If You Think Trump’s Money Comes From His Dad, You’re Only Half Right
Meet Elizabeth Christ Trump, the forgotten matriarch who first made her family rich
Over the past year, we have learned so many things about our nation’s Republican Presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump. We’ve learned that he insists on the J., possibly because he read that study about how the use of a middle initial, or more than one if possible, makes a person seem smarter. More likely he was told about that study because we’ve also learned that he doesn’t read. We’ve learned that he’s thin-skinned, disagreeable, litigious, and, according to his biographer, a sociopath who could bring about the end of the world.
We’ve learned that he’s worth less than he claims, even far, far less, and that he won’t release his tax returns because they may demonstrate that fact. The last time he released his returns, they showed that paid no Federal taxes at all because he reported a negative income, according to this MoveOn video from last month, starring Elizabeth Warren, which has already been viewed more than 18 million times on Facebook.
Warren quotes Trump as being proud of avoiding paying taxes, which he calls wasting his money, and she points out that he didn’t get rich on his own — his businesses make use of the roads, police, school-trained workforce and so on that the rest of us pay for. That’s all well and good. But there are a couple of key facts she doesn’t mention. Firstly, Donald didn’t get rich on his own; he inherited a fortune from his father. To neglect to mention that is to perpetuate the candidate’s self-serving boot-strappy origin myth. Secondly, the Trump family fortune originated with Trump’s grandmother. In fact, the original name of the Donald’s now multinational corporation was Elizabeth Trump & Son.
Meet Elizabeth Christ Trump, the unsung ancestor and manager behind the real estate empire. She was a housewife and mother who accompanied her husband to America and, after he died, took over and transformed the family business before passing it on to the next generations.
Elizabeth had a “remarkable talent” for keeping the real estate business going. She had a local contractor build houses on an empty piece of property left by her husband, sold the houses, and lived off the mortgages paid by the new owners. Her vision was to have her three children continue the family business when they finished school, but her middle son Fred, wanted to start earlier. She founded the company “Elizabeth Trump & Son” to give him his start. Since he was under age, she signed all legal documents and did the real estate closings. In 1927 when Fred was 22, E. Trump & Son was formally incorporated. Fred became quite successful with the business but Elizabeth remained involved throughout her life. Even in her 70s she would collect coins from the laundromats in Trump buildings.
Almost nothing has been said about this woman. She’s been more or less written out of the popular narrative. Consider the absurdity of this quote from that profile: “In 1927, Fred Trump, Trump’s father, started Elizabeth Trump & Son Co., the real estate company that would become The Trump Organization.” I’ve never heard her grandson Donald mention her. That makes sense, since he seems to want us to believe he sprung full-grown and gold-plated from the head of Zeus. The truth is much simpler and less impressive: he’s a Lannister. Albeit one who emphatically does not always pay his debts.
Trump may not be interested in acknowledging the truth of how his family’s wealth got started. If he’s unlikely to credit his dad with setting up him for success, or at least the veneer of it, it makes sense that he’s even less likely to draw attention to his grandma. But couldn’t the press get on this story? Do a little investigating into the true origins of the family’s wealth?
Why does it matter? Because history informs the present. Because facts are important. Because Donald Trump has what you might call a spotty record when it comes to dealing with women or even viewing them as people. Because the contributions of women are habitually overlooked or ignored altogether. (Unlike her son, Elizabeth Christ Trump didn’t merit a Times obit.) Because men may think well of their daughters, but they tend to be dismissive of their wives and the women of previous generations. Because Elizabeth’s grandson renamed her company and wrote her out of the family history, and when the media does as well they abet and perpetuate that injustice. Because, in one throwaway line, the Times obit of Trump’s father reports, “His mother, who was a dynamo in her own right, was the partner who signed the checks.” And reading that, you know there’s a great story that hasn’t yet been told.
They say that behind every good man is a good woman. Well, behind the preening, petty, narcissistic, autocratic blowhard that is Donald J. Trump, there is another Ivanka, one who came from far less and achieved far more and who hasn’t yet gotten her due.
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