developers from overseas who still think he’s the king of real estate. He lends his name to a seemingly endless string of penny ante businesses – Trump steaks, Trump vodka, Trump radio – as well as a dodgy assortment of penny-ante scams – Trump University, Trump diets, Trump mortgages. In 2004, he hits the jackpot of random luck when reality king Mark Burnett chooses him to host The Apprentice, a show perfectly suited to Trump’s talents for bullying and bombast.

2015-16: The Era of Making America Great Again. You all know this part of the story, right?

Drum sees the obvious Daddy Issues here:

It’s kind of sad, really: Donald Trump has lived his entire life in the shadow of his father’s success. Everything he’s done has been one long, desperate attempt to prove to himself and the world that he’s as successful as Fred Trump – who really was a self-made man. He never found that success, though, and running for president is his final, most audacious attempt to win his father’s respect. Unfortunately, like all the others, it’s doomed to failure – and not just because he’s likely to lose in November. His problem runs much deeper than that.

Perhaps it does. There are the anger issues, and the vindictiveness, and the lack of self-control, and the lack of any attention span at all, and the scorn of the idea of knowing anything about the issues, and all the rest, but the stern and demanding father thing is special. That seems a little odd, given the tale Max Rosenthal tells here:

It’s no surprise that Fred tried to bail his son out of trouble when Donald’s Trump Castle casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was about to miss an interest payment in December 1990.

By then, Trump had already defaulted on the debt from his Taj Mahal casino. If Fred simply wrote Donald a check, the money would be used to pay off that debt. So, as the Washington Post’s Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher describe in their new book, Trump Revealed, the elder Trump sent a lawyer to the Trump Castle to sneak money straight into the ailing casino’s coffers.

“The lawyer, Howard Snyder, approached the casino cage and handed over a certified check for $3.35 million, drawn on Fred’s account. Snyder then walked over to a blackjack table, where a dealer paid out the entire amount in 670 gray $5,000 chips. The next day, the bank wired another $150,000 into Fred’s account at the Castle. Once again, Snyder arrived at the casino and collected the full amount in 30 more chips.”

That let Trump use the de facto loan in whatever way he needed. “Sure enough, the Castle made its bond payment the day Fred’s lawyer bought the first batch of chips,” Kranish and Fisher wrote. The tactic also had a nice financial benefit. “Not only did he avoid default on the bonds – and the risk of losing control of Trump Castle as a result – but patrons who hold gaming chips normally are not paid interest,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time.

His father didn’t tell him to tough it out, but perhaps he should have:

New Jersey’s Casino Control Commission investigated the chip purchase the following year and said it was an illegal loan that broke the state’s rules about casinos receiving cash from approved financial sources. The Inquirer wrote that a casino lawyer told the paper that “Fred Trump is ineligible for licensing, and Trump Castle should be required to return the money, a move that would almost certainly force it into bankruptcy court.” In the end, the casino kept the money and the commission fined the casino the relatively small amount of $65,000. But it didn’t save Trump. A year later, the Trump Castle went into bankruptcy, and Donald gave up half the casino to his creditors.

Still, he is like his father:

More than a half-century ago, the folk singer Woody Guthrie signed a lease in an apartment complex in Brooklyn. He soon had bitter words for his landlord: Donald J. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump.

Mr. Guthrie, in writings uncovered by a scholar working on a book, invoked “Old Man Trump” while suggesting that blacks were unwelcome as tenants in the Trump apartment complex, near Coney Island.

“He thought that Fred Trump was one who stirs up racial hate, and implicitly profits from it,” the scholar, Will Kaufman, a professor of American literature and culture at the University of Central Lancashire in Britain, said in an interview.

Who stirs up racial hate, and profits from it? When the profits are votes that can win you the presidency, the answer is obvious, and it all fits together:

Mr. Guthrie died in 1967, and in the 1970s, the Justice Department sued the Trumps, accusing them of discriminating against blacks. (A settlement was eventually reached; at the time, Trump Management noted the agreement did not constitute an admission of guilt.)

A spokeswoman for Donald Trump declined to comment on Mr. Guthrie’s writings.

None of this will sink in. John Sides, an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, explains why:

What do Americans actually believe about the wealth of Fred Trump? In a recent poll, Maryland political scientist Liliana Mason asked respondents to describe Fred Trump’s social class at the time of his son’s birth in 1946.

By then, Fred Trump’s company was almost 20 years old and he had built and sold many homes and one of the first supermarkets. It seems quite likely that by the standards of the time, he was already a wealthy man.

But this is not a widely shared view among Americans in either party, according to poll results that Mason shared with me…

Only 53 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of Republicans described Fred Trump as “wealthy” at that point in time. Most of the rest were relatively evenly split between upper middle class, middle class and working class – suggesting that they believe that Fred Trump’s social class was essentially the same as the people in Queens who were buying his homes in the 1920s for about $4,000 (or roughly $56,000 in today’s dollars).

That means that folks think Trump is just like the rest of us:

One could chalk up the perception to several things. Of course, Americans often have better things to do than learn facts about a presidential candidate’s family history. Americans also tend to underestimate how much wealth wealthy people actually have.

And Americans prefer for themselves the label “middle class” – even when their incomes are well above the median – suggesting that they could also apply the label to others, such as Fred Trump, with large incomes.

Okay, fine – Donald Trump is the stern father who made himself a billionaire from nothing – and expects the same of you – but that can get a bit absurd:

For son Eric Trump, Donald Trump will ultimately win over millennials against Hillary Clinton because like Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Republican nominee “has been an entrepreneurial guy” who became “the epitome of the American dream.”

“He’s gone from nothing into a man who’s just –” Trump said Friday on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” as Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky cut him off: “Nothing? He got a million bucks? Come on, Eric!”

Trump defended his statement, saying his father has “built an unbelievable empire” and has “epitomized what America’s all about: Opportunity and working hard and being able to achieve your dreams and what you want to succeed, right?”

Still, it does help if your father, a self-made millionaire, will spot you a few million here and a few million there, so you never have to face failure, and never have to learn from the experience. Fred Trump was actually the overindulgent nurturing mother here, protecting “her” son from the adult world the rest of us face every day. No wonder the son here acts like a sniggering eighth-grade bully. He was never allowed to grow up – but there’s another dynamic at play here. Kevin Drum hinted at it – Donald Trump wants to be an amazing self-made man like his father, and he must know he isn’t, and he feels guilty about that. Challenge him on that, as Hillary Clinton did in the first presidential debate, and he explodes. He has convinced himself he is that man. He convinced his sons that he is that man. He has pretty much convinced America that he is that man. If you need Dad to take care of some trouble, he’s going to be the one you call. That’s why he should be president.

That may work for him. Sure, he has daddy issues, but almost half of the nation has daddy issues. Daddy will save us. But a bit more than half the nation doesn’t seem to have those issues. They grew up. They see no need for a daddy. They’ll settle for a thoroughly competent somewhat flawed but stable president. It’s just a job.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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