A new bombshell report from the New York Times about President Donald Trump's extensive and reportedly fraudulent schemes to inherit massive wealth from his father completely explodes his claims to being a self-made man and raises serious legal and financial question about his fortune today.
But there are also important ideological implications in the story. In particular, it raises serious issues about the politics of inheritance:
By age 3, Mr. Trump was earning $200,000 a year in today’s dollars from his father’s empire. He was a millionaire by age 8. By the time he was 17, his father had given him part ownership of a 52-unit apartment building. Soon after Mr. Trump graduated from college, he was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father. The money increased with the years, to more than $5 million annually in his 40s and 50s.
Fred Trump’s real estate empire was not just scores of apartment buildings. It was also a mountain of cash, tens of millions of dollars in profits building up inside his businesses, banking records show. In one six-year span, from 1988 through 1993, Fred Trump reported $109.7 million in total income, now equivalent to $210.7 million. It was not unusual for tens of millions in Treasury bills and certificates of deposit to flow through his personal bank accounts each month.
Fred Trump was relentless and creative in finding ways to channel this wealth to his children. He made Donald not just his salaried employee but also his property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He gave him loan after loan, many never repaid. He provided money for his car, money for his employees, money to buy stocks, money for his first Manhattan offices and money to renovate those offices. He gave him three trust funds. He gave him shares in multiple partnerships. He gave him $10,000 Christmas checks. He gave him laundry revenue from his buildings.
Republicans often stoke fears that a generous social safety net will turn poor people into entitled moochers who don't contribute to society. This is a core facet of their ideology — that generous government programs often harm even the people they're supposed to help, even when these programs provide for basic needs, like Medicaid and food stamps.
On this basis, Republicans advocate "limited government" and rolling back taxes on rich people.
One of their favorite taxes to roll back? The estate tax, which limits the massive amounts wealthy people like Fred Trump can give to their kids, like Donald Trump.
But this exposes the pernicious contradiction in their ideology. If it's so bad for poor kids and families to get handouts, why isn't it even more terrible when people like Trump are millionaires by the time their 8 years old?
Trump, in particular — who grew up to be a monomaniacal racist misogynist with no respect for democracy or the rule of law — is a damning example of the outcomes of such a policy.
Under Trump, the Republicans have begun placing work requirements on Medicaid and proposed massive cuts to Social Security and other vital social services programs. But as the example of Trump's charmed childhood and the fact that Republicans have no objection to it at all show, there's no principled basis for these stingy and cruel policies.
It's just the exercise of the powerful taking whatever they can get and leaving as little for everyone else as possible — a story as old as politics.