Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Trump's Book

Commenter Thundermonkey reminds us that Trump used to have a book he was attached to. We've all heard this before, but I never did read the original context of its write-up by Marie Brenner, in Vanity Fair, September 1990, reprinted at the beginning of the last presidential campaign:
Donald Trump has always viewed his father as a role model. In The Art of the Deal, he wrote, “Fred Trump was born in New Jersey in 1905. His father, who came here from Sweden . . . owned a moderately successful restaurant.” In fact, the Trump family was German and desperately poor. “At one point my mother took in stitching to keep us going,” Trump’s father told me. “For a time, my father owned a restaurant in the Klondike, but he died when I was young.” Donald’s cousin John Walter once wrote out an elaborate family tree. “We shared the same grandfather,” Walter told me, “and he was German. So what?”
Although Fred Trump was born in New Jersey, family members say he felt compelled to hide his German background because most of his tenants were Jewish. “After the war, he thought that Jews would never rent from him if they knew his lineage,” Ivana reportedly said. Certainly, Fred Trump’s camouflage could easily convey to a child the impression that in business anything goes. When I asked Donald Trump about this, he was evasive: “Actually, it was very difficult. My father was not German; my father’s parents were German . . . Swedish, and really sort of all over Europe . . . and I was even thinking in the second edition of putting more emphasis on other places because I was getting so many letters from Sweden: Would I come over and speak to Parliament? Would I come meet with the president?”

I've always had a sense that there was something important in the story of his Swedish ancestry, but I'd always assumed it was about the anti-German frenzy of World War I in the US, and Friedrich, I'm not sure why. The new detail that it was Fred, the Klansman (from the Second Klan, which hated Jews and Catholics as much as or more than it hated black people), is richer and stinkier (I don't know whether Fred's fears were justified: I'm old enough to remember my father saying he'd never buy a German car, but also having German friends and encouraging me to study in Germany). And Trump's doubling down on the lie as late as 1990 with the claim that his grandparents were only sort of German and sort of Swedish and sort of everything and look how popular he was in Sweden, which I'm sure was preposterous bullshit.

The most interesting, though, is the light it sheds on what he means by calling out Elizabeth Warren for supposedly profiting from calling herself a Native American (she didn't, of course); it's more projection. He thinks she's bad because it's something he did himself (not the claim to be something else, but the denial of who you are).
Donald Trump appears to take aspects of his German background seriously. John Walter works for the Trump Organization, and when he visits Donald in his office, Ivana told a friend, he clicks his heels and says, “Heil Hitler,” possibly as a family joke.
Walter, Trump's first cousin, Fred's nephew, a former mayor of Flower Hill, Long Island who died last year, seems to have been something like a Trump family historian, a favorite of Fred's who held the memorabilia, and the major source for the Swedishness story. Looking at his obituary,  I think I see an interesting pattern of German endogamy: his mother, Elizabeth Trump, married a Walter, and two of his sons-in-law are named Frey and Weppler. There's no reason to think this means anything, but no reason to be certain it doesn't.
Last April, perhaps in a surge of Czech nationalism, Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed. Kennedy now guards a copy of My New Order in a closet at his office, as if it were a grenade. Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist.
“Did your cousin John give you the Hitler speeches?” I asked Trump.
Trump hesitated. “Who told you that?”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“Actually, it was my friend Marty Davis from Paramount who gave me a copy of Mein Kampf, and he’s a Jew.” (“I did give him a book about Hitler,” Marty Davis said. “But it was My New Order, Hitler’s speeches, not Mein Kampf. I thought he would find it interesting. I am his friend, but I’m not Jewish.”)
Martin Davis, who started off in 1947 as a $35-a-week office boy for Samuel Goldwyn and rose to the point where he could turn Gulf and Western into Paramount into Viacom, died in 1999. I can't imagine what he meant by this. His obituary talks about a legendary temper and refusal to tolerate shortcomings in his employees.
Later, Trump returned to this subject. “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.”
I think we can safely say from these two paragraphs that he never looked at the book. He assumed it was Mein Kampf because what else would it be, he's not willing to concede to Brenner that it was really a book of speeches, but it wasn't the text that he valued.
Is Ivana trying to convince her friends and lawyer that Trump is a crypto-Nazi? Trump is no reader or history buff. Perhaps his possession of Hitler’s speeches merely indicates an interest in Hitler’s genius at propaganda. The Führer often described his defeats at Stalingrad and in North Africa as great victories. Trump continues to endow his diminishing world with significance as well. “There’s nobody that has the cash flow that I have,” he told The Wall Street Journal long after he knew better. “I want to be king of cash.”
So what did he actually have that book for? Last time we looked at a book he owned, kept on a coffee table in an enormous salon in the triplex, it was an iconography of Muhammad Ali, right, The Greatest? Books are totems to Trump, and he likes books about fighters. I think it's as creepy as it looks, but in a more magical way than has been conjectured with regard to this Hitler book; it's not to give him advice on speech making or the like, it's a lucky charm.

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