Oedipus Trump: Understanding Donald’s Dark Shadow

Unearthed 1980s Interviews Reveal How Trump’s Father Shaped the Insecure Man Behind the Billionaire’s Bluster

It’s June 1, 1982, and a 35-year old Donald Trump is spending much of the afternoon in his palatial Fifth Avenue office trying to convince me that he is worth more money than any other real estate titan in New York. I’m there as Forbes magazine’s lead reporter, interviewing him for our first annual “Rich List” of wealthy Americans. Donald is in all-out promoter mode, arguing that his work, and not his father’s, was responsible for nearly all of the Trump family fortune.

I was only 23 at the time of the interview, but Donald Trump took me seriously. He knew that I was the gatekeeper between his ego and the millions of readers who would soon hear about the new Forbes 400 ranking of the wealthiest Americans.

As we discussed the largest asset in the Trump family portfolio, Donald claimed that the value of the family’s 23,000 apartments in Brooklyn and Queens and Virginia should be calculated, after debt, at $40,000 each. When he saw I wasn’t biting, he revised his assessment to $20,000 each. In an obsessive effort to prove that he, not his father, deserved credit for amassing this real estate portfolio, Trump claimed that “80%” of the apartments had been purchased by him.

All of these claims were clearly false. I knew that the rent-stabilized apartments were worth less than $10,000 each at the time, and that Fred had built them over many years. (When I did extensive research on this claim a few years later, I also learned that there were never more than 10,000 of them, and that the 23,000 number was a deliberate fabrication by Donald).

Donald must have known that I knew that both his valuation and his claim to have acquired 80% of them were outrageous. After all, the centerpiece of the Trump holdings was Brooklyn’s working class “Trump Village,” which was built in 1963. Donald would have been only 17 at the time. And he was far from home, spending his fifth year at the heavy-on-discipline military academy boarding school that his emotionally distant, dominating father had shipped his unruly, fight-prone son off to.

I thought, He can’t expect me to believe these lies, so why is he telling me them? And why is he lying so obsessively to compete with his own father?

Of all the endless ink that the media has lavished upon attention-starved Donald Trump, only one article has ever dealt extensively with his relationship with Fred Trump that included a comment from his father— a 1983 New York Times profile. Nearly all media attempts to interview Fred Trump (who died in 1999), including mine, were turned down. Back then, one top real estate developer explained the disappearance of Donald’s father by saying that Fred Trump “loves a crook and he loves a showman.” Speaking for himself on that rare occasion in 1983, Fred Trump told the Times, “Donald has a competitive spirit and I don’t want to compete with him. He amazes me. He’s gone way beyond me, absolutely.”

But these admiring words from a distant, hard-pushing father have done nothing to satisfy Donald Trump’s mean-spirited competitiveness, compulsive lying and neurotic need to impress.

Harry Levinson, a business psychologist specializing in family businesses was also quoted in that 1983 Times profile. He explained that, “The core problem of the entrepreneur in the family business is the unresolved Oedipal problem, trying to beat the old man.” This is felt most acutely, Levinson noted, when the father, like Fred Trump, has been very successful.

”The son feels so inadequate and unable to compete with the father that he works out compensatory behavior,” Dr. Levinson said. ”He goes to the opposite and blows himself up to deny his feeling of helplessness.”

A few weeks ago, Deepak Chopra appeared on the “Tonight Show” and provided a similar assessment. Donald Trump’s behavior, Chopra said, reflects “resentment, grievances, fear, hostility, guilt, shame …and very poor self-esteem.”

To be continued….


Jonathan Greenberg

The founder and Editor of the Sonoma County Independent, Greenberg is an investigative financial journalist with 35 years of experience with national publications. Greenberg also serves as founder and Executive Director of Informing to Empower, the parent non-profit of both the Sonoma Independent and the Maui Independent. Greenberg has won first prizes from the Greater Bay Journalism Awards for the past three years, starting with his coverage of the closing of County library cutbacks, and then Palm Drive Hospital. Jonathan’s professional career began as a fact checker at Forbes Magazine, where he advanced to the role of the lead reporter in creating the first Forbes 400 listing of wealthy Americans (as recounted in this recent article for Forbes’ 100th anniversary issue and more extensively in this biography of Malcolm Forbes.  Jonathan has been an investigative financial and political  journalist for such national publications  as The New York Times,  The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Forbes, Money, Playboy, GQ, The New Republic, and Alternet.  From 2011 through 2017, Jonathan was a blogger for the Huffington Post, where his narrative-transforming reporting and analysis about subjects like Bernie Sanders, Monsanto and Native Hawaiian water protectors achieved some of the widest readership of any HuffPost writer on these subjects. Jonathan’s nearly 40 years of professional media and reporting experience has been enhanced by a Yale Law School Masters Degree fellowship program, from which he graduated with honors in First Amendment Law from internationally renowned attorney Floyd Abrams and then Yale University President Benno Schmidt. Jonathan is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Staking A Claim: Jake Simmons and the Making of an African-American Oil Dynasty, which a Washington Post Book World front page review called, “a rare biography that challenges the readers senses in the same the way science fiction does.”  In 1992, he edited Buying America Back: Economic Choices for the 1990′s, an anthology of 45 progressive solution-oriented essays called by Publisher’s Weekly,  “An immensely important resource for policymakers, community activists, and everyone concerned with building a more humane future.” As a new media innovator who has developed a half dozen interactive web platforms and dozens of content-focused web sites, Greenberg is committed to enhancing responsive government and expanding media democracy. Greenberg is founder of Progressive Source Communications, a Sebastopol-based public interest communications company. In the past, he founded and managed two other online companies, TV1.com, and Gist.com. Greenberg’s political work included serving as Policy Director for the New York City Council’s Select Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment in the years following 9-11. His work resulted in more than $250 million of federal funds being re-directed to needy businesses and constituents in the impacted area. Greenberg has been Vice President of Fenton Communication’s New York office. His work on behalf of non-profit organizations has included communications consulting for Save Darfur, Stonyfield Farm, the ACLU, and the Lakota People’s Law Project. Greenberg holds a B.A. in writing from the State University of New York at Binghamton, and a Masters Degree in Law from Yale Law School, where he graduated with honors in First Amendment Law.
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