“I Always Gagged On That Silver Spoon”
A look at how Donald Trump’s privileged background is shaping his Presidency and his sympathetic relationship with Son-In-Law Jared Kushner
The title is a quote taken directly from Orson Welles’ Classic Movie “Citizen Kane”. The words were uttered by the movie’s central character, Charles Foster Kane. For those who have not seen the film (spoiler alert), Kane is a wealthy businessman who grows up in the lap of luxury, but struggles to find happiness in his personal relationships. Due to a discovery of vast gold deposits on their land, Kane’s family becomes rich beyond their wildest dreams. However, Kane’s mother decides that young Charles should be raised in a more cultured environment, away from his modest surroundings in rural Colorado and his ne’er-do-well father. Her decision results in Kane growing up estranged from his family in a series of fancy boarding schools, which leave him longing for the love and affection he never got from his parents. Ultimately, he grows into a distant and calculating adult, using braggadocio and manipulation (often financial) to draw people into his inner circle. Of course, none of his efforts to find real love work, and he dies a bitter and lonely man.
If any aspects of this story illustrate parallels between Kane and our 45<sup>th</sup> President, it should not be considered coincidental. To understand the personality of Donald Trump is to consider the “silver spoon” context on his childhood. So, despite the many other hot topics surrounding Trump’s Presidency right now, I have decided to focus on Trump’s privileged upbringing, his desperate need for attention, and his symbiotic relationship with his son in law Jared Kushner for this article. It is this side of Trump’s persona that I feel the media has largely ignored and really sheds insight on what kind of person he is.
Before I get too deep into Trump, however, I want to share a personal anecdote about my own experience dealing with a “silver spoon” personality. My first real corporate job was as a mid-level manager for a family run company that sold a correspondence course about how to start and run a mail order advertising business (personal and company names are omitted to protect individuals involved from public embarrassment and myself from litigation). The man who hired me was the 3<sup>rd</sup> generation heir to the company. Despite that background, he was a no-nonsense, up by your bootstraps, charismatic entrepreneur. He was one of the most eloquent public speakers I’ve ever heard and a true mentor to me. While he was running the company, sales skyrocketed as we traveled around the country doing seminars and selling the business course.
Then, tragically, he was shot and killed during a drunken argument with his wife. Naturally, the business was immediately thrown into chaos, as a power struggle developed between his eldest son and presumed heir, and his wife and members of her family, several of who held prominent positions in the company and had worked there for years. The Ownership of the company was at stake, and after a nasty court battle, the legal ruling was in favor of the son. However, the son was ill-equipped to run the business, as he had been estranged from his father and lived a privileged but mostly aimless life up to that point. Once the son was in power, he proceeded to remove the wife’s relatives, even though they were more experienced in the business. He filled positions with friends and acquaintances of his who did not have a background in the field, but whose common denominator was that they would be loyal to him. Sensing the son’s incompetence, many of the experienced employees who were not forced out left voluntarily, including myself. The end result of all this? Company sales gradually declined to the point that the offices were closed. I am not sure if they are still in business, but last I heard, he was running the operation out of his garage. This personal experience gave me an understanding of the “silver spoon” mentality.
Clearly, Donald Trump was infused with the” silver spoon” ethos from an early age. His father Fred Trump was a real estate baron who built his fortune selling single family homes in Brooklyn and Queens, New York. Fred was a good salesman and had a knack for self-promotion, christening a grocery store he built “Trump Market” and his Coney Island housing complex “Trump Village”, for example. He treated his extended family members like business partners and he took young Donald with him to building sites. Donald certainly learned his penchant for self-promotion, his savvy for conserving money and his tough negotiating style from Fred. Donald’s friends recognize Fred’s intensity in him and a need to please and impress his father, which lasted throughout his lifetime and persists even now (1).
Though Fred’s work ethic and firm leadership gave Donald more initiative than the typical “silver spoon” child, his school exploits revealed a sense of entitlement. “Donny” was known amongst classmates as athletic, a prankster and for his refusal to acknowledge mistakes. If he were caught in a lie or misrepresentation, he would “double down” on his rhetoric rather than admitting he was wrong. “When I look at myself in the first grade, and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same” Trump told a biographer. “The temperament is not that different”. Even teachers took notice of Trump’s attitude: “Who could forget him?” said Ann Trees, who taught at Kew-Forest School where Trump attended seventh grade. “He was headstrong and determined. He would sit with his arms folded with this look on his face – I use the word surly – almost daring you to say one thing or another that wouldn’t settle with him”. Trump also had a reputation as a bully. Dennis Burnham, a younger neighbor, was told by his mother that he should “Stay away from the Trumps”. Once, she left Dennis in a playpen in a backyard adjoining the Trumps’ property and when she returned, she found Donald throwing rocks at her son. Donald pulled girls’ hair at school, passed notes in class, talked out of turn and threw spitballs. He spent so much time in detention that his schoolmates nicknamed the punishment “DTs” – short for “Donny Trump” (2).
Trump’s childhood and school resume provide key clues to the type of man and President he has become. The “silver spoon” syndrome, along with an unshakable belief in his own invincibility, shapes his world view and dictates his style of leadership. And he seems to be grooming his son in law Jared Kushner in his own image.
It is easy to see why Trump sees so much of himself in Kushner. Jared was also raised in a wealthy family with a father who was a real estate mogul. He was a poor student, but was able to gain admission to Harvard University, which coincidentally received a $2.5 million-dollar donation from his father. At 25 years old, Kushner became the owner of the New York Observer, eventually causing the newspaper’s respected editor, Peter Kaplan, to resign. Six other editors were hired and fired before Kushner severed ties with the Observer. In 2008, Kushner took over the family business after his father was indicted for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering. In 2009, Kushner married Ivanka Trump and into the Trump empire. Despite his lack of credentials, Trump has hired Kushner to be part of the White House staff as a senior advisor and entrusted him with negotiating a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians (3). Recently, Kushner has come under fire for his possible involvement in Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and is being pressured to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee (4). Sounds like a chip off the old block.
In conclusion, it is amazing to me that the Media has not focused in on the “silver spoon” traits of Donald Trump. After all, this behavior has been spotlighted and studied before….in Orson Welles’ masterpiece of 1941. Sometimes, the most transparent explanations of human behavior are already in plain sight.