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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 10/9/18

Trump: My Father Made Me Do It

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No, Donald Trump hasn't blamed his father for his own aberrant behavior... not yet. But given that he much prefers to blame others for his own questionable actions, he could be excused if, in a moment of extreme candor, he did blame Dad for such outrages as his contempt for the law, his lying, and his taunting of the vulnerable.

The NY Times' recent 14,000-word expose on the Trump family's fortune is billed as "unprecedented in scope and precision, offering the first comprehensive look at the inherited fortune and tax dodges that guaranteed Donald J. Trump a gilded life." The fact that Trump hasn't seen fit to mock it as "fake news", but rather issue only a tepid single Tweet accusing the Times of "doing a very old, boring and often told hit piece on me", suggests he doesn't dispute either its veracity.

The Times report is full of evidence that the Trump family, led by father Fred and son Donald, avoided as much as $550 million of taxes thanks to questionable application of the tax laws. But beyond the complex tax dodges, the report is as much a deep dive into how the scion of a wealthy family corrupted his favorite son, financially and morally, as it is a revelation of high-stakes tax dodging. Here are key lessons Fred taught Donald, based on the Times' reporting:

A deep disrespect for the law. As president, Trump has frequently made clear his lack of respect for the law, most prominently by repeatedly seeking to discredit and undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. This disrespect for the law goes back decades for the Trumps. In the Times' telling, the dynamic is akin to a mob family, where "father and son were of one mind about rules and regulations, viewing them as annoyances to be finessed or, when necessary, ignored. As described by family members and associates in interviews and sworn testimony, theirs was an intimate, endless confederacy sealed by blood, shared secrets and a Hobbesian view of what it took to dominate and win."

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Joy in lying and misleading others. Various media have tallied the president's penchant for lying, with the Washington Post putting the current number of lies and misleading statements at well over 4,000 in nearly 600 days in office. When you read about the Trump father-son alliance, you realize that the lies and exaggerations are no accident or the result of carelessness. Father and son "were both fluent in the language of half-truths and lies, interviews and records show. They both delighted in transgressing without getting caught."

The Times points most prominently to the narrative put forth by Donald over several decades that he is a self-made multibillionaire, who had just a little help getting started in real estate in the form of a $1 million loan from Dad, that was repaid, with interest. "Donald Trump built the foundation for the myth in the 1970s by appropriating his father's empire as his own... Through it all, Fred Trump played along. Never once did he publicly question his son's claim about the $1-million loan. 'Everything he touches seems to turn to gold,' he told The Times for that first profile in 1976. 'He's gone way beyond me, absolutely,' he said when The Times profiled his son again in 1983."

Cruelty to the vulnerable. One of the big riddles about the president is his inclination to publicly mock and ridicule anyone, including those who are vulnerable or held in high esteem, like a disabled NY Times reporter he imitated, the Gold Star family he attacked, and the alleged sexual-assault victim of Brett Cavanaugh he belittled. Donald had plenty of modeling by his father, according to the Times: "With other family members, Fred Trump could be cantankerous and cruel, according to sworn testimony by his relatives. 'This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of,' he'd snap when someone disappointed him. He was different with his son Donald... he looked for ways to forgive and accommodate."

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One prime example was the difference between how Fred treated Donald and his older brother, Fred Jr., who also worked for the dad. According to the Times, "It did not go well, relatives and former employees said in interviews. Fred Trump openly ridiculed him for being too nice, too soft, too lazy, too fond of drink... (Donald) fashioned himself Fred Jr.'s opposite--the brash tough guy with a killer instinct. His reward was to inherit his father's dynastic dreams."

In the end, Trump surprised even his father about the kind of tough guy he created, by turning on Dad, according to The Times:

"Fred Trump had given careful thought to what would become of his empire after he died, and had hired one of the nation's top estate lawyers to draft his will. But in December 1990, Donald Trump sent his father a document, drafted by one of his own lawyers, that sought to make significant changes to that will.

"Fred Trump, then 85, had never before set eyes on the document, 12 pages of dense legalese... Yet his son sent instructions that he needed to sign it immediately."

Fred Trump eventually "confided to family members that he viewed the codicil as an attempt to go behind his back and give his son total control over his affairs." Fred Trump was apparently unwilling or unable to confront his son, the Times says, but he had a new will drawn up "stripping Donald Trump of sole control over his father's estate."

If there is anything to be said in defense of the Trumps, it might be that many prosperous family businesses go to extreme lengths to minimize estate and other taxes associated with passing the business to the next generation. The family members can also quarrel to such an extreme that some walk out or sue their own parents or children. But the Trump family's combination of pure greed and ruthlessness is at another level.

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David E. Gumpert is co-author of "Inge: A Girl's Journey Through Nazi Europe", a memoir about his family's efforts to escape Germany during the 1930s. He is also author of three books on food safety and regulation, most recently "The Raw Milk (more...)
 

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