Oh, the hardscrabble life of Donald Trump. To hear Trump tell the tale, his life is one long, Algeresque struggle. Business enemies try to stop him. The media hates him. It’s a wonder this son of a multimillionaire real-estate developer accomplishes anything at all.
On Monday, the Donald continued his Straight Out of Jamaica Estates tale of woe. “It has not been easy for me,” he said at a New Hampshire town hall appearance sponsored by Today. “My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.” And he had to pay it back. With interest. Forgive the entire Internet for groaning.
One of the ways at least some presidential candidates give away their plutocratic backgrounds is the breezy suggestion that for typical Americans, assists from parents are a simple matter. This turned into something of a campaign issue for Mitt Romney back in 2012. An appearance before Ohio college students turned into a behind-the-curtains peak at how the wealthy, often without meaning to, simply assume others enjoy the same economic breaks as they do. After telling the crowd about how the founder of Jimmy John’s started his business by borrowing $20,000 from Mom and Dad, he said anyone can do it:
This kind of devisiveness, this attack of success, is very different than what we’ve seen in our country’s history. We’ve always encouraged young people: Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.
That kind of utterance—implying that anyone’s parents can afford to hand them $20,000—wasn’t a first for Romney, or his family, which had a way of playacting at Depression-style middle-class penny-watching. The Washington Post reported, for instance, that Romney duct-taped holes in his gloves and snuck popcorn into movie theaters to save on concession-stand costs. One daughter-in-law—whose husband was one of the recipients of a family trust worth more than $100 million—actually described her father-in-law as “the most frugal person I’ve ever met.” Another time, he described himself not receiving any inheritance from his own parents—because, after all, he chose to give their money away. As for Ann Romney, she once gave an interview to the Boston Globe describing how close to edge the family was when her husband attended grad school: They actually had to sell off a gift of stock from her husband’s father.
Playing at poverty—or at least thrifty middle-class status—isn’t just a habit of Republicans. Hillary Clinton famously described herself as “dead broke,” when she and Bill Clinton left the White House, as a way of seeking to justify all the money the family has earned since that time. Yet at the same time the family was on its purported last financial legs, the Clintons had purchased not one but two homes, including one costing $2.85 million for which they came up with a $855,000 down payment. If that's "dead broke," sign me up.
For his part, Trump has explanations. When Matt Lauer challenged him Monday morning, pointing out that a $1 million loan from Dad seems “pretty easy” to most people, Trump responded, “You’re right. But a million dollars isn’t very much compared to what I built.”
No mention of the fact that in a country where about half the population lives paycheck to paycheck, getting Mom or Dad to turn this sort of money over—be it $20,000 or $1 million—is no easy feat.
As for Trump’s self-made success, a quick review: He joined his dad’s real estate business in his 20s, giving him a multitude of contacts—not to mention millions—available to almost anyone else, ranging from political and real estate power brokers to mob connections. Anyone who thinks of themselves as self-made with that sort of backing is delusional.
But, then again, we’re talking about Donald Trump.