Trump Complains About His Dad Giving Him A Paltry $1 Million

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images.
At a Today Show town hall this morning, Donald Trump took the opportunity to tout his humble origins.

“I mean my whole life really has been a ‘no,’ and I fought through it. It’s not been easy for me,” Trump, whose father’s fortune was valued between $250 and $300 million, said. “It has not been easy for me. I started out in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of $1 million. I came into Manhattan.” What a journey it’s been.

“Let’s just put this in perspective,” Matt Lauer responded. “You said, ‘It hasn’t been easy for me, but my dad gave me a $1 million loan.’ That probably is going to seem pretty easy to a lot of people.”

“You’re right, but a million dollars isn’t much compared to what I’ve built,” Trump replied.

First, a brief fact check. Contrary to the idea that Trump’s business savvy is responsible for his vast fortune, analyses at the National Journal and Vox suggest that Trump would be just as rich (if not richer) today if he’d simply invested his inheritance in an index fund. Trump’s “self-made man” narrative is a fantasy.

Such points may seem nitpick-y or ad hominem to some, but they are particularly relevant with respect to Trump, whose personal wealth has been a central selling point for his candidacy since day one. “I’m really rich,” he declared unabashedly in his announcement speech. On the precise occasion traditionally used to highlight expertise or experience, Trump instead highlighted his wealth. Since then, he's often implied that money, in and of itself, makes him qualified.

Politicians across the spectrum love to gesture at humble beginnings, often in vivid detail. “My mother grew up in the poverty of east Arkansas, chopping cotton,” Jim Webb said in his opening statement during the CNN Primary debate. Hillary Clinton launched her campaign with a description of her mother’s destitute adolescence and the acts of personal generosity that kept her afloat during difficult times. Put-upon “regular guy”-ness and faux authenticity can help candidates appeal to voters — and, for Republicans, can work to counter the notion that these candidates lack compassion for the impoverished.

But these performative attitudes also serve a subtler, and more insidious, purpose: justifying policies that cut benefits to the poor or directly benefit the rich. If everyone with a dream and a work ethic can become a billionaire, conservative political stances seem more palatable — less cruel and self-serving. Jeb Bush, the son of a former President, wants to eliminate the estate tax. Marco Rubio, whose working-class history is genuine, benefited significantly from private donations but proposes cuts to SNAP and unemployment benefits.

And that's the trouble: It’s too easy for those who won the game to delude themselves into believing it was fair, and thus to further rig the rules in their favor. Trump's bragging can seem like a punch line, but the consequences of that way of thinking are no laughing matter.

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