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Donald Trump: America’s Sugar Daddy

Does parenting style tell us everything we need to know about a candidate? Donald Trump poses with his family after his announcement that he will run for president. (Richard Drew/AP)
Does parenting style tell us everything we need to know about a candidate? Donald Trump poses with his family after his announcement that he will run for president. (Richard Drew/AP)
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Well, a minority percentage of all Republican voters — and 100 percent of the media — finally got the nominee they’ve been pulling for: Donald J. Trump.

Pols and pundits have devoted a billion words (thus far) to his unlikely metamorphosis from real estate mogul/reality TV star to aspiring president. My own sense is that Trump’s rise reflects a confusion between the pleasures of entertainment and the dull duties of governance, the triumph of great ratings over coherent policy.

But whatever the reasons, Trump is now the Republican standard bearer. In the months to come, we’ll all have a chance to judge his temperament, his policy proposals and his judgment.

To me, one of the most illuminating aspects of Trump’s personality is his role as a father. Trump has been married three times, and has five children, many of whom appear at his campaign stops, and dutifully describe him as a great father.

I’ll supply funds and [the mother] will take care of the kids. It’s not like I’m going to be walking the kids down Central Park.

Donald Trump

But his actual involvement with his children is, well, limited is probably the gentlest word.

“I mean, I won’t do anything to take care of them,” Trump told Howard Stern a few years ago. “I’ll supply funds and [the mother] will take care of the kids. It’s not like I’m going to be walking the kids down Central Park.”

Trump isn’t so much a father, in this sense, as a Sugar Daddy.

Asked by another radio host if he changed the diapers of his youngest child, Trump said, “No, I don’t do that.” He elaborated, “There’s a lot of women out there that demand that the husband act like the wife.”

There are plenty of Americans who find such attitudes outdated and misogynistic. But to others, they are a vital aspect of Trump’s appeal. The core of his “message,” such as it is, involves making “America great again” by returning to an era in which white male privilege was the law of the land.

That doesn’t just mean putting the interest of white Americans before people of color, or immigrants. It also means restoring the order that prevailed before women entered the workforce, and demanded greater domestic involvement from their husbands, an era in which fathers served as breadwinners and unchallenged authorities.

One of the few commonalities among his supporters, given their ideological diversity, can be found in what they value as parents. Basically, respect and good behavior trump independence and empathy. Psychologists identify this desire for hierarchy and strong leadership as part of the authoritarian mindset.

To call Trump’s family values “traditional,” though, doesn’t quite work, at least in the religious sense.

Trump has been married three times, after all. His first marriage ended after his widely publicized affair with Marla Maples, a woman 17 years younger than him. They married after Trump got her pregnant and divorced after five years.

By his own accounting, Trump had little to do with raising their daughter Tiffany. “I do see her, and she’s a great kid,” he told Stern, by which he meant meeting with her “for about an hour” when she comes to New York. He added that he would consider giving his daughter a job at the Trump Organization if she proved worthy.

That’s how it seems to work with Trump: Remain loyal and obedient as a child and you wind up on the payroll. All three of his older children work for him, though all have been candid about his virtual absence as a father. Nannies and security guards raised them, predominantly.

His youngest son, a 10-year-old named Barron — called “little Donald” by wife Melania — almost always dresses in suits and wants to become “a businessman and golfer.”

Trump appears to have fulfilled a desire common among megalomaniacs: to produce a clone.

Trump’s version of being a father is that of an adolescent fantasizing about fatherhood. Your sons worship you. If you have hot daughters, you get to ogle them.

His attitude towards his eldest daughter Ivanka is, well, why not let Trump speak for himself? Here he is responding to a question about her potential posing nude for Playboy: “...She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

Trump’s version of being a father is that of an adolescent fantasizing about fatherhood. Your sons worship you. If you have hot daughters, you get to ogle them. It’s the ultimate wish fantasy of patriarchal privilege.

And it reflects Trump’s general approach to politics. I’ll make great deals! We’ll win again! Why? Because your father said so.

The problem with this model, of course, is that Trump can’t rely on his personal fortune to improve the lives of struggling Americans. He can’t hire them as apprentices, or put them on the Trump dole. He has to propose actual solutions to our national crises.

Unless, of course, American voters decide they want to elect a president who treats them like children.

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